Saint Mary Magdalene
Feast Day: July 22nd
Saint Mary Magdalene
Secondary Patroness of the Order of the Preachers (Dominicans)
Mary Magdalen was so called either from Magdala near Tiberias, on the west shore of Galilee, or possibly from a Talmudic expression meaning "curling women's hair," which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress.
In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3), where it is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She is next named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49). She saw Christ laid in the tomb, and she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection.
The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons:
|the "sinner" of Luke 7:36-50;|
|the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11; and|
On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion.
The first fact, mentioned in the Gospel relating to the question under discussion is the anointing of Christ's feet by a woman, a "sinner" in the city (Luke 7:37-50). This belongs to the Galilean ministry, it precedes the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and the third Passover. Immediately afterwards St. Luke describes a missionary circuit in Galilee and tells us of the women who ministered to Christ, among them being "Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth" (Luke 8:2); but he does not tell us that she is to be identified with the "sinner" of the previous chapter. In 10:38-42, he tells us of Christ's visit to Martha and Mary "in a certain town"; it is impossible to identify this town, but it is clear from 9:53, that Christ had definitively left Galilee, and it is quite possible that this "town" was Bethany. This seems confirmed by the preceding parable of the good Samaritan, which must almost certainly have been spoken on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. But here again we note that there is no suggestion of an identification of the three persons (the "sinner", Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Bethany), and if we had only St. Luke to guide us we should certainly have no grounds for so identifying them. St. John, however, clearly identifies Mary of Bethany with the woman who anointed Christ's feet (12; cf. Matthew 26 and Mark 14). It is remarkable that already in 11:2, St. John has spoken of Mary as "she that anointed the Lord's feet", he aleipsasa; It is commonly said that he refers to the subsequent anointing which he himself describes in 12:3-8; but it may be questioned whether he would have used he aleipsasa if another woman, and she a "sinner" in the city, had done the same. It is conceivable that St. John, just because he is writing so long after the event and at a time when Mary was dead, wishes to point out to us that she was really the same as the "sinner." In the same way St. Luke may have veiled her identity precisely because he did not wish to defame one who was yet living; he certainly does something similar in the case of St. Matthew whose identity with Levi the publican (5:7) he conceals.
If the foregoing argument holds good, Mary of Bethany and the "sinner" are one and the same. But an examination of St. John's Gospel makes it almost impossible to deny the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalen. From St. John we learn the name of the "woman" who anointed Christ's feet previous to the last supper. We may remark here that it seems unnecessary to hold that because St. Matthew and St. Mark say "two days before the Passover", while St. John says "six days" there were, therefore, two distinct anointings following one another. St. John does not necessarily mean that the supper and the anointing took place six days before, but only that Christ came to Bethany six days before the Passover. At that supper, then, Mary received the glorious encomium, "she hath wrought a good work upon Me . . . in pouring this ointment upon My body she hath done it for My burial . . . wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached . . . that also which she hath done shall be told for a memory of her." Is it credible, in view of all this, that this Mary should have no place at the foot of the cross, nor at the tomb of Christ? Yet it is Mary Magdalen who, according to all the Evangelists, stood at the foot of the cross and assisted at the entombment and was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. And while St. John calls her "Mary Magdalen" in 19:25, 20:1, and 20:18, he calls her simply "Mary" in 20:11 and 20:16.
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the "sinner" comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen "out of whom seven devils were gone forth"; shortly after, we find her "sitting at the Lord's feet and hearing His words." To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to "the Christ, the Son of the Living God", and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection - excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ's feet--it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head--the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
Subsequent history of St. Mary Magdalen.
The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition, Mary, Lazarus, and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin. History is silent about these relics till 745, when according to the chronicler Sigebert, they were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens. No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans, the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910, Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Text courtesy of TraditionalCatholic.net
St. Mary Magdalen, Penitent
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
Prayers to Saint Mary Magdalene
The Litany of St. Mary Magdalen
For Private Use Only.
Lord, have mercy on us,
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us,
Christ, graciously hear us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us.
St. Mary Magdalen,
Pray for us.
Sister of Martha and Lazarus, etc.
Thou who didst enter the Pharisee's house to anoint the feet of Jesus,
Who didst wash His feet with thy tears,
Who didst dry them with thy hair,
Who didst cover them with kisses,
Who wast vindicated by Jesus before the proud Pharisee,
Who from Jesus received the pardon of thy sins,
Who before darkness wast restored to light,
Mirror of penance,
Disciple of Our Lord,
Wounded with the love of Christ,
Most dear to the Heart of Jesus,
Last at the Cross of Jesus, first at His tomb,
Thou who wast the first to see Jesus risen,
Whose forehead was sanctified by the touch of thy risen Master,
Apostle of apostles,
Who didst choose the "better part,"
Who lived for many years in solitude being miraculously fed,
Who wast visited by Angels seven times a day,
Sweet advocate of sinners,
Spouse of the King of Glory,
V. Saint Mary Magdalen, earnestly intercede for us with thy Divine Master,
R. That we may share thy happiness in Heaven.
Let Us Pray.
May the glorious merits of blessed Mary Magdalen, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
make our offerings acceptable to Thee, for Thine only-begotten Son vouchsafed
graciously to accept the humble service she rendered. We ask this through Him
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever. R. Amen.
May the prayers of blessed Mary Magdalen help us, O Lord, for it was in answer to them
that Thou didst call her brother Lazarus, four days after death, back from the grave to life,
Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, Unity in Trinity,
world without end. R. Amen.
Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene and Our Lord
by Saint Anselm
St. Mary Magdalene, thou didst come with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from Him thy burning thirst was abundantly refreshed, through Him thy sins were forgiven; by Him thy bitter sorrow was consoled.
My dearest lady, well thou knowest by thine own life how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine will restore the sick to health.
It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven, because she loved much.
Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall thy sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless mercy by which they were blotted out.
This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.
I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins, wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.
Therefore, since thou art now with the chosen because thou art beloved and are beloved because thou art chosen of God, I, in my misery, pray to thee in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure, I ask for purity.
Recall in loving kindness what thou used to be, how much thou didst need mercy, and seek for me that same forgiving love that thou didst receive when thou wert wanting it. Ask urgently that I may have the love that pierces the heart; tears that are humble; desire for the homeland of Heaven; impatience with this earthly exile; searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity.
Turn to my good that ready access that thou once didst have and still doth have to the spring of mercy.
Draw me to Him where I may wash away my sins; bring me to Him Who can slake my thirst; pour over me those waters that will make my dry places fresh. Thou wilt not find it hard to gain all thou doth desire from so loving and so kind a Lord, Who is alive and reigns and is thy friend.
For who can tell, beloved and blest of God, with what kind familiarity and familiar kindness He Himself didst reply on thy behalf to the calumnies of those who were against thee? How He didst defend thee, when the proud Pharisee was indignant, how He didst excuse thee, when thy sister didst complain, how highly He didst praise thy deed, when Judas didst begrudge it.
And, more than all this, what can I say, how can I find words to tell, about the burning love with which thou didst seek Him, weeping at the sepulchre, and wept for Him in thy seeking?
How He cameth, who can say how or with what kindness, to comfort thee, and madest thee burn with love still more; how He didst hide from thee when thou didst want to see Him, and showed Himself when thou didst not think to see Him; how He was there all the time thou didst seek Him, and how He didst seek thee when, seeking Him, thou didst weep.
But Thou, most holy Lord, why didst Thou ask her why she weeps?
Surely Thou canst see her heart, the dear life of her soul, is cruelly slain.
O love to be wondered at;
O evil to be shuddered at;
Thou didst hang on the wood, pierced by iron nails, stretched out like a thief for the mockery of wicked men; and yet, 'Woman,' Thou didst say, 'why art thou weeping?' She had not been able to prevent them from killing Thee, but at least she longed to keep Thy Body for a while with ointments lest it decay.
No longer able to speak with Thee living, at least she could mourn for Thee dead. So, near to death and hating her own life, she repeats in broken tones the words of life which she had heard from the living.
And now, besides all this, even the Body which she was glad, in a way, to have kept, she believes to have gone.
And can Thou asketh her, 'Woman, why art thou weeping?'
Had she not reason to weep?
For she had seen with her own eyes---if she could bear to look---what cruel men cruelly did to Thee; and now all that was left of Thee from their hands she thinks she has lost.
All hope of Thee has fled, for now she has not even Thy lifeless Body to remind her of Thee.
And someone asks, 'Who art thou looking for? Why art thou weeping?'
Thou, her sole joy, should be the last thus to increase her sorrow. But Thou knowest it all well, and thus Thou didst wish it to be, for only in such broken words and sighs can she convey a cause of grief as great as hers. The love Thou hast inspired Thou didst not ignore.
And indeed Thou knowest her well, the gardener, Who planted her soul in His garden. What Thou plantest, I think Thou doth also water.
Does Thou water, I wonder, or does Thou test her?
In fact, Thou art both watering and putting to the test.
But now, good Lord, gentle Master, look upon Thy faithful servant and disciple, so lately redeemed by Thy Blood, and see how she burneth with anxiety, desiring Thee, searching all round, questioning, and what she longest for is nowhere found.
Nothing she seest canst satisfy her, since Thou Whom alone she wouldst behold, she seest not.
How long will my Lord leave His beloved to suffer thus?
Have Thou put off compassion now Thou hast put on incorruption? Did Thou let go of goodness when Thou didst lay hold of immortality?
Let it not be so, Lord.
Thou will not despise us mortals now Thou hast made Thyself immortal, for Thou didst make Thyself a mortal in order to give us immortality.
And so it is; for love's sake He canst not bear her grief for long or go on hiding Himself. For the sweetness of love He showeth Himself Who would not for the bitterness of tears.
The Lord calls His servant by the name she hast often heard and the servant doth know the voice of her own Lord.
I think, or rather I am sure, that she responded to the gentle tone with which He wat accustomed to call, 'Mary'. What joy filled that voice, so gentle and full of love.
He could not have put it more simply and clearly:
'I know who thou art and what thou wanteth; behold Me; do not weep, behold Me; I am He Whom Thou seekest.'
At once the tears are changed; I do not believe that they stopped at once, but where once they were wrung from a heart broken and self-tormenting they flow now from a heart exulting. How different is, 'Master!' from 'If thou hast taken Him away, tell me'; and, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him,' has a very different sound from, 'I have seen the Lord, and He hast spoken to me.'
But how should I, in misery and without love, dare to describe the love of God and the blessed friend of God? Such a flavour of goodness will make my heart sick if it has in itself nothing of that same virtue.
But in truth, Thou Who art very truth, Thou knowest me well and canst testify that I write this for the love of Thy love, my Lord, my most dear Jesus.
I want Thy love to burn in me as Thou commandest so that I may desire to love Thee alone and sacrifice to Thee a troubled spirit, 'a broken and a contrite heart'.
Give me, O Lord, in this exile, the bread of tears and sorrow for which I hunger more than for any choice delights.
Hear me, for Thy love, and for the dear merits of Thy beloved Mary, and Thy blessed Mother, the greater Mary.
Redeemer, my good Jesus, do not despise the prayers of one who hast sinned against Thee but strengthen the efforts of a weakling that loves Thee.
Shakest my heart out of its indolence, Lord, and in the ardour of Thy love bringest me to the everlasting sight of Thy glory where with the Father and the Holy Spirit Thou livest and reignest, God, for ever. Amen.