Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene

On 22 July, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, one of the most important and prominent women in the Gospels. On June 10, 2016, the liturgical celebration honouring St Mary Magdalene was raised from a memorial to a feast, putting her on par with the Apostles.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, in the letter announcing the change, said the decision means “one should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelisation, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy”.

Image: Janet McKenzie

Mary 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, Jesus appeared to her in the garden by the tomb. Mary had been weeping bitterly over the death of Jesus, yet he appears as a gardener; he speaks her name and in hearing it spoken she recognises him. In response she cries, ‘Rabbuni!’ (John 20:16-18). 

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. St Thomas Aquinas referred to Mary Magdalene as the “Apostle to the apostles” because she was the first person to announce the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

Christian Bergmann, a staff writer for Melbourne Catholic, reflects on this further: “In Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II said that this scene in the Gospels is what ‘crowns’ every other interaction between Jesus and the women around him: he trusts her as a witness, trusts her to give testimony, and trusts her with ‘divine truths’ (§16). Even though it is not stated explicitly, there is something scandalous going on here: in the ancient world, even in Jewish law, women were not always seen to be reliable witnesses in a court of law. Their testimony was an inherently compromised one. What Jesus does here is entrust a woman, as a disciple, with bearing witness and testimony to him. It is a remarkable and moving moment in the Gospels”.

Author and artist, Jan Richardson has written the following blessing in her honour. “As we celebrate the Magdalene’s feast day, I offer this blessing to you. Wherever you are, whatever threshold you are on or are approaching, may courage and grace attend you…”

The Magdalene’s Blessing

You hardly imagined

standing here,

everything you ever loved

suddenly returned to you,

looking you in the eye

and calling your name.

And now

you do not know

how to abide this ache

in the centre

of your chest,

where a door

slams shut

and swings open

at the same time,

turning on the hinge

of your aching

and hopeful heart.

I tell you,

this is not a banishment

from the garden.

This is an invitation,

a choice,

a threshold,

a gate.

This is your life

calling to you

from a place

you could never

have dreamed,

but now that you

have glimpsed its edge,

you cannot imagine

choosing any other way.

So let the tears come

as anointing,

as consecration,

and then

let them go.

Let this blessing

gather itself around you.

Let it give you

what you will need

for this journey.

You will not remember

the words—

they do not matter.

All you need to remember

is how it sounded

when you stood

in the place of death

and heard the living

call your name.”

St Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

Read a most fascinating presentation ‘All the Marys’ by Diana Butler Bass.