From the Pastor: July 16th, 2017
The Feast of Mary Magdalene
On June 10, 2016, Pope Francis accorded the liturgical celebration of Mary Magdalene the status of a Feast like that of most of the apostles. Is Mary Magdalene, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood saints in western Christian tradition?
Mary Magdalene literally translated as Mary the Magdalene or Mary of Magdala, was a Jewish woman who, according to texts included in the New Testament, traveled with Jesus as one of His followers. She is said to have witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Within the four Gospels she is named at least 12 times, more than most of the apostles.
Ideas that go beyond the gospel presentation of Mary Magdalene as a prominent representative of the women who followed Jesus have been put forward over the centuries.
Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches-with a feast day of July 22.
Western Christianity: During the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was regarded in the west as a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman, claims not found in any of the four canonical gospels. The identity of Mary Magdalene is believed to have been merged with the identity of the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50. Mary Magdalene, the anointing sinner of Luke, and Mary of Bethany, who in John 11:1-2 also anoints Jesus’ feet, were long regarded as the same person. Though Mary Magdalene is named in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, none of the clear references to her indicate that she was a prostitute or notable for a sinful way of life, nor link her with Mary of Bethany.
Eastern Orthodox Tradition maintains that Mary Magdalene, distinguished from Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus in Luke, had been a virtuous woman all her life, even before her conversion. They have never celebrated her as a penitent. This view finds expression both in her written life and in the liturgical service in her honor and performed on her annual feast-day.
Mary Magdalene is honored as one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, and received a special commission from him to tell the Apostles of his resurrection. She is often depicted on icons bearing a vessel of ointment, not because of the anointing by the “sinful woman”, but because she was among those women who brought ointments to the tomb of Jesus. For this reason, she is called a Myrrhbearer.
According to Eastern traditions, she retired to Ephesus with the Theotokos (Mary, the Mother of God) and there she died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are preserved there.
[To be continued]
— Fr. Augustine