Today, 22nd July 2016, we celebrate for the very first time the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene.
On 3rd June 2016, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Father did something a little bit unusual. He changed the status of the memorial of Saint Mary Magdalen, raising it from a Commemoration to a Feast day. Noting the change, the Holy See Press Office had issued the following brief statement –
“Vatican City, 10 June 2016 – Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, today issued a decree by which, in accordance with the will of the Holy Father, it is established that the liturgical memory of St. Mary Magdalene, celebrated on 22 July, will be elevated to the level of a feast day. In the Mass and in the Divine Office to be celebrated on that date from now on, the usual texts in the Roman Missal and the Liturgy of the Hours will be used, but the Mass will also include a specific Preface entitled “de apostolorum apostola” (Apostle of the apostles”), the full Latin text of which is given below. The bishops, upon approval by the Holy See, will make this accessible in the various vernacular languages”.
This phrase ‘Apostle of the Apostles’ also forms the title of the accompanying document, which notes clearly that the change is ‘expressly wished by the Holy Father’. The Briefing announcing the change explains –
“The Holy Father Francis has taken this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to stress the importance of this woman, who shows great love for Christ and was very dear to Christ .. It is certain that Mary Magdalene formed part of the group of Jesus’ disciples, that she followed Him to the foot of the cross and in the garden in which she found the tomb, she was the first ‘testis divinae misericordiae’, as St. Gregory the Great affirmed. The Gospel of John says that Mary Magdalene wept, as she had not found the body of the Lord, and Jesus had mercy on her, allowing Himself to be recognised as the Master and transforming her tears into Paschal joy.”
On the feast of the Assumption in 1988, St John Paul II published his Apostolic Letter ‘Mulieris Dignitatem’ (‘On The Dignity And Vocation Of Women’). In this, he wrote –
“The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear ‘He is not here. He has risen, as He said.’ They are the first to embrace His feet. The women are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles. The Gospel of John emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ … Hence she came to be called “the apostle of the Apostles”. Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to Him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men”.
Our present Holy Father has spoken previously about Saint Mary Magdalen; during his General Audience on 23rd April 2014, he said –
“..It is not easy, it is not obvious to accept the life of the Risen Christ and His presence among us .. Mary Magdalene weeps, she sees Him but does not recognize Him, she only realizes that it is Jesus when He calls her by name .. Like Mary Magdalene, we need to hear Jesus’ voice calling our name.”
Clearly, then, we are being shown the person of Mary Magdalen as an example of faith and of witness.
But more than this, she is also presented as a model of that true and living faith which is based on a personal relationship with the living Lord – and that personal relationship cannot be based on a faith that has no depth, no sense of real commitment behind it as it’s foundation. That would be routine or habit, but it would not be faith.
A real and living faith, on the other hand, places us before the living Lord, recognizing His divinity and also His humanity. God is both immanent and transcendent. Before Him, we perceive our misery; also before Him, we receive His divine mercy, if only we will accept it – for He will never force us to do so.
In other words, and as Pope Francis explains it so simply and so beautifully, it is a relationship where we accept the invitation of the Lord, who calls our name.