July 21, 2016

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

Mary Magdalene at the tomb

July 22nd is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. At a time when women were forbidden from testifying in legal proceedings, Mary Magdalene was first to bear witness to Christ's Resurrection. Sacred Scripture records her telling the Apostles what she had seen and heard, hence her title coined by Saint Thomas Aquinas, "the Apostle to the Apostles". Western Christianity has traditionally identified her with three women in the New Testament: the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with oils and washes them with her tears; Mary of Magdala; and Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany. All three women exhibit penitence, faith and humility in response to Christ.

Whatever her true identity, Mary Magdalene's life demonstrates Jesus' power to redeem, heal and transform. In Mark 16:9 it is written: "When (Christ) had risen, early on the first day of the week, (Easter morning) he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons." Despite the ambiguity and sins of her past life, one thing is clear. Through her personal encounter with Our Lord, Mary Magdalene was transformed from sinner to saint. The decree elevating her memorial to a feast day on the Church’s liturgical calendar describes her as "the paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church."

The Life of St. Mary Magdalene

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 recorded 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.

Adapted excerpt from The One Year Book of Saints, Rev. Clifford Stevens.

Patron: Apothecaries; Casamicciola, Italy; contemplative life; contemplatives; converts; druggists; glove makers; hairdressers; hairstylists; penitent sinners; penitent women; people ridiculed for their piety; perfumeries; perfumers; pharmacists; reformed prostitutes; sexual temptation; tanners; women.

Symbols: Rich raiment; box of ointment; skull; book; vase of sweet spices; crucifix; open book; boat.

Collect Prayer

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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