22 July: Of St. Mary Magdalene, and Proust, and cookies, and St. Augustine

Here is an annual post which, I humbly submit, bears some repetition.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, disciple of the Lord.

Often saints are identified as martyrs or virgins or widows.  She was a “disciple of the Lord”, which reminds everyone that, now matter what we have been up to during our lives, it is not in the end impossible to become a saint.

Mary is mentioned in the Dies Irae.  Mary is patroness of catechists, since a Mary ran to tell the apostles about the Risen Lord.

But there is a lot of confusion about who she was.

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’ 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. Commonly, 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. Scholars believe 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 recognize 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 Magdalene?

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 Vezelay 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 , [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 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 Magdalen, and the nuns, probably when all the convents and monasteries 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 remiss 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, for 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 worshiped 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.

Happy Feast of St. Mary Magdalen, disciple of the Lord.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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13 Responses to 22 July: Of St. Mary Magdalene, and Proust, and cookies, and St. Augustine

  1. Mike says:

    Some deep waters here.

    I gave my daughters (age 12 and 14) a Madeleine pan for Christmas; they aren’t hard to make, and are delicious…the hint of lemon…wow!

  2. benedetta says:

    Once, (upon a time in a galaxy far, far away) I was privileged to listen to a talk by one who had reflected about the gospel story of St. Mary Magdalene and her process of realizing the Risen Christ. A women who had also been there listening asked at the conclusion of the talk about what one should make of this instruction of Our Lord which St. Augustine considers in this excerpt so interestingly. And what to make of the fact that St. Thomas was invited to touch. As I recall the answer given to this was to reflect upon the overall mystery, and like St. Augustine’s reflection there were no definitive terms given. So I have thought about it over the years. And my sense of it is this. That for St. Mary Magdalene, the Lord knew (as the Lord knows all) that interiorly, in her heart, and by her words of recognition, that she had already fully known and it was revealed Who He was, Lord and God and he affirms this in what He says to her next. Whereas for St. Thomas (and we as believers recognize aspects of our experience in both these saints I think) the Lord offered a work of mercy to St. Thomas by inviting him to touch, as the Lord knew that this was St Thomas’ expressed hope and anxiety, in personal and universal terms, in his faith and walk with the Lord whom he already before that in scripture is shown to have loved with a very virile and courageous dedication. Immediately upon this gesture of solidarity and perhaps vulnerability then St. Thomas expresses his conviction, “My Lord and My God.” So for me, over time, I associate the two saints together, St. Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, and St. Thomas distraught that the others state they have seen Him. They come to acknowledge God (Our Lord) through similar, not especially contrasted, paths.

  3. priests wife says:

    and a happy feast day to daughter #2— I’ve never made Madelines, but I’ll be gifting daughter with some from Trader Joe’s (actually, they are quite good)

  4. Deo volente says:

    The New Liturgical Movement has a great post on the issue of the three Mary’s and posits they are one and the same using the Church Fathers as reference. I find this a confusing area and their post helped a great deal. Thanks for the great post on Madeleines! It is marvelous story!

  5. albinus1 says:

    Edmund Leven, in this article published in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2118443/) (Sorry, I don’t know how to embed a URL) talks about how he tried to reproduce madeleines that had the qualities Proust describes, and after many unsuccessful attempts to reproduce the madeleines as Proust describes them, he concludes that Proust made the whole thing up.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    “Disciple of the Lord”? Was this a 1969 change? I don’t have my 1962 Missal with me, but the FSSP (North America) calendar identifies her as “St. Mary Magdalene, Penitent.”

  7. PostCatholic says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I am fortunate to have been given a commercial latex Madeleine pan by a baker friend of mine who knew my particular weakness. If it weren’t impossibly hot in Washington, DC where I live, I’d make a batch today. But in lieu, you’ve inspired me to make them when the heatwave passes, and I will certainly dip them into my tea. (Though that brew will not be from Mystic Monk until they change their hideous architectural plans.)

  8. guatadopt says:

    Speaking of cookies, you know what goes good with them?? Mystic Monk coffee :)

  9. Brad says:

    Legisperitus, hi, I don’t know about you, but I am very sensitive to examples of people trying to tone down the Magdalen’s usual dictionary-ubiquitous connection with prostitution and personal sin in general. I know there can be examples given to “clear her name” etc, but I am talking about the man on the street polls, if asked, “what do you know about Mary Magdalen”. As such, the redefinition of her from penitent to disciple is an example, for me, of such a toning down. I don’t know about everyone else, but I see her conversion from notable rankness to saintliness to be one of the finest examples of the gospel and the incarnation…the passion…salvation history in a nutshell…etc. Her conversion, profound as it must be (imagine, the one human chosen for all time to see Him first on Sunday!), is cause for extreme exaltation of God, and exultation too. But, for me, this is predicated on her being very sinful prior to her conversion.

  10. Thanks both for the recipe and the Augustine reference :)

  11. Patti Day says:

    Yesterday at Mass, Father told us in his homily that the Catholic Church regretted the long-held belief that Mary Magdalene was a harlot. He said she got a bum rap, that she was the desciple of the disciples of Jesus Christ. He didn’t elaborate, nor mention the seven demons that Jesus had cast out of her. I think I prefer the imperfect St. Mary Magdalene, whose sins were grave and many in number, and who provides a role model for those who, by Our Lord’s extravagent mercy, may be forgiven.

  12. albinus1 says:

    The traditional image of Mary Magdalene, probably at least since St. Gregory the Great, is apparently a conflation of three or perhaps four different women mentioned in the Gospels: 1) the woman specifically named Mary Magdalene; 2) Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus; 3) the woman who poured oil on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair; and 4) the woman caught in adultery who was going to be stoned. So far as I can tell, only John’s Gospel identifies 2) Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus as 3) the woman who poured oil on Jesus’ feet; the Synoptics never name her. Moreover, only Luke’s Gospel specifically describes this woman as a “sinner”.

    Although it has become traditional to identify 1) Mary Magdalene as being also 4) and perhaps also 2) and 3), and I realize that many people have grown to like the image of Mary Magdalene as the great sinner who repented (and, of course, all of us are sinners who, with God’s grade, will repent), one could also argue that it has been a great slander against St. Mary Magdalene — who is specifically named in the Gospels as one who benefitted from a miraculous cure, who was present at the Crucifixion, and to whom Jesus appeared soon after the Resurrection — to assume that she was also the repentant harlot 4) and perhaps 3), nor is there any necessary reason to assume that 1) Mary Magdalene and 2) Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus were the same person.

  13. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Is there any way that Jesus was again confirming His Desire that women cannot be priests when He commanded Mary not to touch Him? The Host is, after all, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, and the Church readily teaches that is most (if not all) cases, the Priest is the only one blessed with the consecrated hands worthy enough of touching the Sacrament.

    But as the gospel of Matthew points out, Mary and others did, in fact, touch Him later on. So I dunno. Just something I always wondered about myself.