Feast of Mary Magdalene
Mary of Magdala was a strong woman leader who accompanied Jesus through a tortuous death, first witnessed to his Resurrection, and proclaimed the Risen Savior to the early church. Yet years of patriarchal preaching have depicted her as a wanton sinner forgiven by Jesus for sins of a sexual nature. In biblical usage the presence of evil spirits most often indicated that a person was ill, perhaps with epilepsy or mental illness. The misidentification of Mary as reformed public sinner achieved official standing in a homily delivered by Pope Gregory I (540-604). The Eastern church, however, never identified her as a prostitute, and honored her throughout history as “the Apostle to the Apostles.” In reality, Mary of Magdala was a faithful disciple of Jesus during his ministry, a first witness to the risen Christ, a woman filled with the Holy Spirit, and a teacher who kept alive the message of Jesus after he died. Taken together, the biblical texts show a picture of Mary Magdalene as a faithful disciple of Jesus, a witness to his life and destiny, and a teacher in the early church. She was a woman respected in the early Christian community for her leadership and wisdom.
“I have seen the Lord.”
Read some contemporary scholarship about Mary Magdalene such as the section about her in Friends of God and Prophets by Elizabeth Johnson. Reflect on the distortions about her depicted in art and teachings. Reflect on the fact that women were in positions of leadership in the early Christian community.
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. Luke 8:1-56 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers 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 that he had said these things to her.
In the garden He appeared to Mary Magdalene, who loved him in life, who witnessed his death on the cross, who sought him as he lay in the tomb, who was the first to adore him when he rose from the dead, and whose apostolic duty was honored by the apostles so that the good news of life might reach the ends of the earth.
USCCB Preface of the Mass for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
Mary of Magdala is a first century Jewish woman who speaks and acts in the power of S[pirit-Sophia. A faithful disciple of Jesus during his ministry, frist witness to the risen Christ, on fire with the spirit of Pentecost, she is an apostolic leader who helps develop the gospel message and continues Jesus’ preaching once he is gone.
Already in the late 19th century scholars of the New Testament began to realize that there was no scriptural basis for the identification of Mary Magdalene with the repentant sinner of Luke 7. But this scholarship was popularized only recently, and Mary Magdalene claimed as a role model for women preachers and ministers. In this process of reinterpreting Mary Magdalene for today, church tradition should not be reduced to a hostile conspiracy against her. It has a richer tradition to offer.
Rosemary Radford Ruether
By the time the Gospels were written down, it was impossible to tell the story of the resurrection without including the women witnesses. The oral tradition about the empty tomb and Mary of Magdala’s encounter with Jesus was too deeply entrenched in Christian memory to leave out.
In the time between Mary Magdalene seeing the Risen Christ and telling the disciples, she was the church on earth. For in those hours she was the only one, man or woman, who knew the Paschal Mystery. Any discussion of women in the church must begin there.
James Martin, SJ
All the world religions agree that the acid test of any theology, any spirituality, is that it leads the faithful to the practice of compassion and to the recognition of the sacred in others. A theology that has led to the denigration, exploitation, and oppression of half the human race for so long cannot pass this test. Karen Armstrong,