Friday, November 11, 2011

Musing On Martin

There's more to St.Martin of Tours than the cloak and  beggar story. We tend to obsess  on this event because: 1. It's a terrific story about serving Jesus in  the poorest of the poor, 2. It's a  cool story, containing a soldier with a sword, thus 3. the part of Martin's life we emphasize to our small male children. Unlike  the uncool parts about Martin turning pacifist and becoming a bishop.

But really, Martin was a pretty interesting  bishop. He managed to maintain a lifestyle of poverty even while he was a bishop. And when not involved in preaching,destroying pagan temples, combating heresy, and other bishop's business, lived in hermit-like seclusion, up on a cliff in the wilderness. That's something little boys could get into, I'm thinking.

Today's Office of readings contains an account of the end of Martin's life by his contemporary  Sulpicius Severus. Bishop Martin was visiting a remote parish with the purpose of conciliating two quarrelling factions of clergymen. While there, he fell ill and prepared himself for death. But his people would not let him slip away:

"Father, why are you deserting us?" they cried. "Who will care for us when you are gone? Savage wolves will attack your flock, and who will save us from their bite when our shepherd is struck down? We know you long to be with Christ, but your reward is certain and will not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us."

Their tone strikes me as whiny. Trying to make their saintly bishop feel guilty for dying. Poor guy. He deserved better.

Moved by pity for his flock, just as he had been moved by the beggar years before, Martin put the matter before God, stating his willingness to remain behind if he was still needed. Fortunately for Martin, God stuck with the original program. Thus, says Serverus, St. Martin "left this life a poor and lowly man and entered heaven rich in God's favor.


  1. Daria,

    I was reading Morning Prayer via iBreviary and noticed they were using the psalms and canticles for Sunday Week 1. Is that an error on their part or is there some reason St Martin's feast is using that option?

  2. My husband and I prayed together this morning, and noticed the same thing--he used ibreviary, and I had the 4-volume breviary, which also directed me to from Martin's proper antiphons to Sunday Week I. I checked to see if Martin was a Feast, but no, he's a Memorial. I don't have an answer to why this is, except to guess that some saints just have a long standing tradition of being celebrated with greater solemnity due to a long tradition. This same phenomenon occured with St. Mary Magdalen. I would love to find a trustworthy Benedictine priest who is up on Divine Office minutiae for just these sorts of questions, but I haven't found him yet!

  3. Okay Melanie, I finished picking apples and got a chance to look in the General Instruction. Here is the relevant statement under the heading of "Memorials During Ordinary Time":
    "#235 In the Office of Readings and at Morning and Evening Prayer:a. the psalms and their antiphons are taken from the current week and day, unless there are proper antiphons or proper psalms, as indicated for each such occasion..." so I guess this is one of those times. And I'll stick with my previous guess that St. Martin rates this because of the HUGE historical devotion to him in Europe.

  4. Thanks for the digging, Daria. It is interesting, isn't it, the quirks of history and how some saints are so wildly popular.

  5. I seem to remember that once upon a time feasts and memorials were rated by some obscure system...the words 'double ferial' seem to echo...but not clearly?

  6. Here is a link to Google books; Sadliers Catholic Almanac for...1864...

  7. I hope you don't mind...I'm having fun... wikipedia on General Rank of feast daysThe ranking of feast days that had grown from an original division between doubles and simples[4] and that by the time of the Tridentine Calendar included semidoubles, with Pope Clement VIII adding in 1604 to the distinction between first and second class doubles the new rank of greater double, was still in use in the 1954 calendar, and would continue until the following year, 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished the rank of semidouble.

    The rank of feast days determines which Mass is to be said when two feast days coincide (or "occur") on the one day, as well as when a feast day falls on Sundays or certain other privileged days. Feast days were classified as Simple, Semidouble, or Double, with feast days of the Double Rite further divided into Double of the I Class, Double of the II Class, Greater Double or Major Double, and Double, in order of descending rank. On ferias and many feast days of simple rank, the celebrant was permitted to substitute a Mass of his own choice such as a votive Mass, or a Mass for the Dead.

    What the original meaning of the term "double" may have been is not entirely certain. Some think that the greater festivals were thus styled because the antiphons before and after the psalms were "doubled", i.e. twice repeated entire on these days. Others, with more probability, point to the fact that before the ninth century in certain places, for example at Rome, it was customary on the greater feast days to recite two sets of Matins, the one of the feria or week-day, the other of the festival. Hence such days were known as "doubles".[4]

  8. franciscanhobbit, That's truly fascinating. I had no idea. Talk about convoluted! Really it looks like a parody.

  9. From what I read it seems that the trouble began when non-martyrs were being canonized, and then over the years so very many saints being added to the calendar,and the church wanting to rank them according to their importance and manage to commemorate both the saint of the day and the current liturgical season. So all these distinctions were added on over the centuries until it became so complex that one could almost never be sure one was saying the correct office for the day. Hence reforms made by Pius XII, and then in a huge way by Vatican II.