Wednesday, July 22, 2009

St. Mary Magdalene

"The Apostle to the Apostles" St. Thomas Aquinas



The feast of St. Mary Magdalene:

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, wasted the great beauty that God had given her in a life of sin, but one day she saw Christ and was touched by grace. On the day of our Lord's crucifixion, she stood with the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. At early dawn on the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and other women who had ministered to Jesus went to the Lord's sepulcher. Two angels said to them, "He is not here, but is risen....Go, tell his disciples." Mary Magdalene ran to tell the Apostles what she had seen and heard. Then Peter and John, hastening to the sepulcher, saw and believed.

The feast of St. Mary Magdalene is considered one of the most mystical of feasts, and it is said that of all the songs of the saints, that of Mary Magdalene is the sweetest and strongest because her love was so great. That love was praised by Jesus Himself who said that because much was forgiven her, she loved much. Where she is buried, no one knows. Legend has her dying in Provence, France, in a cavern where she spent her last days, and her body resting in the chapel of St. Maximin in the Maritime Alps. Another has her buried in Ephesus where she went with St. John after the Resurrection. This latter view is more likely, and St. Willibald, the English pilgrim to the Holy Land in the eighth century, was shown her tomb there.

She was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, His most ardent and loving follower. She had stood with Mary at the foot of the Cross on that brutal Good Friday afternoon and had been by the side of Mary during these difficult hours. On Easter morning, she went with the other women to the tomb and it was there, in the garden near the tomb, that Jesus appeared to her. It was she who brought the news of the Resurrection to the Apostles, and Peter and John raced to the tomb to see what had happened.

She was from Magadala, a small fishing town on the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Tiberias. She was known to be a "great sinner," a woman of the streets who heard Jesus speak of the mercy and forgiveness of God and changed her life completely. Her matter-of-fact witness to the Resurrection moved Peter and John to go and see for themselves: "I have seen the Lord and these things he said to me." Jesus had chosen her to bring the news to them and she simply told them what had happened.

She has always been the example of great love and great forgiveness, one of those close to Jesus who grasped the truth of God's love for human beings and spent her life bearing witness to that love.
A witness of Christ:

Except for the mother of Jesus, few women are more honored in the Bible than Mary Magdalene. Yet she could well be the patron of the slandered, since there has been a persistent legend in the Church that she is the unnamed sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7:36-50.

Most Scripture scholars today point out that there is no scriptural basis for confusing the two women. Mary Magdalene, that is, “of Magdala,” was the one from whom Christ cast out “seven demons” (Luke 8:2)—an indication, at the worst, of extreme demonic possession or, possibly, severe illness.

Father W.J. Harrington, O.P., writing in the New Catholic Commentary, says that “seven demons” “does not mean that Mary had lived an immoral life—a conclusion reached only by means of a mistaken identification with the anonymous woman of Luke 7:36.” Father Edward Mally, S.J., writing in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, agrees that she “is not...the same as the sinner of Luke 7:37, despite the later Western romantic tradition about her.”

Mary Magdalene was one of the many “who were assisting them [Jesus and the Twelve] out of their means.” She was one of those who stood by the cross of Jesus with his mother. And, of all the “official” witnesses that might have been chosen for the first awareness of the Resurrection, she was the one to whom that privilege was given. She is known as the "Apostle to the Apostles."
Comment:

Mary Magdalene has been a victim of mistaken identity for almost 20 centuries. Yet she would no doubt insist that it makes no difference. We are all sinners in need of the saving power of God, whether our sins have been lurid or not. More importantly, we are all, with her, “unofficial” witnesses of the Resurrection.
Ignatius Press provides some historical clarity:

Any supposed attempts to rid the Church of Mary Magdalene or ban her name from being mentioned did not succeed, simply because they didn’t exist. In fact, many of the early Church Fathers remark about the Magdalene, and she is described by Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236) as "the apostle to the apostles" in his commentary on the Song of Songs. Even feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, hardly a supporter of the Catholic hierarchy, scoffs at the notion of a conspiracy against Mary Magdalene, pointing to the positive treatment she received from the early Church Fathers:

"This high regard for Mary Magdalene continues in the fourth- and fifth-century Latin fathers of the church. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, associated Mary Magdalene with the New Eve who clings to Christ as the new Tree of Life, thereby reversing the unfaithfulness of the first Eve. Augustine maintains this view, pairing Mary Magdalene with Christ as symbol of the New Eve and the church in relation to Christ as the New Adam. Her faithfulness reversed the sin of the first Eve."

By the eighth century the Western Church was celebrating a feast day for Mary Magdalene, the twenty-second day of July. By the ninth century there were specific prayers for her feast day, and by the eleventh century there was "a complete mass dedicated to the saint (with introit, gradual, offertory, communion, and lessons)". It was also in the eleventh century that devotion to the Magdalene began to noticeably increase. The cult of Mary Magdalene was established at Vézelay, the Romanesque church in Burgandy that had been founded in the ninth century and was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During the abbacy of Geoffrey (1037-1052) Mary was recognized as the patron of that church in a papal bull dated April 27, 1050, by Pope Leo IX. At the same time, relics of the Magdalene were being sought and gathered in earnest, and soon Vézelay became a major destination for pilgrimages.

Numerous stories, almost all of them fanciful and legendary in nature, were created to explain how Mary’s remains had arrived at Vézelay. A leading tradition in the West held that Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus were expelled from Palestine following the crucifixion of Christ. Floating in an oarless boat, they eventually arrived at the southern coast of France. In the East, a tradition stated that Mary had been the companion of the Apostle John and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and that they had all settled in Ephesus. According to The Golden Legend, the Magdalene and John were betrothed. Some legends depict Mary living her final days in a cave in France, a hermit covered only by her long hair; these stories probably date back no farther than the ninth century.

During the late medieval era it was common to hear sermons about Mary Magdalene and how she fulfilled the apostolic life. She was also a model for Christians seeking to leave behind a life of sensuality and luxury, an encouragement to monks and nuns, as well as an exhortation to prostitutes. "But most of all a Magdalene sermon was the vehicle by which preachers called people to penance and offered them the hope of salvation. . . . We must not forget that it is our own age that officially memorializes Saint Mary Magdalene as a disciple; it was the ‘Dark Ages’ that honored her as a preacher and apostle of the apostles."

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