How can the church honor women? Elevate Mary Magdalene’s feast to a solemnity

(iStock/bisla)(iStock/bisla)

According to the Gospel, the first person to encounter the risen Christ is the female disciple Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalene. John recounts the amazing story in the Gospel passage proclaimed at Easter Sunday Mass: “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (Jn 20:1).

Nothing in the Gospel occurs by mere chance. It is highly significant that in a society where men wielded power in almost every aspect of life, Christ chose a woman to be the first to see him after his resurrection and to announce the news to his apostles.

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Christ chose a woman to be the first to see him after his resurrection and to announce the news to his apostles.

Underscoring this significance, three years ago Pope Francis elevated the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, traditionally observed on July 22, to the status of a feast day. In this way, the pope accorded a dignity to the liturgical celebration of St. Mary Magdalene similar to that of the apostles, who are each celebrated as feasts. (The church has a hierarchy of celebrations from memorials to feasts to solemnities.) This recognition was long overdue to a woman famously called the “apostle of the apostles” by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Pope Francis’ act demonstrated the church’s respect for the dignity of women. Women make up a large majority of volunteers, catechists, religious educators, faith formation leaders, sacristans and others who do so much for our church, and Mary Magdalene is most qualified to be an example and a source of inspiration to them. In Mary’s life, we glimpse “the greatness of the mystery of mercy,” as Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, mentions in his explanation of the pope’s decision.

In the last few years, there has been much talk about how to better appreciate the gifts that women bring to the church and how to better integrate feminine presence in the church’s decision-making processes. Pope Francis frequently reminds us that the church is “feminine” and has repeatedly called for a more robust theology of women.

Given these conversations, the time is right to further elevate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene to a solemnity. It would accord this great woman equal dignity with the nativity of John the Baptist, which is liturgically observed as a solemnity. This would be a good way to recognize both John and Mary as pivotal players in announcing the good news of salvation: the former announcing the Lamb of God to the world and the latter announcing the resurrection to the frightened Apostles.

The time is right to further elevate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene to a solemnity, to accord this great woman equal dignity with the nativity of John the Baptist.

A solemnity of St. Mary Magdalene would also provide an extra measure of encouragement to all those women working in the church’s ministry to those at the peripheries of society.

Elevating the celebration of Mary Magdalene to the rank of a solemnity—making her the only woman thus celebrated in the General Roman Calendar apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus—could be a watershed event in the pope’s efforts to highlight the invaluable role played by women in the life and mission of the church. Now is the time for Catholic parishes and schools to devote more time and resources to educate us about St. Mary Magdalene and why she matters in God’s dramatic designs for the world’s salvation in and through Christ.

Correction, July 17: The headline of this article previously misspelled “Magdalene.”

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karen oconnell
1 month ago

listen: MM is as much of dreamed up role model as anything!... please don' t don't tie women's worth to a perhaps mythic character. this has already been done and redone. no need to '''invent'' a courageous and loving woman. we are surrounded by them through out our history and in our daily lives. get with it clericalists if you want to survive until the next century. we have and interact with millions of real life women who need to praised....supported.................. not to mention to be allowed to control their own and very real reproductive resources. MM might have truly existed--but most of what we celebrate in her is myth.... as in St. Patrick.

rose-ellen caminer
1 month ago

Why suggest that MM is a myth?Is she not a legitimate person of the Gospels?Are you suggesting that she was added to history by, a perhaps feminist, revisionist?Women have often been excluded from history books, but surprisingly not the Bible.That MM is someone who according to the Gospel, is a real human being, who really knew Jesus, loved Jesus, and was with Jesus when he died,that he chose her for his first appearance after his death -is this not inspiring, for a believer?Is it not awesome to contemplate that MM was a real person,in the world, who really knew Jesus?Do we believe really believe in Jesus,
of the gospels?
Women are regularly active participants in their faith and church functions.The argument that denies them the priesthood,has always been that Jesus did not select female disciples. Increasing the observance of ST. MM to the level of a solemnity could be a step along that process. After all St. Thomas of Aquinas referred to her as the "apostle of the apostles"
Inserting "reproductive rights" into this argument ,is irrelevant. If the Holy Spirit is always moving in the church , as Jesus promised, having women as priests will not change the doctrine on being in favor of life.The Church has moved away from its past support of executions and will not move towards accepting abortion.It is a misguided biased belief that opposition to abortion is solely the result of patriarchal "clericalists"

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks ago

Another idea from a priest that is not bad on its face but then when the motives are later revealed becomes not so great after all.

First of all Father Amadi, women are not seeking to be honored. They are seeking to be treated as the equal human beings they have always been created to be - namely Man - not merely a feminine version of the original, but equally Man, as God claimed to have created them. That is - both versions of Man - God created (the whole), male and female he created them. So both equally can represent the whole creation just as Christ represented both men and women when he died for Man on the cross. So women can equally represent Christ as fully and same ordained persons as priests and bishops and cardinals and popes and never should have been discriminated against in the first place.

This is why Mary Magdalene should have a solemnity. She clearly played as important a part in Christ's mission as Peter did and Paul did, who have gotten solemnities. She was considered Jesus' constant companion, and funded financially his mission, along with other wealthy women. Jesus did indeed treat her, as important as Peter, in having shown himself to her first, after he rose, and then sent her on the mission to extol that fact to the 12 apostles. This is a fact our hierarchy has desperately tried to downgrade because they have always known just how important that appearance was and what it should have meant. So to dirty up Mary M, they made her a whore, which made treating her less much easier to get away with, even though she never was a prostitute, and the hierarchy always knew that. So for that alone, our church owes MM a solemnity, and an enormous apology, and one as public and worldwide and well taught, as the lies they put upon her reputation throughout the centuries.

However, if you seek to make Mary M's feast day a solemnity in an attempt to state to, women only, or primarily, that her example, rather than that of Jesus', or Peter's, is the women's role model, instead of seeking this upgrade to her feast in order to rectify this apostle to the apostles and saint's unjustly low honor status in our church's history, as a person that both men and women and priests should equally emulate, then your motives are an actual act of further sexism. You are promoting this solemnity to continue discrimination, not attack sexism, which betrays a genuine hatred present in your decision to suggest this change. You are seeking to use her as a women who plays a role apart from Peter and the other apostles, in that you are not suggesting that women should seek to be like her because she equally was chosen by Christ to lead and serve the same ways as the 12 apostles. You tell us that female altar servers, sacristans and Eucharistic Ministers should view her as a role model as though she did not play as great a role as the other apostles did, and one that represents priestly leadership. History does not agree with that belief as there are various writings having her preaching the Gospel just as the 12 did after Pentecost. In France, in particular, there is definitely a place of reverence to her as the one who brought Christianity to this area through her preaching. There exists also 2 Gospels of Mary, telling Mary Magdalene's version of the Gospel of Christ and these were not written by Mary Magdalene but by others who wrote down what she taught, just like the other 4 accepted Gospels. Our hierarchy views these gospels as gnostic but then our hierarchy pronounced anything it did not like as gnostic throughout history.

So Father, if you are going to seek a righteous change, do so for the right motives, and that is to declare to both men and women that Mary Magdalene was called to lead equally, and the same, as all the other 12 apostles, and acted and lived her life accordingly. We don't need empty honors based on men's dreams of limiting women to where they are at. WE Need REAL Brothers, Genuine Christian Believing Men, who will stand up for their sisters and support same treatment, same humanity, same voice and vote throughout our church, and most importantly same sacramental opportunities, lacking any and all hate filled discrimination or restriction.

There is no just and unjust discrimination when you are keeping a group of people from what God has called them to become yet that which they are fully capable of performing and becoming. This is not just discrimination but unjust bias and sin against that group and nothing less than that.

There can be no theology of women because women are Man and any theology that attempts to treat them differently than men automatically fails to be honest or just or Godly in any way.

How would you feel if the Pope said we need to come up with a theology of Black people because they are not the same as white people. Does it take very long to figure out why anyone would wish to do this?

Black people are different than white people in various ways just as women are different than men in various ways but only in the flesh which Jesus tells us is worthless and not how we should judge ourselves. There is no more a feminine genius than there is a black or white genius and all discrimination based on flesh is evil and sin. If you promote such flesh based oppression, in any way, you are culpable for that sin and must repent in order to be forgiven.

Father, if to further sexism is your motive for this suggestion, then I would respond that with friends like you who needs enemies?! However, I will warn you as a sister and a friend nonetheless, and ask you, how do you believe Christ will treat you, a man of color, who no doubt has known the oppression of discrimination, if you continue to refuse to stand up against the unjust and vile oppression against your sisters, keeping them from same human dignity and sacraments in our church? Jesus tells us that there are sheep and goats, what should you be judged by Christ if you sit by and watch your sisters who are called to priesthood like you, either ignored, belittled, silenced and betrayed, if not outright excommunicated for standing up for their calling in Christ to be ordained priests? Christ tells us not to condemn others but we are right to judge our own behaviors and motives against the Gospels. I wonder have you questioned your motives? It matters we do right things for right reasons. God does not judge us by our words or deeds most but by the intent of our hearts which only he knows perfectly.

What is the rant I hear from Black Lives Matter? No Justice - No Peace!
That goes for women in our church too. No Equal Sacraments- means No Justice - which means No Peace and no Unity!

J Jones
4 weeks ago

I sincerely doubt this author wrote that ridiculous headline.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

If you want to honor women, treat them equally with men in the church - let them be priests and deacons. We are so tired of these empty PR gestures that are taken not to help women, but to make you guys look good.

Mary Roberts
1 month ago

Amen, sister! Honor women by recognizing their equality and including them at all levels.

J Jones
1 month ago

I agree 100%

Denise Mccarthy
4 weeks 1 day ago

Amen!

karen oconnell
1 month ago

so you want to ''honor'' women and you choose a somewhat concocted figure to do so!!! you want to honor women??? then pay them equally... put them on the altar..... respect them as caretakers of their own reproductive potential. pulling out some questionably valid historical figure who '''voyaged all over Europe '' .... was married --or maybe not to Jesus.... etc for me--that is stuff of soap operas. get real fellas...... we are real ... the women you see around you all day are real as are their struggles. MM--who knows....and what difference would it make anyway if she was the 'ideal woman' 2000 + years ago. we are in the now.......... you should live and plan also ''in the now.''

Lisa Weber
1 month ago

In addition, the church needs to allow women to do what Jesus instructed Mary Magdalene to do - go tell the disciples. The current equivalent is to preach at Mass. The most important thing women can bring to the church is a feminine viewpoint, but the church categorically silences women at its principal gathering. Elevating the feast day of Mary Magdalene is a nice start.

Alan Johnstone
4 weeks ago

the people to whom the celebrant of the Eucharist preaches are already baptised and catechised Christians (or so it used to be) and the office in question is PASTOR and NOT apostle or evangelist.

So this "tradition" of her being an apostle to the apostles is irrelevant to the question of the ordination of females.

Conscientious priests also adopt an evangelistic stance at weddings and funerals where unbelievers quite often attend for love of the persons being either married or buried.

All service to Almighty God through transmission of faith and hope and love from within an office held in the Church Militant is to be presented from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ who supplied the female aspect through His Mother.

Lisa Weber
3 weeks 6 days ago

What a convenient argument for misogynists - Mother Mary is the example for women. She was silent and obedient and probably on her knees as well. The only things we are required to believe about Mary is that she is the mother of God and she consented to that role. I think most of what the church says about Mary that is not in Scripture is nonsense.

Lisa Weber
3 weeks 6 days ago

duplicate

J Jones
1 month ago

I do not read in this brief, straightforward and gentle article any suggestion that the author thinks this is "the" answer to the internet-ready, reductive question in the headline. I doubt that this author wrote that ridiculous headline which started an argument before the reader could get to the first word of the author's wholly non-argumentive and non-reductive article. Please leave the snappy manufactured conflicts to Simcha Fisher. It is counterproductive.

This author, a teacher, made a steaightforward suggestion that the Church educate by using its traditional and, for millenia of Catholics, its most beloved teaching tools the Mass, holy days, prayers, music, art, etc.

karen oconnell
1 month ago

it is not women who have ''manufactured'' this conflict. it is however women who have ''''so directly'''' suffered from it. actually WE ALL have suffered from this 'conflict.' men who never should have become priests, became priests because they were ''needed.''; if we had had men who truly had a priestly vocation as it is currently defined, we probably could have avoided the greater majority of the sexual abuse culture and thus would have had sufficient funds to support our parishes instead of paying off lawyers etc. the most beloved tools of the Mass teach the lesson that '''''we are all one'''' in the Lord and in one another......... something that the clerical subculture has decided that it would like to forget. no!!!! we will not go off silently into that good nite. we have daughters...... nieces....... granddaughters ................... as welll as our male progeny who have suffered in some ways as much as the rest of us. ................... no!... pretty words...celestial rewards..... will no longer do it.

J Jones
1 month ago

Ksren, please forgive me for not stating more clearly who I believe manufactured a conflict here. My comment was explicitly directed to the writer of the headline. I sincerely doubt it was the author; the headline's grammar, word choice and faux-sassy attitude all strike me as inconsistent with his traditional grammar, the absence of the word "honor" in his piece and his mild presentation. I think an online editor or intern wrote that headline as "click bait" for the audience America is quite clearly trying to court: people who do almost all their reading online where hundreds, even thousands of headline compete for their attention daily. I am putting my money on it that this headline was written by the same person who, on June 13, wrote "Want to Rage Tweet the Bishops? Their Twitter Account Is Ready to Listen". (That one was also dishonest because the person reading and responding was, of course, not a Bishop but a young woman). It is all part of the effort to expand America's reading audience and that is an unqualified good. I was really surprised by the tone deafness of THIS headline for THIS article. I think it mischaracterized the author's presentation, suggesting that HE was suggesting that his proposal is his, "the" or even "an" answer to the demand that the Church quit excluding women from full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. I don't think he was. I think he was saying we have this woman who (next to Jesus) plays the most critically important role in the Resurrection story - the central story of Catholicism - and that role should be elevated in the Church's liturgical celebration of and teaching of that story. Talk about delivering the Good News. In the Resurrection Story, Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to deliver the most important Christian message ever. Seems to me that needs a little highlighting after 2000 years. It is NOT "the" or even "a" solution to "honoring" real live, flesh and blood, living in the here and now women who should be included as full participants in the sacramental life of the Church. (Women are NOT asking to be "honored". That nonsensical language belongs to these men who call each other "princes of the Church" and "your Excellency" and kiss each other's rings and carry mitres. Women are demanding to participate, not be crowned.

But it is a liturgical recognition of the woman at the core of the Resurrection Story that is the core of this worldwide religion. that is long, long overdue.

While I do not find his proposal objectionable, I fully understand your response and I am glad you did respond. I absolutely was not criticizing you or any of the other commenters who at that point were, I think, all women.

Michael Bindner
1 month ago

Ordain them and recognize her as Mrs. Jesus and Priscilla as first apostle to Rome.

Jesus told her not to cling to Him (anymore) because He was in His glory. Their marital bond was broken by His death. No other evidence is needed. She also called Him her master to the gardener she could not recognize. She was a spouse, not a slave. She was present at the Last Discourse, so there is only one way to take the meaning of the word. QED.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

if Francis says the church is "feminine" why all the hang ups over male priests? You would think that Holy Mother Church would need some female representatives, no?

Jeffrey More
1 month ago

What a brilliant idea! Two thousand years of treating women as doormats can be wiped out and made right in an instant by re-naming a feast day a solemnity!

Karen Pelosi
1 month ago

Women are the ones who bring their families to church, do the work, keep the community going, take on all the fundraising projects, yet we still have no voice in the Catholic Church. Maybe the pews would be full again if we were treated more like equals. The younger generation isn't taking on any of this. It is hard for us, as mothers and parents to make them think this is the way it should be. I truly respect all those who came before us and love them for what they have done, but times change. This Church needs to change with it. That does not mean we change our morals, beliefs, etc. It just means, women are more now than they were "allowed" to be in the past. Let's get things moving again. We all love our Catholic Church, our faith and especially our Lord and Savior. We need a voice!!!

J. Calpezzo
4 weeks ago

Amen Sister!

Martina Nicholson
1 month ago

Thank you for making this suggestion. It is an excellent one. The more visibility we have as a church for honoring "the Apostle to the Apostles" the better for everyone to see that Jesus was calling each of his followers, not just the men, to participate in the reign of God. Mary Magdalene's role is crucial in the understanding of the Resurrection.

J Jones
1 month ago

I agree 100%. See my response/apology to Karen above

Lloyd William
1 month ago

A good idea that should be considered
I have trouble with concept of “honoring” women. If women had been treated as equals all along, there would be no need to honor them as a group anymore than we would think of honoring men as a group. We honor people who do special things or particular organizations or affiliations. But to honor women as a group would not be necessary had they been fully included in all aspects of the church, including clerical positions at all levels

Mister Mckee
1 month ago

https://juniaproject.com/mary-magdalene-5-things-should-know/

Chris Brune
1 month ago

First of all, the reason the Risen Christ appeared to MM first was because she was doing a corporal work of mercy (burying the dead) while the men were in hiding.

Second, Karen O'Connell, why is it that any time a women's issue is brought up anywhere, it all goes back to abortion.

Perhaps another church would be more suitable to your views.

Mark Ruzon
1 month ago

Even the average Mass-attending Catholic cannot distinguish between memorials, feast days, and solemnities. While I'm not against promoting her feast day to a solemnity, its impact on the church will be minuscule.

Joe S.
1 month ago

This comment thread is full of pride, schism, and disunity, and it is all because of a false assumption that it is better to be a priest than not to be a priest.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

No, the assumption (and fact) is that it is better to see and treat men and women as equal in the eyes of God.

Oz Jewel
1 month ago

Why on earth, what possible reason is there, to honour women?

What virtue lies within womanhood to especially mark it as worthy of special celebration as distinct from manhood?

Is that not the very definition of that silly modern newly invented vice, sexism?

How much more is needed than having the new Eve conceived without sin, bear the child who is both God and Man, live without any sin and now dwelling body and soul in heaven, reining as Queen?

Juliana Boerio-Goates
4 weeks 1 day ago

Some years ago, a church historian who blogged at http://churchhistorysurprise.blogspot.com/ (no longer active) published the following account of the history of Mary Magdalene in the liturgy on Tuesday, July 22, 2014:
"This leads to an ancient tradition whereby Mary was called the Apostle to the Apostles, a tradition going back at least as far as Hippolytus in the 3rd century and embraced by such luminaries as Abbot Hugh of Cluny and Doctor and Father of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This tradition was maintained up through the end of the Middle Ages and survived in the liturgical texts until the early modern era whereby the feast of Mary Magdalene was celebrated as the Feast of an Apostle: with red vestments and the Gloria and Creed being recited as done on the feast of an apostle. The Creed was dropped as recently as 1945 in a round of liturgical reforms by Pius XII. Eventually this theme of Mary Magdalene being an Apostle was backed away from in favor of her being a “penitent,” the implications of a female apostle having serious theological implications. Yes, we all understand those serious theological implications, don't we? The 1970 Missal dropped “penitent” and unfortunately made this very significant saint a mere memorial as if the first witness of the Resurrection were no more than some pious Reverend Mother from Poland or a Spanish Spinster. .." So, Mary Madalene was celebrated as a feast - as a bishop once said to me, "What we've done before, we can do again." So, it's certainly possible. However, I think this important liturgical distinction would be lost on most people, including the heirarchy, who are perhaps most in need of thinking about the role of women in the church. If she was truly an Apostle to the Apostles, then that sets an allowed behavior for women, doesn't it? Let's move in that direction.

JANET VINCENT
4 weeks 1 day ago

I have two suggestions: Ordain women. The second is to bring forward current scholarship on Mary Magdalene and the rivalry with the Petrine tradition.

J. Calpezzo
4 weeks 1 day ago

Is this some kind of a cosmic joke?
Ordain women. Period. Get out of the dark ages.

Ingrid Wisniewski
4 weeks 1 day ago

Always having had a strong affinity for Mary Magdalene, composite or not, I would submit that being honored with a Solemnity would not be something sought after by her. In my humble estimation, having women treated with the same dignity and respect that Jesus afforded the women in his path would be more like it.

Denise Mccarthy
4 weeks 1 day ago

What an insult! Why not at least as a start allow women to become deacons? That should have happened one hundred years ago. How about the Church ending the child abuse crisis and holding predator priests to account? How about opening up the discussion on the use of contraceptives and abortions, should they be medically necessary for mom or the fetus. That, my friends, is how to honor women. Honoring Mary Magdalene to show that the Church honors women is condescending.

Alan Johnstone
4 weeks ago

The New Testament writings are available to us all.
They contain strikingly different versions of the morning after the Sabbath in the vicinity of the tomb where the Crucified Jesus had been interred.

I am not convinced that the woman Miriam who came from Magdala is in any way obviously the first person to encounter the Risen Lord or give the news of the Resurrection to the eleven men chosen by Christ to be apostles.

The clearly different reports have led down the ages to a waxing and waning of devotion to her, not least because she was or may have been conflated with two other Miriams, one of whom was the woman of ill-repute who anointed the feet of Jesus with the expensive spice and the other being Miriam from whom seven demons had been driven.

Kenneth Wolfe
4 weeks ago

It should be noted that the traditional Latin Mass for the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene was actually of the double rank — with a mandatory Credo — until the liturgical reforms of Archbishop Bugnini in 1955. Handmissals from before 1955 will note the similarities between her proper Mass and Mass of the apostles.
Oh the irony of mid-20th century liturgical reform, where today’s feast of Saint Mary Magdalene was demoted from that of the Tridentine era.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 weeks 3 days ago

Saint Mary Magdalene - Pray for us.

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