Feast Day: July 29
This feast in honor of the sister of Mary and Lazarus of Bethany is now celebrated on the octave day of the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, who is sometimes incorrectly identified as Martha’s sister. The error is due to a tradition that originated in 1262 and was widely promulgated in the Middle Ages.
In the house at Bethany where Martha and Mary were, Jesus was welcomed as a guest and as a friend (Lk 10:38). Yet, in the Scripture passages that follow, reveal Jesus mildly rebuking Martha when she noticed Mary was not helping her with the domestic chores and Martha complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Instead Mary was sitting beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Christ answered Martha that only one thing mattered and Mary had chosen that better part (Lk 39-42).
The Gospel according to Luke (10:38-42) emphasizes the priority of contemplative activity over involvement in temporal or domestic affairs without, however, placing one in opposition to the other. Each one should fulfill the role that falls to his or her lot. St. Augustine wrote, “Our Lord’s words to Martha in the Gospel of John teach us that though we labor among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal. For we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination” (Sermo 103, 1-2, 6:PL 38, 613, 615).
Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother, Lazarus’ death. “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world’” (Jn 11:25-27). Jesus is calling every one of us to resurrection—now in baptismal faith, forever in sharing his victory over death. And all of us, as well as these three friends, are in our own unique way called to special friendship with him (Jn 15:13-15).
The prayers of the Mass, the Entrance Antiphon and the Communion Antiphon all refer to incidents in the relationship of Jesus with his friends at Bethany. They also underline the fact that Martha was the one who served at table and for that reason she has been chosen as patroness of innkeepers and hostels. Several eminent theologians, for example, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, have used Mary and Martha as examples of the contemplative and the active life respectively, but they assert that Christian perfection can be attained in either state of life.
Opening Prayer for Mass:
“Father, your Son honored St. Martha by coming to her home as a guest. By her prayers may we serve Christ in our brothers and sisters and be welcomed by you into heaven, our true home.”