22 July: Happy FEAST of St. Mary Magdalene

Today in the Ordinary Form calendar is the (recently elevated) Feast of St Mary Magdalene.  I wrote the following for my column in the print version UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald – which is availble in its entirety in digital form.


The Holy See recently announced that, in the Ordinary Form calendar of the Roman Rite, St Mary Magdalene’s annual liturgical observance on 22 July would be elevated to a Feast.  Her new Feast was even given a new proper Preface.  There is no way to arrive definitively at the identity of this fascinating figure.  Nevertheless, it is good to see her day restored to greater dignity.

Speaking of Mary Magdalene’s identity, we know from Scripture that she came to Jesus’ tomb in the garden to anoint His Body. Mary, the first witness of the empty tomb, then went to tell Apostles. Hence, she is called “the apostle to the apostles”.  Initially, Mary mistook the Risen Lord for the gardener.  St Augustine (d 430) says that “this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed.” When He said her name, she recognized and tried to cling to Him. Christ mysteriously 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.'” Augustine proposes that Christ wanted to be touched spiritually, believed in, before being touched in any other way.  Reflect on that before receiving Communion.

The 3rd century writer Hippolytus identified Mary Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and also the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet. Mary Magdalene and/or Mary of Bethany are often identified as sinners. Pope Gregory I “the Great” (d 604) called her a peccatrix, “sinner”. Eventually she came to be called also meretrix, “prostitute”.  Another tradition supposes that Mary Magdalene was the woman the Lord saved from stoning. This is the tradition referenced in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. Scholars today believe that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, the woman Jesus rescued, and the woman who anointed His feet are all different women.

Rightly or wrongly, Mary Magdelene has long been associated in art and literature with ongoing penitence for past sins.  Hallow her feast with an examination of conscience, which can be bitter.  You could then celebrate her Feast with the little scallop-shaped cookies called “madeleines”.  They aren’t really named after our saint, but, who cares?  They might sweeten your remembrance of things past.


I wrote more extensively on the feast of Mary Magdalene’s day to a feast HERE.  That post includes my translation of the new Latin Preface.  Please note that there is an ERROR in the LATIN text!    Today I received an email that included “the English working translation of the new preface for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene”.  I will do an update of my original post.  Link above.

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  1. Imrahil says:

    According to what I’ve heard, “Do not touch me” is somewhat of a mistranslation (also given that St. Thomas would later be allowed to touch Him) and the real sense is “do not hold me; let me go”. Fwiw…

  2. Father G says:

    Blessed feast day!
    I haven’t celebrate Mass yet, but I will be using the new Latin preface.
    Else, the Preface of Saints is used in the vernacular.
    Why do I get the feeling though that somewhere in this world , a priest decided to use the Preface of the Apostles?

  3. Filipino Catholic says:

    Quietly facepalms at the idea that someone would use the Preface of Apostles for Mary Magdalene. It could have waited until the Feast of St. James Major on the 25th.

    I can see where the idea of the “confusion of Marys” came from though — an unnamed woman (the sinner in Luke) performing the same act of anointing that Mary Magdalene/of Bethany does in John could be construed as a strong identity for the two being one and the same. That or anointing the Lord’s feet was a common gesture of respect for unknown reasons.

  4. Elizabeth D says:

    I was sacristan at a Mass yesterday at a place other than my own parish and before Mass I asked the priest, who was aware the day is now a feast, if we would be using the proper readings for St Mary Magdalene. He said that no, except for solemnities I should always use the readings for the day of the week. I said okay and set the lectionary for Friday. The priest commented during his homily that it is now a feast day but feasts are not particularly any different from memorials. I set the missal to a preface for Saints (and to the Common of Holy Women but this priest does not typically use that page). Later I looked it up in the GIRM which said that on feasts there are 2 readings assigned for the day. Does this mean that the proper readings are obligatory or is it an option to use the readings for the day of the week? I respectfully emailed the priest what the GIRM says but not sure how much he reads email. I am confident he’s not purposely derogating from anything, I think he just forgets the details.

  5. un-ionized says:

    And Miriam was one of the most common names. Moses had a sister with that name.

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