29 July 2011

29 July - Saint Martha

"Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou are Christ, the Son of the living God, who are come into this world.John 11:27

Today we celebrate the feast Saint Martha of Bethany, whose profession of faith compares with that of Saint Peter.  As stated in "Feast of St. Martha" on Fisheaters, "St. Peter serves the Church as a man and St. Martha serves as a woman - and we honor and keep the Feasts of each!"

In scripture, she is the sister of Lazarus and Mary, and best known from the passage in Luke 10, where she busies herself preparing dinner for Jesus, while her sister Mary sits at His feet and listens to His Words.  Just a bit upset (who wouldn''t be?) that she's doing all the work while her sister enjoys a conversation with their guest, she asks Jesus to tell her sister to get up and help her, and receives the following answer from him: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her."

[Hmmpf.  Old sinner me would have turned off the fire under the soup pot and said, "Fine, when you two get hungry, come on in to the kitchen and fix yourself something.  I could use a bit of leisure time myself!"]

From this, Martha is seen as the active part of the Church, while Mary represents the contemplative side.  Both are necessary.

She is the patron of housewives, cooks, and all those who serve others, especially in hospitality fields - hotel-keepers, service personnel, servants, and housekeepers. She is usually shown with her housewife's keys at her waist and a ladle or a pot of water, which can represent the holy water she used to tame the dragon or a cooking pot.

The Golden Legend determined that she was born of noble parents and that in the persecutions following Our Lord's death and resurrection, she, Mary and Lazarus, Mary (the mother of James the Less), Salome (the mother of James the Greater), their handmaid Sara, Trophimus, Saturninus, Maximin, and others were forced into a rudderless, unseaworthy boat, without oars or sail, and set adrift in the Mediterranean.  The boat, protected by Divine Providence, landed on the shores of what is now southern France, and the companions dispersed to evangelize the territory.  Martha went to Tarascon, where a terrible dragon called Tarasque ravaged the neighborhood of Marseilles.  This she tamed and bound at Aix so that the people could slay him, whereupon the countryside was converted. [The Golden Legend gives a fuller description of the La Tarasque.  Read it if you want to know what dragon doots can do to a field.]

From the middle ages to today, the procession of La Tarasque is held annually in Provence.  "Curiosities of Popular Customs" describes it:

"Even alter the Mystery Play was itself abandoned, a remnant of it lingered on until the middle of the nineteenth century, in the annual procession of La Tarasque celebrated on July 29 not only at Tarascon but also at Beaucaire. The main feature was a huge figure of a dragon, made of wood and canvas, eight feet long, three feet high, and four feet broad in the middle. The head was small, there was no neck, the body, which was covered with scales, was shaped like an enormous egg, and at the nether extremity was a heavy beam of wood for a tail.

Sixteen mummers gaily caparisoned and known as the Knights of la Tarasque were among its attendants. Eight of the knights concealed themselves within the body to represent those who had been devoured, and furnished the motive power, besides lashing the tail to right and left, at imminent risk to the legs of the spectators. The other eight formed the escort, and were followed by drummers and fifers and a long procession of clergy and laity.  The dragon was conducted by a girl in white and blue, the leadingstring being her girdle of blue silk. When the dragon was especially unruly and frolicsome she dashed holy water over it. A continuous rattle of torpedoes and musketry was kept up by those who followed in the dragon's train.
The merrymaking was often emphasized by practical joking of a rude sort which frequently led to violent affrays. It was these scenes of disorder which caused the suppression of the spectacle. But the Tarasque itself is still preserved."

Catholic Culture has several recipes suitable for celebrating Saint Martha's feast day, including some that she might have served Jesus when He visited her house.

If you have a housekeeper or lawn-mowing guy or someone who helps you keep your house and grounds tidy, this would be a good day to say thank-you.  Yes, I know you pay them, but a thank-you goes a long way, trust me.  If you can add a small present, so much the better.  The same goes for hotel and restaurants staffs.  Show courtesy to those who serve you.