This question derives from the translation of the prayer of the Our Father in English, namely “Lead us not into temptation.” How could we say that God leads us into temptation?
This expression in the Our Father in English is a literal translation of the Latin of the Vulgate, “Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.” In his commentary on the Pater, St. Thomas Aquinas has this to say about it: “In the preceding petition Christ taught us to pray for the forgiveness of sins, but in this one he teaches us to beseech that we might be able to avoid sins, that is to say that we might not be drawn into temptation, through which we fall into sins” (§76).
However, this does not resolve the problem as to why the text is in the second person singular, which leads one to suppose that it is God who is doing the tempting.
There are in fact two kinds of temptation to which man is subject. The first kind exists when a man’s virtue is tried or proven to see if he will do good. In this way, we try our fellow man if we make him pass a test, or if a superior or novice master wants to test the spirit of mortification of his novices, or if a future spouse wants to see how his future spouse practices self-sacrifice. In this way, God likewise can test or try a person, just as He tested Abraham, asking him to sacrifice Isaac, and just as He tested the patience of Job and of Tobias. In this way God tests us not infrequently, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out: “And so God often sends tribulations on the just, that when they bear them patiently, their virtue may appear and they might progress in that virtue, as is mentioned in Dt. 13:3: ‘The Lord your God trieth you, that it may appear whether you love Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, or not’ ” (Commentary on the Pater, §79).
However, this is not the usual sense of our prayer that God not allow us to be drawn into temptation. The other meaning of temptation is called the temptation of seduction, in which man is incited to evil, to commit sin. This is temptation as is generally understood, and we are subject to such temptations from the world, the flesh (our fallen human nature), and the devil. In this way, no man is tempted by God, for He cannot in any way will or draw man to evil. This is clearly stated by St. James: “Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man” (1:13).
However, although God cannot directly induce a man into evil, He can, in his all-wise Providence, permit such temptations to come upon us, while at the same time giving us the strength to overcome. Hence the importance of our prayer that God will give us the supernatural help to guarantee our victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is in this sense that we pray that God not allow us to be led into temptation, or as it is translated in French, “ne nous laissez pas succomber à la tentation,” that is “do not allow us to give way to temptation.” Our faith in God’s Providence in giving us all the help we need, so that it is never His fault, and always our own, when we fall into temptation, is contained in this text of St. Paul: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
The Holy Innocents, being honored by the Church as saints, must be in heaven. But how could they get there, given that they neither received the sacrament of baptism nor were capable of baptism of desire?
Two responses are given to this question by Catholic Tradition. The first concerns the sacraments of the Old Law, of which Circumcision was the most important. There is a clear difference between the sacraments of the Old Law and those of the New Law, as the first could not give grace by their own power, but simply as a protestation of faith in Christ’s passion, which justified them. All the Catholic authors accept that as such it bestowed grace upon infants who were circumcised in the Jewish rite before Christ’s Passion, of which it was a symbol. Consequently, there can be no doubt that the Holy Innocents were purified from original sin and in the state of sanctifying grace at the time of their murder by Herod, since all were circumcised and under the age of two years, and hence under the age of reason.
However, if the Catholic Church has honored these Holy Innocents in all the rites during the Octave of Christmas since at least the fifth century, it is not just because they were circumcised. It is because it considers them as martyrs, having died not by will, but by blood, and having died not only for Christ, but actually in His place. It is inconceivable that Almighty God would not have given them an extraordinary grace at that very moment of their martyrdom, which is why we celebrate their feast as saints. Allow me to quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Holy Innocents,” which in turn quotes St. Augustine: “The Church venerates these children as martyrs (flores martyrum—the flowers of the martyrs); they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead.”
The prayers of the traditional Roman Breviary express this faith in the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. Take, for example, this verse from the hymn at Lauds:All hail! Ye infant martyr flowers
Nevertheless, it is certainly true that the Holy Innocents could not immediately enter heaven when they were slaughtered. The gates of heaven were to remain closed for another thirty-three years until the Passion, and so they were to wait in Abraham’s bosom, in the limbo of the Fathers, before being delivered therefrom by Christ’s death on the Cross. In this they differ from the martyrs that followed Christ, and this used to be expressed in the liturgy by the use of violet vestments for their feast. But this takes nothing away from the special grace they received, nor their special sanctity by identification with Christ.
Let us conclude with this text from St. Augustine, incorporated into the Second Nocturn of Matins: “In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mother’s womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present.”
Those who raise such questions may recall the reaction of little John Vianney, the future Curé of Ars, who, when at table with a beggar who omitted his grace, left the table and spent the night fasting. When asked about his behavior by his parents, he simply said that he could not get himself to eat when someone who was behaving like beast of burden! This story reminds us that saying meal prayers is a holy custom among Catholics. Our Lord often blessed the bread and broke it in such a singular and religious fashion that it gave his identity away to the disciples of Emmaus.
However, what is to be thought of those who leave prayers off in public and among non Catholics? By way of principle we may advance that there is no formal precept about meal prayers anywhere in the teaching of Christ or of the Church. And if there is not commandment to say them, there is no sin in omitting them. Such omission does not always mean that one’s faith is growing cold either and that one is being negligent in saying his prayers.
Are we dealing here with a case of dissimulation of the faith? There could be times indeed where the very fact of openly making the sign of the cross would start a fight among the workers and begin the litanies of ‘holy-rollies’, slightly mocking our religion. This alone would be a sufficient reason to omit saying grace openly, and one might be content with saying it mentally.
But by and large, the question of saying or omitting meal prayers at a gathering with non Catholics is more a matter of noble courage vs. human respect. Oftener than not, especially at the restaurant where people are busy enough to not worry about downgrading the religion of other customers, the fact of saying meal prayers as a family will easily inspire respect from the witnesses and the waiters. And this can easily start an interesting conversation on the faith.