St Mary Magdalene’s feast day will now be celebrated in the Church as a Feast!
To which I say, about time!
St Mary Magdalene is one of the most important figures in the Gospels. She faithfully followed our Lord and supported him in His ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) She accompanied Him to Calvary and stood, with Our Lady, St John and the other women, at the foot of the Cross (Mark 15:17). She saw Him buried in the tomb (Mark 15:47). Most importantly, she was the first person to discover the empty tomb (John 20:1-2) and the first person to whom the risen Lord Jesus appeared after His resurrection (John 20:11-18). He comforted her, and telling her not to cling to Him “for I have not yet ascended to the Father”. (John 20:16-17) He commanded her to go tell the apostles and that is exactly what she did, declaring to all the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).
In short, she is an incredible saint!
The General Roman Calendar: Feasts vs feasts
As many of you will know, all the feast days of saints in the Catholic Church are divided into four categories, one of which is called a ‘Feast’. (Just to confuse everyone!) These categories or ranks determine the prayers and readings, both in the Mass and the Divine Office. The four ranks are:
- Optional Memorial
St Mary Magdalene’s feast day (a generic name for all saint’s days) has now been from a Memorial to a Feast. Feasts are reserved for the events in the life of our Lord and our Lady, and for only the most important saints, like the Apostles, the Gospel writers, the Archangels, several outstanding martyrs (St Lawrence and St Stephen, for example). Most oddly of all, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is also a Feast but that’s a whole another story!
So, contrary to what you might hear, the rank of Feast isn’t just for Apostles!
Why St Mary Magdalene?
The new Preface as well as the existing readings for the Feast of St Mary Magdalene will emphasise her role as, firstly, the first witness to the Lord’s resurrection, and secondly, as the apostle to the Apostles.
The decree issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explains that “Christ showed special consideration and mercy to this woman who showed her love for Christ by seeking him in her anguish and suffering in the garden.”
This encounter in the garden calls to mind another garden. The disbelief of one woman brought death to man in the Garden of Eden, but the faith and love of one woman in this garden brings life to men from the tomb. And how does this happen? St Mary Magdalene, out of joy, reaches out to Jesus but He says to her, “do not cling to me.” (John 20:17)
This is an invitation to enter into an experience of faith that goes beyond materialistic assumptions and the human grasping after the divine Mystery which is not simply addressed to Mary but to the entire Church. This is an ecclesial moment! This is an important lesson for every disciple of Jesus Christ to neither seek human securities nor the vainglory of this world, but in faith to seek the living and risen Christ!
And St Mary Magdalene does that. With faith in the risen Christ, she goes to the apostles, still scared and in hiding. She becomes the first evangelist of the Resurrection and the apostolorum apostola, the apostle to the Apostles, “because she announces to the apostles what in turn they will announce to the whole world.”
So Why Now?
In explaining this change, the decree states,
This decision, in the current ecclesial context, seeks to reflect more deeply upon the dignity of women, on the new evangelisation and on the greatness of the mystery of God’s Mercy.
They are all reasons it is particularly fitting that this liturgical change has happened now.
It would be a mistake to think, however, that St Mary Magdalene now has the rank of a Feast because women or evangelisation need to be emphasised. This is not, in any way, liturgical “affirmative action”.
It is simply “right and just” to quote the Preface of the Mass, that this great saint is honoured as the very first witness of the Resurrection. She is the first link in that great chain of Easter joy that draws us to Christ. The only reason you know that Jesus is risen is because St Mary Magdalene obeyed her Lord, didn’t cling to Him, and instead went to spread the good news that Christ is risen!
Through her, we have all seen the Lord!
St Mary Magdalene, pray for us.