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Mary Magdalene

Upgrading the Apostle to the Apostles

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Those previous NZ Anglican rules have now been replaced by Liturgical Precedence (updated 2014) where “light type” and “bold type” Holy Days have been leveled to the status of “Festivals” – these may be celebrated on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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11 thoughts on “Upgrading the Apostle to the Apostles”

  1. Silly westerners, only celebrating one thing at a time!


    (Seriously, the ability to stack commemorations is really convenient for this sort of thing. The more liturgically flexible of the western traditions should seriously consider it.)

    1. I think you have an important point, Peter. I have often questioned the “search for a single theme” and the twisting of things so that only one single point is expressed. On the other hand there is the Western obsession to move celebrations to Sundays – as if one hour a week is the only spirituality expected of us. Blessings.

      1. If you or anyone else are wondering how it works —

        For Vespers and Matins, it’s complicated; every part of the service that’s variable winds up getting parts of each (which goes pretty smoothly, since most service texts are designed to be stacked anyway).

        For the Liturgy itself, it’s pretty straightforward. Just before the Trisagion Hymn and the readings, the troparia and kontakia of the day (which are short hymns — roughly the length of a collect, though not at all the same literary form, of course) are sung. On average, there is a troparion and a kontakion per commemoration, with one or two additional kontakia tacked on to the end as a conclusion.

        Then, with the readings, there are readings for the day (12th Tuesday after Pentecost, for example) virtually every day; depending on the rank of the commemoration, there may also be readings for the Saint as well. In the Russian tradition, we do the prokeimena (graduals) for both, and the readings for both; I understand the Greeks sometimes do the Epistle for one and the Gospel for the other.

        1. Thanks, Peter! It is always so refreshing to get quite a different take on the tradition. Blessings.

  2. i like the description of M.M. as ‘Apostle to The Apostles’, This has scriptural backing, After all, Jesus did ‘send’ Mary to tell the other Apostles that he was risen. That they did not believe her is still evident in the the paradigm for the Church’s attitude of patriarchalism.

    1. Adrian Yañez

      Go look up gynocentrism. The term Apostle to the Apostle comes from Thomas Aquinas. He limits his definition of Mary being the Apostle to the Apostles to her being sent by Jesus to tell the Apostles. He makes it clear that nothing else can be read from this description. Once again the NO church misapplies what Thomas said. The quote is from Thomas Aquinas commentary on John.

      1. Thanks, Adrian. I cannot see where Thomas Aquinas “makes it clear that nothing else can be read from this description”:

        Tertio officium apostolicum, immo facta est apostolorum apostola, per hoc quod ei committitur ut resurrectionem dominicam discipulis annuntiet: ut sicut mulier viro primo nuntiavit verba mortis, ita et mulier primo nuntiaret verba vitae.

        Easter Season Blessings.

  3. The changing status of Mary Mag in the English Prayer Books is interesting. Hers was a greater (red-letter) feast in the 1549 BCP. It was deleted entirely from the 1552 BCP, perhaps due to Puritan sensibilities of the Magdalen as a fallen woman. It was restored to the 1559 BCP as a lesser (black-letter) feast, and so remained through 1662. The alternative calendar of the deposited 1928 BCP of England restored her feast to the higher rank, and most calendar revisions around the Anglican Communion did the same. In most Anglican provinces we have been celebrating Apostolorum Apostola at the equivalent rank of a Feast for decades.

  4. Greetings,
    As the special feast day of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd approaches I would like to make known new evidence, which suggests that Mary Magdalene should have been recognized as the first pope.

    I discovered the evidence when I asked the most basic question about the events at the resurrection of Jesus, which seemingly was never asked before.
    How could Mary Magdalene see men and angels in the tomb on that first Easter morning while Peter could only see linen clothes?

    The answer has profound implications.

    The new evidence suggests that the gospel writers had used the holy tabernacle as a theatrical setting in order to explain in human language terms the supernatural transition to and from the spirit realm by a mortal. Just consider the setting?

    The tabernacle tent was divided into two rooms by a veil. One room was the earthly place where the priests ministered while the other room was the heavenly place where God sat between two angelic cherubim. When the veil of the temple or tabernacle was rent in two at the crucifixion the earthly place was joined to God’s divine place and that was the gospel writers explanation for how Jesus passed into heaven.

    Now apply the tabernacle setting to the events at the resurrection. Mary Magdalene saw two angels sitting at either side of where the body of Jesus had lain. In essence she was looking at the two cherubim in God’s divine chamber. In contrast, Peter was restricted to the earthly place where the clothes were.

    The punchline – no one but the male high priest had access to God’s divine place. However, in a highly visible albeit cryptic presentation, the gospel writers had acknowledged Mary Magdalene as the high priestess when they wrote about her privileged view of the events. It follows that Mary Magdalene should have been recognized as the first pope.

    Extraordinary discoveries require irrefutable proofs and I have written up the research findings in an E book entitled Mary Magdalene – The First Pope and can send it to you if you e mail me at the address below.

    1. Thanks, Michael. Your allegorising might work to your conclusion of you can demonstrate that the Pope (ie the Bishop of Rome) is equivalent to the High Priest. There are several popes, of course. The Coptic Pope immediately springs to mind alongside the Bishop of Rome. Blessings.

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