On June 3, 2016 Pope Francis raised the celebration of the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the dignity of a liturgical Feast, recognizing the importance of her role as the “apostle to the apostles.”
Mary the Mother of God was the first evangelist to announce Jesus, while still in her womb, to her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary Magdelene, another saintly woman, was first to announce the Resurrection of our Savior to the Apostles. Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic Evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter.
The Church, both in the East and in the West has always regarded Saint Mary Magdalene the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection and the first evangelist. In the 21st century, the Church is called to reflect in a more profound way on the dignity of Woman in the Church and on promoting a New Evangelization. Mary Magdelene is the model for both.
It is right that the Church raises her status to full Feast equal to the male Apostles. This saintly woman known in Scripture as the one who loved Christ and was greatly loved by Christ is rightly promoted to the faithful as a model of women’s role in the Church.
Women, like the male laity have been commissioned by Christ at their baptisms to be priests, prophets and kings. Priests, in the sense of offering all we do, our works, joys, and sorrows for the kingdom. Prophets in the sense of preaching the Good News and giving witness to our faith, and Kings, good stewards, here on earth in service to Christ the King in Heaven.
“The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood. By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1268)
A lot has been written about Mary Magdelene, especially since Dan Brown’s Davinci Code but mostly “urban legends.” Church tradition in the West has identified Saint Mary Magdalene, and the woman who anointed Christ’s feet with perfume in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the sister of Lazarus and Martha, as one and the same person.
“What is certain is that Mary Magdalene was part of the group of Jesus’ disciples, she accompanied him to the foot of the Cross and, in the garden where she met him at the tomb, and was the first “witness of Divine Mercy” (Pope Gregory the Great)
The Gospel of John tells us that Mary Magdalene wept because she could not find the body of the Lord (Jn 20:11); and that Jesus had mercy on her by letting himself be known as her Master, thus transforming her tears into paschal joy.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden spread death where there was life. Mary in the garden of the Resurrection announced life from the Holy Sepulchre a place of death.
There is also an important lesson taught to us in Jesus’ words to Mary, “Do not cling to me,” John 20:17. Jesus invites us along with Mary Magdelene to enter into the experience of faith which goes beyond the materialistic and that which can be discovered by our “senses.”
Remember Jesus words to Thomas after the resurrection, behind closed doors, “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”
Mary Magdelene was an eyewitness to the risen Christ. She was also the first one to bear witness to him before the Apostles. She fulfils the command of the Risen Lord: “‘Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples ‘I have seen the Lord’ and she told them that he had said these things to her” (Jn 20:17-18). She became the first Evangelist of the Risen Lord, announcing to the apostles the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection
For this reason it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the male Apostles in the General Roman Calendar and that the special mission of this woman should be underlined. St. Mary Magdelene is an example and model for all women in the Church.
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