Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 17, 2008

Thinking Ahead to December 28

No, I don’t have the date wrong.  I’m not thinking ahead to the 25th, but the 28th.  Church calendars designate December 28 as the “Commemoration of the Holy Innocents” (Matthew 2:13-18).  As it turns out, this minor festival occurs on a Sunday this year, and so some congregations may choose to substitute the regular readings for the First Sunday after Christmas with the readings for this occasion.  If that’s the case, the following hymn, forwarded to me and others from another WELS pastor, may interest you.  The explanation below is from Peter Prange, pastor at Jerusalem Lutheran Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, who offers the following updated translation.  There are no copyright restrictions, so you are free to use it in your setting.

Since Holy Innocents falls on a Sunday this year, I thought you might be interested in having the following hymn translation on file, a new/composite translation of Prudentius’ hymn “Salvete, flores martyrum.” Henry Baker’s translation is found in The Lutheran Hymnal (#273), though just four stanzas. Below six stanzas of the original hymn are translated, though in a somewhat different order than in the original. I have also added a stanza to reflect the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (stanza 5). In my estimation it is best sung to O HEILAND, REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF (Christian Worship #22, #91, or #544).

1.   All hail! You infant martyr flow’rs,
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours;
Like rosebuds, snapped in dreadful strife,
When Herod sought our Savior’s life.

2.   With terror does the tyrant hear
That God’s own Son to us draws near.
On David’s throne he comes to dwell
And ransom captive Israel.

3.   King Herod rages at the Word:
“Go, soldier, with your ruthless sword,
To Him, who stands where we have stood,
And stain the Infant-crib with blood!”

4.   O, what is gained from this offense?
What profit comes from violence?
The Savior-King survived the day,
As Christ was safely whisked away!

5.   A voice is heard in bitter pain,
As Rachel mourns the infants slain,
Refusing comfort – sacred lore –
Because her children are no more!

6.   Of you, O little lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ our King:
Beneath the heav’nly altar’s ray
With martyr-palms and crowns you play!

7.   To you, the Virgin-born, we raise
Thanksgiving and eternal praise,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.



  1. Thanks for this post! St. Mark will commemorate this festival on the 28th and I’ve been kind of puzzled for ways to make it stand out. There’s the stanza from “By All Your Saints Still Striving” (Christian Worship #552, stanza 27), but other than that I’m kind of using the “leftover” Christmas hymns that didn’t make the Christmas Eve or Nativity celebrations.

  2. Another option is the first and last stanzas of “The Star Proclaims the King Is Here” (Christian Worship #91), perhaps as the closing hymn. However, the tune is the same as the one suggested above, so that might violate the “unwritten rule” of no two hymns with the same tune on the same day. So could another tune be used for this hymn?

    I agree with Prange’s assessment that O HEILAND REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF is probably the best tune for the text. The tune’s Dorian mode (almost minor, but not quite) gives it a somber sound, and the melody has a strong Advent-Christmas-Epiphany connection. That said, here are a few other tunes (with Christian Worship hymn numbers) one might consider:

    ACH BLEIB BEI UNS (#541)
    HAMBURG (#125 – yeah, I know, a Lent tune)
    WENN WIR IN HOECHSTEN NOETEN SEIN (#102, #378, #413)

    By the way, it dawned on me that someone might consider stanza 6 to be a prayer to saints — not exactly a Lutheran concept — since the pronoun “you” is used. It doesn’t have to be understood that way, but pastoral sensitivity might lead someone to suggest that the wording could be confusing in a particular setting or congregation. So if someone sees that the above text has the potential to cause some problems, this could be a solution (variants italicized):

    Of these dear little lambs, we sing,
    First victims slain for Christ our King:
    Beneath the heav’nly altar’s ray
    With martyr-palms and crowns they play!


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