Mary Magdalene

Catholic Information

Mary Magdalen was so called either from Magdala near Tiberias, on the west shore of Galilee, or possibly from a Talmudic expression meaning "curling women's hair," which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress. In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3), where it is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She is next named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49). She saw Christ laid in the tomb, and she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection.

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The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons:

the "sinner" of Luke 7:36-50;

the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11; and

Mary Magdalen.

On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion.

The first fact, mentioned in the Gospel relating to the question under discussion is the anointing of Christ's feet by a woman, a "sinner" in the city (Luke 7:37-50). This belongs to the Galilean ministry, it precedes the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and the third Passover. Immediately afterwards St. Luke describes a missionary circuit in Galilee and tells us of the women who ministered to Christ, among them being "Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth" (Luke 8:2); but he does not tell us that she is to be identified with the "sinner" of the previous chapter. In 10:38-42, he tells us of Christ's visit to Martha and Mary "in a certain town"; it is impossible to identify this town, but it is clear from 9:53, that Christ had definitively left Galilee, and it is quite possible that this "town" was Bethany. This seems confirmed by the preceding parable of the good Samaritan, which must almost certainly have been spoken on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. But here again we note that there is no suggestion of an identification of the three persons (the "sinner", Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Bethany), and if we had only St. Luke to guide us we should certainly have no grounds for so identifying them. St. John, however, clearly identifies Mary of Bethany with the woman who anointed Christ's feet (12; cf. Matthew 26 and Mark 14). It is remarkable that already in 11:2, St. John has spoken of Mary as "she that anointed the Lord's feet", he aleipsasa; It is commonly said that he refers to the subsequent anointing which he himself describes in 12:3-8; but it may be questioned whether he would have used he aleipsasa if another woman, and she a "sinner" in the city, had done the same. It is conceivable that St. John, just because he is writing so long after the event and at a time when Mary was dead, wishes to point out to us that she was really the same as the "sinner." In the same way St. Luke may have veiled her identity precisely because he did not wish to defame one who was yet living; he certainly does something similar in the case of St. Matthew whose identity with Levi the publican (5:7) he conceals. If the foregoing argument holds good, Mary of Bethany and the "sinner" are one and the same. But an examination of St. John's Gospel makes it almost impossible to deny the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalen. From St. John we learn the name of the "woman" who anointed Christ's feet previous to the last supper. We may remark here that it seems unnecessary to hold that because St. Matthew and St. Mark say "two days before the Passover", while St. John says "six days" there were, therefore, two distinct anointings following one another. St. John does not necessarily mean that the supper and the anointing took place six days before, but only that Christ came to Bethany six days before the Passover. At that supper, then, Mary received the glorious encomium, "she hath wrought a good work upon Me . . . in pouring this ointment upon My body she hath done it for My burial . . . wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached . . . that also which she hath done shall be told for a memory of her." Is it credible, in view of all this, that this Mary should have no place at the foot of the cross, nor at the tomb of Christ? Yet it is Mary Magdalen who, according to all the Evangelists, stood at the foot of the cross and assisted at the entombment and was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. And while St. John calls her "Mary Magdalen" in 19:25, 20:1, and 20:18, he calls her simply "Mary" in 20:11 and 20:16.

In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the "sinner" comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen "out of whom seven devils were gone forth"; shortly after, we find her "sitting at the Lord's feet and hearing His words." To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to "the Christ, the Son of the Living God", and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection--excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ's feet--it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head--the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.

Subsequent history of St. Mary Magdalen

The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition (see SAINT LAZARUS OF BETHANY), Mary, Lazarus, and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin. History is silent about these relics till 745, when according to the chronicler Sigebert, they were removed to V├ęzelay through fear of the Saracens. No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans, the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages.

Publication information Written by Hugh T. Pope. Transcribed by Paul T. Crowley. In Memoriam, Sr. Mary Leah, O.P. and Sr. Mary Lilly, O.P. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


The Holy Myrrh-Bearer Equal-unto-the-Apostles, Mary Magdalene

Orthodox Information

Commemorated July 22

On the banks of Lake Gennesaret (Galilee), between the cities of Capernaum and Tiberias, was situated the small city of Magdala, the remains of which have survived to our day. Now at this place stands only the small village of Mejhdel.

In Magdala sometime formerly the woman was born and grew up, whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account. The Gospel tells us nothing about the youthful years of Mary, but tradition informs us, that Mary from Magdala was young and pretty, and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels, that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary. From the moment of healing Mary led a new life. She became a true disciple of the Saviour.

The Gospel relates that Mary followed after the Lord, when He went with the Apostles through the cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Together with the pious women -- Joanna, wife of Khuza (steward of Herod), Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Lk 8:1-3) and undoubtedly, shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks, in common with the other women. The Evangelist Luke, evidently, has her in view together with the other women, stating that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, when after the Scourging He took on Himself the heavy Cross, collapsing under its weight, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing, but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on Golgotha at the moment of the Lord's Crucifixion. While all the disciples of the Saviour ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.

The evangelists enumerate among those standing at the Cross moreover also the mother of the Apostle James the Less, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee itself, but all mention first Mary Magdalene; but the Apostle John aside the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from amidst all the women gathered round the Lord.

She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His Extreme Humiliation and Insult. As the Evangelist Matthew relates, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nikodemos went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body; before her eyes they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, behind which went the Sun of Life...

Faithful to the Law in which she was trained, Mary together with the other women stayed all the following day at rest, because it was the great day of the Sabbath, coinciding in that year with the Feast of Passover. But all the rest of the peaceful day the women succeeded in storing up aromatics, to go at dawn Sunday to the Grave of the Lord and Teacher and according to the custom of the Jews to anoint His Body with funereal aromatics.

It is necessary to suggest that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women, having gone separately on Friday evening to their own homes, did not have the possibility to meet together with one another on Saturday, and how only at the break of dawn the following day did they go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from their own house.

The Evangelist Matthew writes, that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as the Evangelist Mark expresses, extremely early before the rising of the sun; the Evangelist John, as it were elaborating upon these, says that Mary came to the grave so early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of night, but it was not daybreak when round about darkness still ruled -- she ran there where lay the Body of the Lord.

Now then, Mary went to the Tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she rushed away in fear thither where dwelt the close Apostles of Christ - Peter and John. Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and winding cloths, they were amazed. The Apostles went and told no one nothing, but Mary stood about the entrance to the gloomy tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb still so recently lay her lifeless Lord. Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it - and here a strange light suddenly prevailed upon her. She saw two angels in white garments, the one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. She heard the question, "Woman, why dp upi weep?", and she answered them, with the words which she had said to the Apostles, "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know, where they have put Him". Having said this, she turned around, and at this moment saw the Risen Jesus standing about the grave, but she did not recognise Him.

He asked Mary, "Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek?" She answered thinking that she was seeing the gardener: "Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where thou hast put Him, and I will reclaim Him."

But at this moment she recognised the Lord's voice, a voice which was known from the day He healed her. This was the voice in those days and years, when together with the other pious women she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where His preaching was heard. She gave a joyful shout "Rabbi" that means Teacher.

Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendour as great Teacher - all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Teacher, to wash them with tears of joy. However, the Lord said to her, "Touch me not, for I am still not ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father and to My God and to your God'".

She came to herself and again ran to the Apostles, so as to do the will of Him sending her to preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles stayed still in dismay, and announced to them the joyous message "I have seen the Lord!" This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection of Christ. The Apostles were obliged to proclaim the Glad Tidings to the world, but she proclaimed it to the Apostles themselves.

Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt, that if in the terrifying minutes of Christ's Crucifixion she was the foot of His Cross with His All-Pure Mother and John, undoubtedly, she stayed with them during all the happier time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke writes: that all the Apostles with one mind stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.

Holy Tradition testifies, that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem for preaching to all the ends of the earth, then together with them also went Mary Magdalene to preach. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and set off to preach in pagan Rome. And everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His Teaching, and when many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection: "I have seen the Lord!" With this preaching she made the rounds of all Italy.

Tradition relates, that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited the Emperor Tiberias (14-37 AD) and proclaimed to him about Christ's Resurrection. According to tradition, she took him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: "Christ is Risen!" Then she told the emperor about this, that in his Province of Judea was the innocently condemned Jesus the Galilean, an holy man, a maker or miracles, powerful before God and all mankind, executed on the instigation of the Jewish High-Priests and the sentence affirmed by the procurator named by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.

Mary repeated the words of the Apostles, that believing in the Redemption of Christ from the vanity of life is not as with perishable silver or gold, but rather the precious Blood of Christ is like a spotless and pure Lamb.

Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Luminous Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. On one ancient hand-written Greek ustav, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of Saint Athanasias near Thessalonika (Solunea), is an established prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese, in which it is indicated, that the Hegumen (Abbot) in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: "Thus have we received from the holy fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy apostles, wherefore the holy equal-unto-the-apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering".

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul has precisely her in view in his Epistle to the Romans (16, 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses "has done much for us". Evidently, she extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labours of preaching.

According to Church tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years still, following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome Saint Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where unceasingly laboured the holy Apostle John, who with her wrote the first 20 Chapters of his Gospel. There the saint finished her earthly life and was buried.

Her holy relics were transferred in the IX Century to the capital of the Byzantine Empire - Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of Saint Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene are located in France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain is erected in her honour a splendid church.

The Orthodox Church honours the holy memory of Saint Mary Magdalene - the woman, called by the Lord Himself from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.

Formerly immersed in sin and having received healing, she sincerely and irrevocably began a new life and never wavered from the path. Mary loved the Lord Who called her to a new life. She was faithful to Him not only then - when He having expelled from her the seven demons and surrounded by enthusiastic crowds passed through the cities and villages of Palestine, winning for Himself the glory of a miracle-worker - but also then when all the disciples in fear deserted Him and He, humiliated and crucified, hung in torment upon the Cross. This is why the Lord, knowing her faithfulness, appeared to her first, and esteemed her worthy to be first proclaiming His Resurrection.

Dismissal Hymn (First Tone)

When Christ God had been born for our sakes from the Virgin, you faithfully followed Him, keeping His statutes and heeding His sacred laws, O august Mary Magdalene. Hence, as we today observe your holy remembrance, we receive the loosing of our sins and transgressions through you holy prayers for us.

Kontakion: (Fourth Tone)

When God, the Mighty, the Transcendent in essence, came in the flesh into the world, He received you, O Mary, as His true Disciple as was meet. For you had your whole desire and your love set upon Him; therefore, you brought to pass many cures for the ailing; and now translated to the Heavens' heights, you ever fervently pray for all the world.

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