Receiving the Children

Can I just point out really quick the beauty of this picture?

Virgin and Child Surrounded by the Holy Innocents, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1618. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Via
Virgin and Child Surrounded by the Holy Innocents, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1618. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

It is, of course, a splendid picture! It features the Virgin Mary holding up her son, Jesus. They are in glory and it is as if all of Heaven comes to attend them! A glorious scene, don’t you think?

Now, take a closer look… look at the little babies that surround them.

At first, it’s easy to only view them as angels. After all, they are crowning Mary — and one of Mary’s titles is Regina Angelorum, or Queen of the Angels, after all! Plus, angels and cherubs are very often depicted as chubby little babies in this sort of art period.

But they aren’t angels. Not at all! First of all, they don’t have wings. Little as those wings might be depicted in art, angels are typically depicted with wings.

And then there are the palm branches. While most of the babies are clinging to the Virgin and Child in joy, the angels at the very top of the painting are holding up palm branches. While palm leaves are occasionally depicted as a sort of tribute to the king, they have an extra symbolism in art when you see them in pictures of Heaven. They are the palm leaves that the saints carry when they are martyred.

So, who are these children?

Simple: the Holy Innocents who were massacred in the aptly named Massacre of the Innocents.

As I looked at this art, I was struck with an odd thought.

There are not a lot of distinguishing features between the children and the Child Jesus. Jesus is not really set apart in any special way, other than being on His mother’s lap. Sure, there is a slight glow emanating from Him, but then again He’s in Heaven, which is filled with His glory, and the other children are also bathed in this glory! But, other than His position, there is nothing that really distinguishes Him from the other saints.

And that brought to mind this line from the Gospel:

In this brief depiction of Heaven, we can see this in action. The Holy Innocents, who were the first martyrs, are in Heaven, along with the Christ. When they were killed, slaughtered because of Herod’s jealousy and rage, they were cast off and forgotten. The history books, besides the gospels, scarcely mention them at all — an understandable oversight considering that Herod was a murderous man who slaughtered anyone who he even perceived as getting in the way.

But God does not forget the littlest ones. Nor does He want us to forget the littlest ones — indeed, He wants us to care, protect, and love the children that He gives to us.

And He wants us to become like these children so that we may become the Children of God.

May we love our children and strive to nurture them in the best ways that we can!

And may we always follow God, our Father, that we may become His beloved children.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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