St Martha’s Candle
Martha was the sister of Lazarus (yes, that Lazarus) and of Mary. All three are now immortalised in the Gospels and they are frequently mentioned at Catholic funerals, for obvious reasons.
We meet Martha in Saint Luke’s Gospel, where the Lord describes her as being “anxious and worried about many things” (Lk.10:41). We meet her again in the Gospel of Saint John, where we read the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Here, Martha goes out to meet the Lord who is coming to their house, while her sister Mary remains inside. It is on this occasion that Martha makes her confession of faith – “I have come to believe that You are the messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn.11:26).
My mother had a great devotion to Saint Martha, although I never discovered the source of that devotion. Regardless, every Tuesday evening she would take out her ‘Child Of Mary’ prayer book and from it she would remove the little prayer card depicting the Saint. Next, she would light a small tea light candle and place this next to the prayer card, and she would then begin the novena prayers which she prayed as far back as I can remember. She would also plan ahead – if she knew she had run out of candles, or was about to do so, she would ask me to buy a few more at the parish Church. I still have the Child of Mary prayer book and the little picture card of Saint Martha, both of which you can see in the image above. There is also a matching prayer card in honour of Saint Jude – my mother was devoted to him, also. I hope that Saint Martha smiled at this little act of devotion, repeated every single week over many years, and that she was there to welcome my mother when she entered into eternity.
I took two things from this lesson taught to me repeatedly by my mother – and those things remain with me still.
The first lesson was to have a deep devotion to the Saints. Find one or two – or rather, let them make themselves known, for the Saints often choose us rather than us choosing them – and then treasure them as they become close friends across the years. I have done as my mother taught; I have a small band of Saints who are exceptionally dear to me and who I honestly do consider to be friends in a very real sense, such has been their kindness and intercession on numberless occasions and in innumerable needs. These particular Saints will remain with me all my days.
The second lesson was to light candles. This is a lesson many Catholics (especially of a certain generation) not only know, but practice often. Candles represent our prayers and the needs for which we pray; but more than this, they represent Christ, Who is the light of the world. It is why we use candles at Mass and in liturgical services – and most notably at the Easter Vigil, where the Paschal Candle takes such great prominence; here, we move out of darkness as this candle is lit – and that message is repeated at every Catholic funeral, when the Paschal candle is lit anew.
At Mass in the mornings, I see a number of people who approach the side altars in our Church, which are dedicated to the Sacred Heart and to the Blessed Virgin, stopping there to light small votive candles and to offer a prayer as they do so. Long after those people have left the Church, the little candles continue to burn.
Here in the study, there is almost always a small votive lamp burning at my home altar before a statue of the Blessed Virgin. This lamp burns for all sorts of different intentions – for others who have asked for prayers, for things I hear on the news or in conversation when out and about, and always when I am here praying; at those times, and on feast days, the larger candles are lit also. I have always done this and don’t expect I will stop now.
It’s funny how small things stick with us – particularly those we learn in our childhoods. These are our lessons, our home catechesis.
And they are proof of the power of example, when lived out well.