Are they with the angels now?

December 17, 2012

An adorable six year old, Jennifer Waters asked her mother a simple and achingly beautiful question that spoke to a nation’s boundless grief as she sat on a pew during Mass at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut:

“All those little children, are they with the angels now?”

She wanted to know as she played with a tiny plastic Sonic the Hedgehog figurine. “Are they going to live with the angels now?” The answer is found during the octave of Christmas in which the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. The Lord Jesus, who is to end his life by dying for others, begins his life with others dying because of him. His safety is assured, but his own Mother’s happiness is preserved amidst the misery of others. We must always remember that the Holy Family begins their mission in exile, as refugees. The world in which they lived was not a safe or easy place. God accepting for himself a human nature made him vulnerable to all the trials and tribulations of life. But he also came to show us the mystery of the cross is the only way to defeat evil. The cross is the only thing in this world which turns the venom of evil into an anti-venom. The cross seems to be a fruitless tree but Christ changes the cross into the tree of eternal life. [youtube] Christ was born under the shadow of the cross and the lyrics from the Christmas carol above speak to this mystery. They are from a 16th century “mystery play” called the Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors. The play and the song concern the massacre of the young children of Bethlehem at the command of King Herod, a story that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 2:13-18. This event which recalls the Pharaoh’s instructions to midwives during the time Israel was enslaved in Egypt as recorded in Exodus 1:15-16, 22: And the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews: of whom one was called Sephora, the other Phua, Commanding them: When you shall do the office of midwives to the Hebrew women, and the time of delivery is come: if it be a man child, kill it: if a woman, keep it alive… …Pharao therefore charged all his people, saying: Whatsoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the river: whatsoever of the female, ye shall save alive. Moses was saved from this murder when his mother placed him in a little ark and floated him in the river. Moses’s sister watched from afar as the Pharaoh’s daughter found the child (Exodus 2). The massacre from which Moses was spared is a type, a foreshadowing, of the massacre of the holy innocents that took place soon after Christ was born. The Coventry Carol is a lament that is imagined in the play to have been sung by the mothers whose children have been murdered by Herod’s cruelty; it combines the sound of their weeping with the gentle cadences of a lullaby: “Lullay thou little tiny child, By, by lully lullay. O sisters, too how may we do, For to preserve this day; This poor youngling for whom we sing, By by lully lullay. Herod the king, in his raging Charged he hath this day; His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay. Then woe is me, poor child for thee And ever mourn and say; For thy parting, no say nor sing By by lully lullay” We often forget that the first Christmas (indeed all of salvation history) was surrounded by evil. Eight days after Mary gives birth to Jesus she is told that a sword will pierce her own heart. But she also knows that all tears of sorrow will be one day turned into tears of joy. I would like to call your attention to the lyrics of one final song which speaks of this mystery: [youtube] Salvete flores martyrum, – Hail Martyr Flowers quos lucis ipso in limine – On the very threshold of the dawn (of life) Christi insecutor sustulit – Christ’s persecutor destroyed (you) ceu turbo nascentes rosas. – like the whirlwind does the budding roses. Vos prima Christi victima, – You Christ’s first fruits grex immolatorum tener, – A flock of tender sacrificial victims aram sub ipsam simplices – right up by the very altar palma et coronis luditis. – now play with your palms and crowns Iesu, tibi sit gloria, – Jesus to you be glory qui natus es de Virgine, – who were born of the Virgin cum Patre et almo Spiritu, – with the Father and loving Spirit in sempiterna saecula. Amen. – unto to eternal ages. Amen. The second verse describe these young, two year old martyrs as holding palm branches (the symbol of martyrdom) but as they hold them they play with them, in the way a young child will often fiddle with a toy in Church. Yes, Jennifer they are with the angels now. They have been carried by angels out of the shadow of the cross into God’s eternal light in heaven.

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