Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

When The Da Vinci Code exploded onto the literary (sic) scene, it created a secondary cottage industry: Catholic and other Christian scholars who responded to it either in Parish halls or in short book-length refutations. (See a nice online refutation from my colleague David Landry.) I was a part of the vast army of Parish hall respondents, who spoke at Catholic churches, a Baptist church, and at student forums. Dan Brown was wrong about so much at a theological and historical level, that I filled a small book with notes that were gathered on a quick first reading. Many of his claims were not just outrageous, but so inaccurate that I culled only the ripest fruit. This is to say nothing, and perhaps this is even worse, of the clunky, ponderous prose that dominates the book. On the other hand, Brown can drive a narrative, and from chapter to chapter, he created a page-turner. So, when I appeared at churches or other locations for talks, I was somewhat surprised that there would be so many people present, but also understood that the man had crafted a compelling, if inaccurate, account of early Christian origins.

My smug sense that I could quickly convince people of the nonsense that infected the whole of The Da Vinci Code ran ashoal, however, not on theological and historical data as such, which most present were willing to grant was inaccurate, but on the role of women in early Christianity, and the role of one woman in particular: Mary Magdalene. Dan Brown had tapped into something in the Zeitgeist, however difficult it is to admit, and that was the sense of modern women and men that a large part of the early Christian story was under represented in the official recounting. How else to account for hundreds of people coming out to the local Parish to talk about The Da Vinci Code instead of the usual 12 to 15 suspects who came to hear about one of Paul’s letters or a discussion of a Gospel? When I say "official recounting," I am not talking about some lost, hidden or other Gospel that the Church has supposedly tried to hide or discount, or which the Emperor Constantine deemed unworthy, what I am talking about is the very obvious role that Mary Magdalene plays in the canonical Gospels.

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When the Church does not spend enough time including the very real role of Mary Magdalene in the history and development of early Christianity, it creates the conditions in which people become open to ahistorical concoctions of Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus and the "Holy Grail" itself because people are hungry to know who these women are and what significant roles they played in Jesus’ ministry. It is not true that they played no role and it is not enough to say that we do not have enough evidence to fill out Mary Magdalene’s profile.

Mary Magdalene appears in twelve passages in all four Gospels. Luke (24:10) and John (20:1), Matthew (27:61, 28:1) and Mark (16:9) demonstrate that Mary Magdalene remained faithful to Jesus even in death and Mark and John indicate she was the first to witness the resurrection. Luke acknowledges that she was a follower of Jesus who supported him and his ministry financially (Luke 8:2-3). She was a follower who had been healed by Jesus and remained faithful to the one who had healed her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2). Tell me which Apostles about whom we know so much information?

Peter? No question. James and John, sons of Zebedee? Yes. Andrew? Philip? Bartholomew? James son of Alphaeus? This is not to diminish any of these Apostles of Jesus, rather it is an attempt to create a proper profile of Mary Magdalene, whose memorial day we celebrate today, July 22. She was spiritually possessed and healed by Jesus. She did not turn away from him after her healing, but continued to follow him faithfully until the end. She supported Jesus’ ministry, remained faithful even at the time of his crucifixion and was given the grace of witnessing his resurrection even before Jesus’ Apostles according to two Gospel accounts. She is the Apostle to the Apostles and a blessed Saint. Make room for Mary Magdalene, the prototype of the faithful follower of Jesus, even to the end when all seemed lost. If Dan Brown does not deserve to define her, let those who are faithful start claiming her.

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9 years ago
I thought you would like to know that people will be celebrating Mary Magdalene's day today all over Provence, in France, where she is something of the patron saint. Local belief, reinforced by the Catholic Church in France, has it that Mary Magdalene travelled from Jerusalem to the South of France, went to live in a cave in the Ste Baume Massif, died outside the village of Saint Maximin, and is buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Ste Marie Madeleine in that same village.  Indeed I was there only the other day and looked at her skull, which is there for everyone to see.  That is what the Roman Catholics of France believe.
9 years ago
When I read the Evening Office on July 22, I used the common of Apostles. It seemed to fit the ocassion very nicely.
9 years ago
At St. Nicholas Church in Evanston (Chicago) Illinois, we celebrated evening prayer in honor of Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles.  We read a passage from the book of Wisdom about friendship with God.  After the homily, we anointed each other with scented oil, evoking Mary's going to anoint the body of Jesus and imploring healing for the mystical Body of Christ, harmed and disfigured by centuries of sexism and misogyny.  We then carried a large icon of Mary in procession with candles, flowers and incense to a shrine alcove in our church.  The icon and the oil will be there for veneration and anointing until Assumption Day, when another festal icon will take its place.

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