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

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

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

  1. Michel says:

    Thank you for this Father. I love this post and appreciate being able to read it again.

    One trick that works nicely with Madeleines is to mix a little flour into some melted butter and then brown the butter and use a pastry brush to butter the molds with that butter-flour mixture. It adds a nice nutty taste. Some recipes also add a small amount of orange flower water to the batter.

  2. Fr. Z – poem for you on this holy day!

    A song for Mary Magdalene

    O woman of the gleaming hair,
    (Wild hair that won men’s gaze to thee)
    Weary thou turnest from the common stare,
    For the shuiler Christ is calling thee.
    O woman of the Snowy side,
    Many a lover hath lain with thee,
    Yet left thee sad at the morning tide,
    But thy lover Christ shall comfort thee.
    O woman with the wild thing’s heart,
    Old sin hath set a snare for thee:
    In the forest ways forspent thou art
    But the hunter Christ shall pity thee.
    O woman spendthrift of thyself,
    Spendthrift of all the love in thee,
    Sold unto sin for little pelf,
    The captain Christ shall ransom thee.
    O woman that no lover’s kiss
    (Tho’ many a kiss was given thee)
    Could slake thy love, is it not for this
    The hero Christ shall die for thee?

    Pádraig Pearse (1879-1916), devout Roman Catholic, teacher, barrister, poet, writer, Irish nationalist and political activist, educational reformer, and leader of the Easter Rising in 1916. Shot by the British 3 May 1916. The term”shuiler” might be from the Irish word ‘súil’ for “eye” which would make “shuiler Christ” ‘watcher Christ’.

  3. albizzi says:

    I always understood the “noli Me tangere” as Jesus forewarning us not to touch the holy species, and I no longer receive the Eucharist since many years but only on the tongue.
    I know that Jesus asked his disciple Thomas to put his finger in the nail’s holes and his hand in His pierced side, but Thomas had been already made a priest on the eve ov His death and therefore was allowed to touch Him like all the priests until now.
    These words must be taken literally: We CANNOT touch the Holy Eucharist even if this was allowed in the errings of the aftermaths of the council.

  4. albizzi says:

    I am living a few miles from the Sainte Baume’s grotto where Ste Magdalene lived the end of her life in penance. I recommend people coming in Provence to enjoy making the short pilgrimage, about 1 hour walking from the main road, preferablly in a non touristic period (the early spring is the best), through a steep lane in a magnificent forest of beeches, maples and oaks, so unusual in the dry and warm Provence.
    I remember having been a bit absentminded during a sunday mass at the grotto’s convent, by the breathtaking sight of the snowy french Alps (abt 200 miles away) through the church’s window.
    Indeed the convent’s elevation is almost 2400 ft.

  5. Pingback: Feast of St Mary Magdalene | Maude's Tavern

  6. Facta Non Verba says:

    I just saw the relic of her left foot, the first body part to enter the tomb of the resurrected Christ, in one of the holy churches in Rome this summer. I think it was in the church of St. John the Baptist.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    I love Madeleines. As to all the women, I was taught in Scripture class that they were all different ladies. Mary was a very popular name at the time of Christ! And, for those people who had lived with Christ daily and saw Him in His humanity, the reminder of His Godliness is most appropriate.

    I always thought “noli me tangere” meant that Mary was not to love Jesus in a human, carnal manner. She was to love Him in a new way, as God-Man. If she was a great sinner of the flesh, this gentle reminder of Christ was that He was calling her to a greater, more sublime love than she had ever known, now possible because of Christ’s giving grace through His Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and the Coming of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary M. was being called to the mystical life of love and unity, like John of the Cross, for example . Mary M would be capable of this type of love after the Ascension and Pentecost. She would understand then.

  8. Dismas says:

    Wow, does this somehow mean that the first understanding of the idea of consubstantiality and the Trinity was given to Mary Magdalene and introduced to our Church through her? Interesting stuff.

  9. Kerry says:

    Father Z, who is the painter of the second image above? Thanks.

  10. capchoirgirl says:

    I love St. Mary Magdalene, especially since she’s also a patroness of the Dominican Order (of which I am a Third Order member). And one of these days I’m going to get a madeleine pan so I can try my hand at them.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    Dismas, Mary, our Mother had the first full knowledge of the Trinity, of course.

  12. Dismas says:

    Supertradmum, of course you]re right and in rereading I wasn’t taking into account the part about the Magdalene representing only the Church of the Gentiles.

  13. New Sister says:

    @ albizzi – I second your recommendation to visit the grotto at St Baume. I went there on 22 July 2007. It surprised me how many locals in Aix had no clue what it was, or that it’s there. Then whilst trying to locate the trail head, I observed no signs to guide me — had to ask a group of youths by the road, who told me to “look for the dead tree”. (love that) You’re blessed to live so close to this glorious saint. Her relics came to N. America for the first time – ever – in 2010 (or was it 2009?), to the Dominican House of Studies in D.C.. I wondered why – what’s going on that she would finally come here after 2000 years? Now learning that she’s patron of catechists it makes sense – the New Evangelization. I think we need her prayers now more than ever!

  14. Mariana says:

    “…one of these days I’m going to get a madeleine pan….”

    Not strictly necessary, Madeleines are delicious made in any suitable baking tin.

    Thank you, Father, for explaining the Noli me tangere which has worried me for years!

  15. PostCatholic says:

    Perhaps worth a note that the English title of À la recherche du temps perdu is now generally translated as In Search of Lost Time rather than Remembrance of Things Past, and culinary authors spend so much time quoting each other they never discover this update. Nice to see you include a touch from a classic of Modernism, anyway!

    I have search in vain for good madeleines in the Washington DC for ages. If you’re truly a fan of these cakes, you know you want a nice high hump on the back side and a bit of crispness on the shell side, that it ought to be a very golden color, and the classics are flavored with lemon zest (though I’m partial to the vanilla type too). The best I know of are in the Bowery, at a bakery called Oro that’s located in this sort wedding-cake confection itself of a tenement building, with stars of David in the facade and a bust of Moses at the roofline. Next time you’re in Lower Manhattan, dunk a few and see if I did you good turn.

    Your batter is a bit richer than mine, and perhaps not as sweet–have you had good success with it? I think it’s useful to chill the batter longer, also, so you get that “hump” that’s so important. I usually make the batter on a Saturday morning and bake in the evening if we have fancy brunch to potluck.

  16. New Sister says:

    Fr. Z – this painting by El Greco is one of my favorite pieces of religious art. It’s simply amazing how he captured such a range of expressions in her face, eyes, posture (deepest of love, grief, gratitude – contemplation on what she witnessed first-hand at Calvary.) I am especially drawn to one of the prayers in my Missal, for before Holy Mass, which says, “…let me come to Thee like the Magdalene… “.

  17. PostCatholic says:

    You’ve sent me to my shelves. I hope this isn’t too much of a digression, but here’s the famous passage from the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, from the Modern Library edition with the Enright translation.

    …The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take their place among others more recent; perhaps because, of those memories so long abandonded and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

    By the way, WDTPRS fans, don’t rush out to buy these books—aside from being very long, In Search of Lost Time is considered a classic of homosexual literature.

  18. Tradster says:

    I recall reading somewhere fairly recently that MM was told not to touch simply because she would have held onto Jesus’ ankles for dear life and not let go. I find that explanation easy to believe of her.

  19. AnAmericanMother says:

    Kipling wrote a strange and beautiful story that is a dark reflection of Mary Magdalene. Like many of his late stories, it is a bit opaque and requires careful reading, but is well worth the effort.

    The Gardener.

    It’s tied in with WWI (where Kipling lost his only son), the great cemeteries (which Kipling helped found), and lies, and love. Well worth reading. The very last sentence is the key to the whole thing.

  20. heway says:

    Thank you Father Z, for another treat of an article!

  21. Mrs.Abingdon says:

    Fr Z, thank you for the reflection, and thanks, AmericanMother, for the link.

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    I wonder why the site I linked to chose to cut the story? (first rule: “Don’t mess with the text!” Even if you don’t understand it. Even if it’s uncomfortable.)

    Here’s the complete, unedited story: The Gardener