St. Mary Magdalen
-- the Myrrh Bearer, the Penitent, the woman whose story tells us more than
any other in Scripture of the mercy of God -- is an inspiration to all,
especially to women whose lives before conversion were once filled with sin.
But so much confusion and agenda-driven obfuscation have arisen about our
Saint! What do we know of her from Sacred Scripture?
that her name comes
from the word "Magdala" (Hebrew, literally, for "tower" or "fortress"), either
referring to the name of the town (also known as Taricheae) where she may
have been born, or from the euphemism (seen in the Talmud) for "curling women's
hair" which designates an adultress.
that she was a
repentant sinner who went to the house of the Pharisee Simon and washed Our
Lord's feet in her tears, dried them with her hair, and annointed them with
ointment she carried in an alabaster box. Because of this act, "many sins
are forgiven her, because she hath loved much." (Luke 7:36-50)
after the Luke 7 annointing above, "Mary, who is called Magdalen" is said
to have had seven devils cast out of her and to be travelling with Jesus
and the Apostles (Luke 8:1-2)
that after leaving
Galilee, Jesus visited "a certain town" (somewhere on the road between Jericho
and Jerusalem, and, therefore, undoubtedly Bethany, c.f. John 11:1-45) and
went to the house of Mary's sister, St. Martha (Luke 10:38-43), who busied
herself with serving food while Mary, having chosen the "best part," sat
at Our Lord's feet (John 11:1-45)
that Saints Martha
and Mary's brother was St. Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead at St.
Martha's sign of faith (John 11:1-45)
that Saints Mary,
Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethania (Bethany) (John 11:1-45)
that Mary is described
as one who had annointed Our Lord's feet with ointment from an alabaster
box and then wiped His feet with her hair (John 11:1-45, c.f. Luke 7:36-50)
and that she annointed them again (with ointment made of spikenard,
1 kept in an alabaster box
2) in Bethany, just before the Last
Supper, an act about which Our Lord said, "...she is come beforehand to anoint
my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be
preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told
for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9, John 12:1-8).
that she, St. John
the Evangelist, Mary of Cleophas, and Our Lady were the few who remained
faithful and fearless, staying with Our Lord even at the Foot of the Cross
(John 19:25, Luke 15:33-40)
that she, the "other
Mary," and Salome went to annoint Our Lord's Body on the morning of the
Resurrection, found the tomb empty, and met the risen Christ Who said to
her, "Do not touch me ("Noli me tangere"), for I am not yet ascended to my
Father. But go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and
to your Father, to My God and your God. " This mission given to her by Christ
thereby made her an "Apostle to the Apostles." (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11,
Luke 24:1-10, John 20:1-18)
So what is all
the clamor about? The first issue of contention is the Church's identification
of "the sinner" of Luke 7:36-50 with Mary Magdalen.
And one of the Pharisees [Simon] desired him to eat with him. And he went
into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down to meat. And behold a woman
that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the
Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; And standing behind
at his feet, she began to wash his feet, with tears, and wiped them with
the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself, saying:
This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of
woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. And Jesus answering,
said to him: Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee. But he said: Master,
A certain creditor had two debtors, the one who owed five hundred pence,
and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave
them both. Which therefore of the two loveth him most? Simon answering, said:
I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said to him: Thou hast
judged rightly. And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: Dost thou see
this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet;
but she with tears hath washed my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them.
Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss
My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed
my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she
hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. And he said
to her: Thy sins are forgiven thee. And they that sat at meat with him began
to say within themselves: Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said
to the woman: Thy faith hath made thee safe, go in peace.
But the first two
verses of John 11 tells us who that "sinner" was:
Now there was a certain man sick, named Lazarus, of Bethania, of the town
of Mary and Martha her sister. (And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with
ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was
Despite this verse,
dissenters of various stripes attribute the Church's view of Mary as the
repentant sinner solely to a sermon given by Pope St. Gregory the Great,
and then deem this sermon misogynist, as some sort of insult against her
dignity as a follower of Christ. But here is what this great Pope also said
about Mary Magdalen:
When Mary Magdalen
came to the tomb and did not find the Lord's Body, she thought it had been
taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb,
they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: "The disciples
went back home," and it adds: "but Mary wept and remained standing outside
We should reflect on Mary's attitude and the great love she felt for Christ;
for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking
the One she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the
fire of love, she longed for Him Who she thought had been taken away. And
so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only
one to see Him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice
of truth tell us: "Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."
This strange, modern
obsession to twist Mary Magdalen's story has a few definite purposes:
it attempts to
undermine the authority of the Church and paint Her hierarchs as "woman-haters"
it attempts to
provide a radical feminist justification for the ordination of women by
emphasizing Mary Magdalen's importance -- but in an inordinate, unhistorical
it attempts to
downplay sexual sins by keeping Mary Magdalen away from them and, thereby,
keeping them out of mind, ignoring the need of repentance for such acts
But these modernist
critics forget that everything we can know about Mary comes from Scripture
and Sacred Tradition (their Gnostic "gospels" were written hundreds of years
after Christ). They forget that the Church recognizes that St. Paul had been
a murderer of Christians -- surely more of a sin than Mary's promiscuity
-- and he is honored above all apostles but St. Peter! They forget that we
hold Mary in such great esteem that we celebrate her Feast, name churches
for her, and build shrines in her memory! And misogynist? It is funny how
Catholics are accused by some of "hating women" while Protestants accuse
us of "worshipping" one!
Mary's story of redemption and grace is very important and relevant to today's
world, a world in which such sinful behaviors are seen as normal and good.
Mary's story gives hope to all who have dark pasts that Christ, the Divine
Physician, heals and redeems. Alleluia!
Today is a good day, then, to ponder Christ's mercy, to recall the sins of
your life and how you are forgiven of them through the
Sacrament of Penance.
Mary Magdalen after
the Resurrection and Ascension
There are two distinct
legends that speak of Mary's life after Our Lord ascended into Heaven to
sit at the right hand of the Father.
The Eastern tradition maintains that she went to Rome, and then to Ephesus
with Our Lady, where she died. Her relics were taken to Constantinople in
the 9th c., to be translated later to Rome and France. The Roman tradition
is that, in A.D. 48, she -- along with SS. Martha and Lazarus -- were seized
by the Jews of Palestine who put them on a rickety boat without any oars
and cast them away into the stormy sea. They made their way to France, and
once there, settled in and converted all of Provence. While St. Martha gathered
about her a community of women, and while St. Lazarus became a Bishop, Mary
is said to have retired to a cave in a hill in La Sainte-Baume to live a
life of penance for thirty years. When she was dying, the angels are said
to have carried her to the Oratory of St. Maximinus in Aix where she received
Viaticum and died. Her body is said to have been
deposed in St. Maximin Oratory in Villa Lata until A.D. 745, when she was
moved to protect her relics from the Saracens. Later, when the Dominicans
built a convent in La Sainte-Baume, the shrine was found intact, with an
inscription indicating why the relics were hidden. This church was destroyed
during the French Revolution, but was later restored, and the head of Mary
Magdalen is said to be there to this day.
St. Mary Magdalen is the patroness of penitents, reformed prostitutes, perfumers,
hairdressers, and apothecaries. She is usually depicted artistically in a
posture of penance or an attitude of reflection, annointing Our Lord's feet,
at the Foot of the Cross or before a Crucifix, at the empty tomb, meeting
the risen Christ (often with the words "Noli me tangere" -- "Touch Me not"
-- in the painting), being fed Viaticum at death, or carried by angels after
her death. She is symbolized by her alabaster jar; a skull symbolizing penance
and acting as a memento mori; a mirror; long, unveiled hair (often red);
tears; red robes; and an egg (especially a scarlet one; see
the Easter page).
Customs of the Day
For those interested
in perfumery and essential oils, the blending of oils and making of ointments
as gifts or for personal use, all in honor of Mary, is a natural for this
day. Perfumes, massage oils, healing ointments -- all of these are easy to
Add about 4 to 10 drops of essential oils to 1 tablespoon of Jojoba oil (apricot
kernel oil or grapeseed oil can be used instead, but these and other vegetable
oils will go rancid. Jojoba keeps best. It is best to make these ointments
as you use them, or at least not make very large quantities in advance.).
and Basil oils
|1 drop Basil,
2 drops Lemon, 2 drops Eucalyptus
|4 drops Rose,
6 drops Sandalwood, 1 drop Ylang Ylang
|5 drops Bergamot,
4 drops Mandarin, 4 drops Lavender, 3 drops Lemongrass
|5 drops Lemongrass,
5 drops Geranium, 3 drops Sweet Basil, 2 drops Lime
|5 drops Ylang
Ylang, 5 drops Orange, 5 drops Petitgrain
In a 1-oz dark-colored bottle, mix 4 tsp Jojoba oil with 10-15 drops of essential
oil. Cap tightly and let sit a week, shaking periodically and testing the
fragrance, adding drops of whatever you think it needs as you go along and
testing in a few days (it will develop as it sits).
In a dark-colored bottle, mix 25 drops of essential oil with 1 oz of Vodka.
Let age 2 weeks, shaking periodically and testing the fragrance, adding drops
of whatever you think it needs as you go along and testing in a few days
(it will develop as it sits).
Heat together 1/4 cup Jojoba oil with 1/2 ounce beeswax. Off the heat, stir
in essential oils, starting with 20 -30 drops. Play with amounts of wax and
carrier oil to achieve desired texture. Pour into containers. It will develop
Heat together 2 parts Jojoba oil (or olive oil) with 1 part beeswax (or
candelilla wax) until melted. Stir in food flavorings (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
for every 1/4 cup of oil) and any healing oils desired. A capsule of Vitamin
E can be squeezed into this mixture also. Pour into containers. Ratio of
oil to wax can be played with to gain desired texture.
All Purpose Healing Salve for Skin Afflictions
Melt together a bit over a half ounce of Beeswax with 4 ½ tablespoons
of Jojoba oil (half of this can be Calendula oil for more healing properties).
Remove from heat, stir in contents of a Vitamin E capsule, and 40 drops of
some combination of these: Lavender oil, Tea tree oil, Oregano oil, Roman
or German Chamomile. Pour into tins to firm up. Use within 6 months.
Regular Bath Salts
Put 1 cup sea salt and 1/2 cup Epsom salt into a bowl and blend. Seperately,
mix 2 tablespoons baking soda with add 20-25 drops of essential oils (a few
drops of vegetable food coloring may be added a few drops at a time, too,
mixing well after each addition), and then add to the salts. Mix well with
a fork and pack into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake. Let sit for
a few days, shaking periodically. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup to bathwater just before
getting in the tub, and swirl to dissolve.
Jewel Bath Salts
To 1 cup of sea salt (or rock salt or mineral salt), add 3-5 drops of vegetable
food coloring 2 drops at a time, shaking, shaking well after each addition).
Add 20-25 drops of essential oil, and shake once more. Add a teaspoon of
glycerine and the salts will gleam like jewels. Store airtight.
Fizzing Bath Salts
Mix 2/3 cup baking soda with 1/2 cup citric acid crystals in a bowl. Add
5-8 drops of essential oil to 2 Tbsp. cornstarch (a few drops of vegetable
food coloring can be worked into the cornstarch before adding), and add.
Pack into airtight jars, and let sit a few days. Pour some into bathwater
just before getting in the tub.
are Proust's famous madeleines (French for
"magdalens"), a light, cake-like, shell-shaped cookie that require a special
madeleine pan to make.
1 stick (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
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!).
One final note:
an old English saying is that if it rains today, it is Mary Magdalen washing
out her handkerchief, preparing to attend St. James's fair. The
Feast of St. James is a few
days from now, on the 25th of July
(her sister Martha's Feast
follows hers in one week).
As to readings for today, see St.Ephraem's
"Homily on the Sinful Woman," and
the prayer by St. Anselm below.
Prayer to St
by St. Anselm
St. Mary Magdalene,
you came with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from Him your
burning thirst was abundantly refreshed through Him your sins were forgiven;
by Him your bitter sorrow was consoled.
My dearest lady, well you know by your own life how a sinful soul can be
reconciled with its Creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine
will restore the sick to health. It is enough for us to understand, dear
friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven, because she loved much.
Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall
your sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless mercy by which they
were blotted out. This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this
is my longing, so that I shall not perish.
I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed
down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison
of sins, wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.
Therefore, since you are now with the chosen because you are beloved and
are beloved because you are chosen of God, I, in my misery, pray to you,
in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure,
I ask for purity.
Recall in loving kindness what you used to be, how much you needed mercy,
and seek for me that same forgiving love that you received when you were
wanting it. Ask urgently that I may have the love that pierces the heart;
tears that are humble; desire for the homeland of heaven; impatience with
this earthly exile; searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity.
Turn to my good that ready access that you once had and still have to the
spring of mercy.
Draw me to him where I may wash away my sins; bring me to him who can slake
my thirst; pour over me those waters that will make my dry places fresh.
You will not find it hard to gain all you desire from so loving and so kind
a Lord, who is alive and reigns and is your friend.
For who can tell, beloved and blest of God, with what kind familiarity and
familiar kindness he himself replied on your behalf to the calumnies of those
who were against you? How He defended you, when the proud Pharisee was indignant,
how He excused you, when your sister complained, how highly He praised your
deed, when Judas begrudged it.
And, more than all this, what can I say, how can I find words to tell, about
the burning love with which you sought him, weeping at the sepulchre, and
wept for Him in your seeking?
How He came, who can say how or with what kindness, to comfort you, and made
you burn with love still more; how He hid from you when you wanted to see
Him, and showed Himself when you did not think to see Him; how He was there
all the time you sought Him, and how He sought you when, seeking Him, you
But you, most holy Lord, why do You ask her why she weeps? Surely You can
see; her heart, the dear life of her soul, is cruelly slain. O love to be
wondered at; O evil to be shuddered at! You hung on the wood, pierced by
iron nails, stretched out like a thief for the mockery of wicked men; and
yet, "Woman," You say, "why are you weeping?" She had not been able to prevent
them from killing You, but at least she longed to keep Your Body for a while
with ointments lest it decay. No longer able to speak with You living, at
least she could mourn for You dead. So, near to death and hating her own
life, she repeats in broken tones the words of life which she had heard from
And now, besides all this, even the Body which she was glad, in a way, to
have kept, she believes to have gone. And can You ask her, "Woman, why are
you weeping?" Had she not reason to weep? For she had seen with her own eyes
-- if she could bear to look -- what cruel men cruelly did to You; and now
all that was left of You from their hands she thinks she has lost. All hope
of You has fled, for now she has not even Your lifeless Body to remind her
And someone asks, "Who are you looking for? Why are you weeping?"
You, her sole joy, should be the last thus to increase her sorrow. But You
know it all well, and thus you wish it to be, for only in such broken words
and sighs can she convey a cause of grief as great as hers. The love You
have inspired You do not ignore,
And indeed You know her well, the Gardener, who planted her soul in His garden.
What You plant, I think You also water. Do You water, I wonder, or do You
test her? In fact, You are both watering and putting to the test.
But now, good Lord, gentle Master, look upon your faithful servant and disciple,
so lately redeemed by Your Blood, and see how she burns with anxiety, desiring
You, searching all round, questioning, and what she longs for is nowhere
found. Nothing she sees can satisfy her, since You whom alone she would behold,
she sees not.
What then? How long will my Lord leave his beloved to suffer thus? Have You
put off compassion now You have put on incorruption? Did You let go of goodness
when you laid hold of immortality?
Let it not be so, Lord. You will not despise us mortals now You have made
Yourself immortal, for You made yourself a mortal in order to give us
And so it is; for love's sake He cannot bear her grief for long or go on
hiding Himself. For the sweetness of love He shows Himself who would not
for the bitterness of tears.
The Lord calls His servant by the name she has often heard and the servant
knows the voice of her own Lord. I think, or rather I am sure, that she responded
to the gentle tone with which He was accustomed to call, "Mary." What joy
filled that voice, so gentle and full of love. He could not have put it more
simply and clearly:
"I know who you are and what you want; behold Me; do not weep, behold Me;
I am He whom you seek."
At once the tears are changed; I do not believe that they stopped at once,
but where once they were wrung from a heart broken and self-tormenting they
flow now from a heart exulting. How different is, "Master!" from "If you
have taken Him away, tell me"; and, "They have taken away my Lord, and I
do not know where they have laid Him," has a very different sound from, "I
have seen the Lord, and he has spoken to me."
But how should I, in misery and without love, dare to describe the love of
God and the blessed friend of God? Such a flavour of goodness will make my
heart sick if it has in itself nothing of that same virtue. But in truth,
You who are very Truth, You know me well and can testify that I write this
for the love of Your love, my Lord, my most dear Jesus. I want Your love
to burn in me as You command so that I may desire to love You alone and sacrifice
to You a troubled spirit, "a broken and a contrite heart."
Give me, O Lord, in this exile, the bread of tears and sorrow for which I
hunger more than for any choice delights. Hear me, for Your love, and for
the dear merits of your beloved Mary, and Your blessed Mother, the greater
Mary. Redeemer, my good Jesus, do not despise the prayers of one who has
sinned against You but strengthen the efforts of a weakling that loves You.
Shake my heart out of its indolence, Lord, and in the ardour of Your love
bring me to the everlasting sight of Your glory where with the Father and
the Holy Spirit You live and reign, God, for ever. Amen.
1 Spikenard, or "nard" (right), is Nardostachys
grandiflora (or Nardostachys jatamansi), a pink-flowered plant
of the family Valerianaceae -- the valerian family. The portion of the plant
just above the roots has a strong, patchouli-like scent. It is used internally
like common valerian (Valeriana officinalis) -- for nerves, depression,
headaches, and insomnia. Externally, it is used for rashes and as a deodorant.
There is a fascinating legend about the nard used to annoint Our Lord. It
begins at the Nativity, and is recounted
in the apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel, a translation of a Syriac original
whose date is unknown, but estimated to be 4th c.:
arose, and taking Mary his spouse, went away to Jerusalem, and came to Bethlehem,
to be enrolled along with his family in his native city. And having come
to a cave, Mary told Joseph that the time of the birth was at hand, and that
she could not go into the city; but, said she, let us go into this cave.
This took place at sunset. And Joseph went out in haste to go for a woman
to be near her. When, therefore, he was busy about that, he saw an Hebrew
old woman belonging to Jerusalem, and said: Come hither, my good woman, and
go into this cave, in which there is a woman near her time.
Wherefore, after sunset, the old woman, and Joseph with her, came to the
cave, and they both went in. And, behold, it was filled with lights more
beautiful than the gleaming of lamps and candles, and more splendid than
the light of the sun. The child, enwrapped in swaddling clothes, was sucking
the breast of the Lady Mary His mother, being placed in a stall. And when
both were wondering at this light, the old woman asks the Lady Mary: Art
thou the mother of this Child? And when the Lady Mary gave her assent, she
says: Thou art not at all like the daughters of Eve. The Lady Mary said:
As my son has no equal among children, so his mother has no equal among women.
The old woman replied: My mistress, I came to get payment; I have been for
a long time affected with palsy. Our mistress the Lady Mary said to her:
Place thy hands upon the child. And the old woman did so, and was immediately
cured. Then she went forth, saying: Henceforth I will be the attendant and
servant of this child all the days of my life.
Then came shepherds; and when they had lighted a fire, and were rejoicing
greatly, there appeared to them the hosts of heaven praising and celebrating
God Most High. And while the shepherds were doing the same, the cave was
at that time made like a temple of the upper world, since both heavenly and
earthly voices glorified and magnified God on account of the birth of the
And when that old Hebrew woman saw the manifestation of those miracles, she
thanked God, saying: I give Thee thanks, O God, the God of Israel, because
mine eyes have seen the birth of the Saviour of the world. And the time of
circumcision, that is, the eighth day, being at hand, the Child was to be
circumcised according to the law. Wherefore they circumcised Him in the cave.
And the old Hebrew woman took the piece of skin; but some say that she took
the navel-string, and laid it past in a jar of old oil of nard. And she had
a son, a dealer in unguents, and she gave it to him, saying: See that thou
do not sell this jar of unguent of nard, even although three hundred denarii
should be offered thee for it. And this is that jar which Mary the sinner
bought and poured upon the head and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, which
thereafter she wiped with the hair of her head.
"Alabaster" is a usually white, translucent gypsum.