St Mary Magdalene

Song of Songs 3.1-4; Psalm 62; John 20.1-2,11-18

Mary of Magdala (a fishing town on the western shore of Lake Galilee) is mentioned twelve times in the four Gospels, more than most of the apostles. We are told that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her and that subsequently she was one of the women who travelled about with him, supporting him and his disciples out of their own resources. [Luke 8.1-3] These words suggest that she was likely well-to-do. She was present mourning at the crucifixion of Jesus and was a witness to the empty tomb [23.55—24.11]. In St Mark’s [16.9] and St John’s [20.11-18] Gospels, she is the first to see the risen Christ. It seems likely that she was present with the disciples and Jesus’ mother during the days between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost. [Acts 1.14]

During the Middle Ages, however, Mary Magdalene came to be conflated with two other women: Mary the sister of Martha (and Lazarus) of Bethany [John 12.1-8]; and an unnamed woman “who had a bad name in the town” who entered a Pharisee’s house unbidden and washed Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. [Luke 7.36-50] Alas, Pope St Gregory the Great was instrumental in perpetrating this confusion. The sobriquet “Penitent” was removed from Mary Magdalene’s name when the Calendar of the Catholic Church was revised in 1960.

It is impossible to harmonise the four Gospels’ accounts of the resurrection appearances. Mary Magdalene’s appointment by Our Lord himself to “go and find the brothers and tell them” [John 20.17; Mark 16.9-11] suggests, though, that she ought to be remembered primarily as Witness to the Resurrection, a ministry in which we ourselves are invited to be joined.

Posted in Daily Reflection.