July 21, 2017

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Patron of Penitents

Mary Magdalene with Christ

On July 22nd, the Catholic Church observes the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. Known as the patron of penitents, she could also be called the patron saint of mistaken identity. Tradition has long held she was a prostitute or an adulteress, but her actual story, according to [some] modern Catholic scripture scholars, is probably less lurid than popular belief. In fact, other than the Virgin Mary herself, Mary Magdalene is one of the most honored female saints of the New Testament.

What happened after Jesus’ crucifixion led to her being called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” In all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is the first witness of Our Lord's Resurrection. Of all those who could have been given that great privilege, it was granted to her. Because of the male-dominated culture of first century Palestine, Scripture scholars note that no Gospel writer would have placed her in such an honored position unless the story was incontrovertibly true. (At the time, women were second class citizens and forbidden from testifying in legal proceedings.)

Western Christianity has 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 abject 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."

Almighty ever-living 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 together with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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