Memorial of Saint Martha

Lectionary: 400/607


Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, "All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do." Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his."


Today's first reading has a two-part structure which should be familiar to any Catholic, and to any Protestant whose denomination has preserved our liturgical traditions. 
First Moses "related all the words and ordinances of the LORD" and the people shouted their assent. This first part corresponds to the "Liturgy of the Word," when we hear passages from the Old and New Testaments, the responsorial psalm, and a selection from one of four gospels; and then a homily by a bishop, priest or deacon. On Sundays and solemnities we assent to the Lord's teaching by reciting the Creed. 
The second part of this reading and our Mass concerns the covenant. Once again we welcome this undeserved blessing. Moses splashed the blood of sacrifice on the altar, which represented God, and all the people, who represented themselves and all their descendants. The feast with the flesh of the animal completed the covenant ceremony. 
We give our consent to the New Covenant through the four part ceremony of the Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer, Fraction and Reception of the Eucharist. 
Saint Martha would have been familiar with these rituals as she welcomed Jesus to the home she shared with Mary and Lazarus. They were the customs of an ordinary Jewish meal. Everyone knew them; Jesus learned them from his mother and father. As he went throughout Galilee and Judea on his way to Jerusalem, he taught the people, and then "broke bread" with them. 
With other familiar prayers he would have recited the command from Deuteronomy 8:10:
...when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land he has given you.
Jewish and Christian scholars believe the ancient Jews recited that verse at the beginning of every meal, just as Catholics recite, "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts..." before we sit down to eat. 
As they celebrated the Mass, Christians, realizing that Jesus had created a new religion, replaced Deuteronomy 8:10 with a new formula, 
"On the night before he died he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body.' Then he took the chalice, blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take this all of you and drink of it, for this is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me." 
Liturgically, faithful disciples of Jesus experienced a very smooth transition from their ancient Jewish to the new Christian religion. They believed as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught:
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing /Newer rites of grace prevail;
Many, like Saint Paul, were surprised and profoundly saddened that all Jews did not accept the new religion.  
On this memorial of Saint Martha, we celebrate her new faith and ours:
(We) have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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