22 July: St. Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.

The 3rd c. writer Hippolytus in his Commentary on Song of Songs identifies Mary Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42; John 1:10) and also the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:36-50)

Mary Magdalene and/or Mary of Bethany are often identified as sinners. Pope Gregory I "the Great" called her a peccatrix, "sinner". Eventually she came to be called meretrix, "prostitute".

There is no way to arrive definitively at the identity of the figure of Mary Magdelene. It is possible that Mary Magdalene was none of these women. The Catholic Church has no position about this. Commmonly, however, Catholics sometimes identify all three women as the same Mary.

There is also another version, namely that Mary Magdalene was the woman Jesus saved from stoning after being caught in adultery. This is the tradition referenced in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. Scholars however believe that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, the woman Jesus rescued, and the woman who anointed His feet are all different women.

We know from Scripture that Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James came to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2). Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the empty tomb, went to tell Apostles (John 20:1-2). So, she is called "the apostle to the apostles". At first Mary did not recognise Jesus, but when He said her name, she saw who He was and tried to cling to him. Christ forbade her to touch Him (Noli me tangere John 20:17) saying "I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’"

What became of Mary Magdelene? We don’t know for sure. Here is what the old Catholic Encyclopedia says, for what it is worth:

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 Vézelay 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.


And let us not forget the cookies called Madeleines of which Marcel Proust wrote so elegantly.

In Patricia Bunning Stevens’ work Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricia Bunning Stevens [Ohio University Press:Athens] 1998 (p. 178) we read:

"In culinary lore, Madeleines are always associated with Marcel Proust, whose autobiographical novel, Remembrance of Things Past, begins as his mother serves him tea and "those short, plump little cakes called petits Madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell." The narrator dips a corner of a little cake into the tea and then is overwhelmed by memories; he realizes that the Madeleines bore "in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection." …But Madeleines had existed long before Proust’s boyhood. Numerous stories, none very convincing, attribute their invention to a host of different pastry cooks, each of whom supposedly named them for some particular young woman. Only three things are known for sure. One is that Madeleine is a French form of Magdalen (Mary Magdalen, a disciple of Jesus, is mentioned in all four gospels). Another is that Madeleines are always associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose bakers were said to have once, long ago, paid a "very large sum" for the recipe and sold the little cakes packed in oval boxes as a specialty in the area. Finally, it is alow known that nuns in eighteenth-century France frequently supported themselves and their schools by making and selling a particular sweet…Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdelen, and the nuns, probably when all the convents and monastaries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, sold their recipe to the bakers for an amount that grew larger with each telling."

Here are links for recipes: NB: This requires a special mold:

1 stick (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lemon
2/3 cup milk
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
butter (at room temperature) for the madeleine pan molds

Butter 2 madeleine molds (molds of 12) and put into the refrigerator. Butter them again in 15 minutes, making sure the butter coats the indentations on the top. Chill molds until ready to use.

Grate the zest from 1/2 of the lemon and reserve. Squeeze the lemon and reserve the juice. Whisk the flour and baking powder together. Melt the butter and set aside. Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice together for about 30 seconds. Don’t overmix.

Thin the mixture with 1/2 cup of the milk. Add the flour all at once and, using a whisk, blend just long enough to eliminate lumps. Gently stir in the rest of the milk and the melted butter.

Refrigerate the batter for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425°. Spoon the batter into the shell-shaped molds and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the cooking time so they bake evenly. Immediately remove the cookies from the molds and allow to cool on racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving (not when hot!).

It would be remise not to include something tasty for the mouth of the soul as well, which is always ready to bite into something chewy and substantive from the Fathers. Here, patristibloggers, is a piece from St. Augustine’s Tractate on the Gospel on John 131. There are nice bits here as, for example, recounting that Mary mistook the Risen Lord for a gardener and Augustine makes Him into the Gardener of her soul!

3. "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God." There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. for Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed.

What then is meant by "Touch me not"? and just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father." What does this mean? if, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? for certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;" or when He said to Thomas the disciple, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side." and who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension?

But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly, for we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, "All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him." This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew.

It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father," had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. for He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, "Touch me not;" that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. for how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? "For I am not yet ascended," He says, "to my Father:" there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. "But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father." He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. "and my God, and your God." Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.

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7 Responses to 22 July: St. Mary Magdalene

  1. Don Marco says:


    The Lord said to Mary Magdalene:
    Go to my brethren, and say to them:
    I ascend to my Father and to your Father,
    to my God and your God (Jn 20:17).

    Of you my heart has spoken:
    “Seek his face.”
    It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
    hide not your face (Ps 26:8-9).
    V. The Lord is my light and my salvation,
    whom shall I fear? (Ps 26: 8-9, 1).


    O God, whose only-begotten Son
    entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others
    with the announcement of paschal joy,
    grant, we beseech you,
    that by her intercession and example,
    we may proclaim the living Christ
    and come to see him reigning in your glory.
    Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    God, forever and ever.


    That the Church in East and West
    may rejoice in the witness of holy women today
    so as to draw from their ardent love for Christ,
    a new impetus for the mission of evangelization,
    to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

    That, through the intercession of Saint Mary Magdalene,
    a lasting peace may descend upon the Holy Land,
    to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

    That wounded and broken souls
    may be healed and repaired by the love of Christ;
    that those carrying a burden of bitterness
    may find relief in his presence,
    to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

    That the sick and dying
    may lift their eyes to the Face of the Risen Saviour
    and hear Him call each of them by name,
    to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

    That, by the intercession of Saint Mary Magdalene,
    Apostle to the Apostles,
    it may be given us to seek the face of Christ;
    and to recognize him at the sound of his voice,
    to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.


    Almighty and merciful God,
    who in Saint Mary Magdalene
    found an apostle worthy of the announcement
    of the resurrection of your Son,
    grant that we may persevere in seeking,
    even in the night,
    the One whom our heart loves
    so as to pass on to others
    the fruits of the contemplation of the Crucified
    whom you have made both Lord and Christ
    forever and ever.


    O God, my God, to you do I watch at break of day,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands (Ps 62: 2, 5).


    Accept, O Lord, the gifts set forth
    in commemoration of Saint Mary Magdalene
    whose lavish service of charity
    was mercifully accepted by your only-begotten Son.
    Who lives and reigns forever and ever.


    The charity of Christ presses us,
    that they also who live may not now live to themselves,
    but unto him who died and rose for them (2 Cor 5: 14-15).

    You have made known to me the ways of life:
    you shall fill me with joy
    at the sight of your face, O Lord (Ps 15: 11).


    May the holy reception of your mysteries, O Lord
    pour into us that persevering love
    by which Saint Mary Magdalene
    clung ceaselessly to Christ her teacher.
    Who lives and reigns forever and ever.
    Through Christ our Lord.

  2. Diane says:

    Ohhhhh man!!! I’ve been looking for that recipe for some time. I get them at Starbucks all the time and I just love ’em.

    Thanks a bunch Fr. Z.

  3. Argent says:

    My favorite Magdalen is the one at the Uffizi by Gentile da Fabriano. I don’t think I was prepared for its splendid colors. And the gold highlights! The accompanying saints, Nicholas, the Baptist, and St. George were worthy of a long look, too. I think the docent became suspicious of me when I stood transfixed in front of the polyptych.

    And thanks for the madeleine recipe. My daughter just saw the recipe and wants me to make a batch. :)

  4. When I was backpacking through Europe last summer, I happened upon a little Parisian tea shop (which also featured an exquisite lunch menu) called “La Madeleine du Proust” in the University district of that city. Having read a portion of Remembrance of Things Past in school, I was highly amused to sit down with two friends and share a couple pots of tea and the delicacies of the afternoon. Thanks for bringing back that little memory!

  5. A says:

    This may strike everyone as obvious, but a little brandy sprinkled on the madeleines as they cool is, I am led to understand, both traditional and tasty.

    That’s the most interesting meditation on the Magdalen that I’ve ever read, Father. Thanks for this reflection.

  6. Cornelius says:

    Wonderful reflection by St. Augustine on those most mysterious words, “Touch me not . . . .”

    Of course, the Risen Christ knew Mary’s mind, and His words suggest that He
    knew she had not been elevated in her understanding of Christ’s new state. Her touch,
    therefore, was a corporeal touch, a bodily touch of someone not yet possessed of the
    fullness of faith. It was a touch prohibited.

    I see now . . . .

  7. Philip Sano says:

    I think like this.
    Monday, June 14, 28 A.D.: The Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner, so He went to his mansion, and reclined at the table. When a woman who was a sinner learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees mansion, she brought an alabaster jar of purfume. She stood behined Him at His feet weeping, and she began to wet His feet by her tears.