Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Heart speaks to heart!
The Apostle to the Apostles: St. Mary Magdalene
by John Fencik, for the Inland Register
(From the July 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
You may have missed this liturgical calendar change from early June. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments changed St. Mary Magdalene’s commemoration on July 22 from an obligatory memorial to a feast. This lifted her onto the same liturgical level as some of the other Apostles.
In the Mass honoring her, a new Preface will be added, calling her the “Apostle to the Apostles” or, as Pope Francis said, “a true and authentic evangelizer.” (Feast days are ranked, with solemnities being the most important, followed by feasts, and then memorials, which themselves can be obligatory or optional.)
Over the centuries there has been some confusion as to her identity, which has led to many legendary stories attached to her life, not evidenced in the Gospels. Looking at the Scriptures, St. Luke wrote: “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (8:2) and St. Mark wrote: “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (16.9). She is present at Calvary, and all the evangelists present her as the first to bear witness that Jesus was risen. In fact, St. John and St. Mark relate that she is the first individual to actually see the Risen Lord, who then sends her to the disciples with the good news of his Resurrection. Hence, she is called “the apostle to the Apostles.”
What an interesting phrase! There may be some reference to its usage in the early Church (3rd century), but one must look centuries later to find it more widely used. Some scholars place it in a 9th century work, but others question if it was that early. Certainly by the time of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) this phrase “apostle to the Apostles” was being attributed to Mary Magdalene.
Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said this change reflects Pope Francis’ acknowledging Mary Magdalen as a true disciple and model for today’s women and the crucial role they have in the new evangelization. He wrote that “Pope Francis has taken this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the relevance of this woman who showed great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ.”
Three years ago, Pope Francis spoke of Jesus’ love and mercy toward Mary Magdalen, “who was exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous.” He called to mind her crying near the tomb, saying, “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
In his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (“On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”), St. John Paul II used Mary Magdalene as an example of one who fulfilled what Christ set out clearly as the mission of the Church in evangelization. He emphasized the valuable sacrifices and work of today’s women in furthering the Gospel.
Pope Benedict XVI (2006) said: “The story of Mary of Magdala reminds us all of a fundamental truth. A disciple of Christ is one who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him and has set out following closely after him, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love that is stronger than sin and death.”
Thus, the July 22 feast is an opportunity for us, as Archbishop Roche said, to “reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.
(John Fencik is director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane.)
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