Mary Magdalene

Until recently, the status of the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene was, for Roman Catholics, a “Memorial”. That’s almost as low down the Roman Catholic ranking of celebrations that you can get. Effectively, only “Optional Memorials” rank lower.

Four days ago, Saint Mary Magdalene’s celebration was upgraded by the Vatican to the status of “Feast”. This means she now has the same status as the other apostles. Her celebration now has a proper preface – called de apostolorum apostola, “Apostle to the Apostles”.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (pages 7-8) has the status of her celebration as an (imaginatively-called) “Holy Day… in bold type [which] take(s) precedence over Sundays and all other days of commemoration or of special observance.” That gives her a status above many of the apostles (and higher than the new Roman Catholic position where she still, like other apostles, wouldn’t take over the Sunday celebration).

Those previous NZ Anglican rules have now been replaced by Liturgical Precedence (updated 2014) where “light type” and “bold type” Holy Days have been leveled to the status of “Festivals” – these may be celebrated on the Sunday or transferred to the Monday
(or, at the discretion of the minister, to the next suitable weekday). [I am with the Vatican’s wariness of multiplying feast days and themed days that interrupt the regular Sunday readings – and I think Cranmer would side with me and the Vatican in this. Incidentally, it is this new collection of rules which starts “Ordinary Time” after Candlemas February 2, rather than Epiphany January 6, and, with the new titles, this means that in NZ Anglicanism, this coming Sunday, it will be the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, while for everyone else it is the 12th].

The BCP 1662 makes no provision for Saint Mary Magdalene. In BCP (TEC) she has the same status as feasts of Apostles (a “Major Feast”). When this occurs on a Sunday it is “normally transferred to the first convenient open day within the week” (page 16).

Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote:

By the express wish of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a new Decree on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, 3 June 2016, in which the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene was elevated and inscribed in the General Roman Calendar with the rank of Feast.

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. Saint John Paul II paid great attention not only to the importance of women in the mission of Christ and the Church, but also and with special emphasis on the particular role of Mary of Magdala as the first witness who saw the risen Christ, and as the first messenger who announced the Lord’s resurrection to the Apostles (Mulieris dignitatem n. 16). The importance of this continues today in the Church, as is evident in the new evangelisation, which seeks to welcome all men and women “of every race, people, language and nation” (Rev 5: 9), without any distinction, to announce to them the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ while accompanying them on their earthly pilgrimage, and offering them the wonders of God’s salvation. Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of a true and authentic evangeliser, that is an evangelist who announces the central joyful message of Easter (cf. Collect for 22 July and the new Preface)…

she has the honour to be the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection (“prima testis” – Hymnus, Ad Laudes matutinas), the first who saw the empty tomb and the first to hear the truth about his resurrection. 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, or as Saint Anselm says in the prayer mentioned above with “lacrimas humilitatis” (“the tears of humility”). In this way it is possible to highlight the contrast between the woman present in the garden of paradise and the woman present in the garden of the resurrection. The first spread death where there was life; the second announced life from a sepulchre, the place of death. As Gregory the Great underlines: “Quia in paradiso mulier viro propinavit mortem, a sepulcro mulier viris annuntiat vitam” (“Indeed because a woman offered death to a man in Paradise, a woman announces life to the men from the tomb”: XL Hom. In Evangelia, lib. II, Hom. 25)…

precisely because she was an eyewitness to the risen Christ, she was also the first one to bear witness to him before the Apostles. She fulfils the command of the Risen Lord: “‘Go to my brethren 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 she told them that he had said these things to her” (Jn 20:17-18). Thus, as already indicated she becomes an evangelist, that is a messenger who announces the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection or, as Rabanus Maurus and Saint Thomas Aquinas say, she becomes the “apostolorum apostola” because she announces to the apostles what in turn they will announce to the whole world (Rabanus Maurus, De vita beatae Mariae Magdalenae, XXVII; Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Ioannem Evangelistam Expositio, c. XX, L. III, 6). It was with good reason that the Angelic Doctor applied this term to Mary of Magdala, for she is the witness to the risen Christ and announces the message of the Lord’s resurrection just like the rest of the Apostles. For this reason it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar and that the special mission of this woman should be underlined, she who is an example and model for all women in the Church.

The proper preface in Latin – yet to be formally translated into English.

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