Sunday, July 22, 2007

Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene

Today the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene is observed as a solemnity at the parish to which I belong and have the privilege of serving, The Cathedral of the Madeleine. Mary Magdalene is known in the Tradition as apostola apostolorum, apostle to the apostles, because, as the first witness of the resurrection, a fact attested to by all four evangelists, she was sent by our resurrected Lord to tell the others disciples that He is risen!

This morning, as our lectio, let us consider the first eight verses of the sixteenth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel. Mark was the first of the canonical Gospels to be written, probably in Rome, shortly after 70 AD. These eight verses from Mark 16 constitute the original ending of this Gospel. It is easy to see how this ending might be found unsatisfactory and how it prompted a later, different, more humanly satisfying ending to this Gospel (i.e., verses 9-20), which is the most succinct account of the life, death, and resurrection of "Jesus Christ (the Son of God)" (Mk 1,1).

This is mostly taken from my lecture last Thursday.

Mark 16,1-8:
"When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, 'Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?' When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, 'Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, "He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

As a reflection let's consider a brief passage from pages 12-13 of the book Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today, by Dr. Cynthia Crysdale, a professor at the Catholic University of America. In these pages she takes up Mark's account when the women arrive "at the tomb on the first of the week ready to anoint the body, only to discover that it is gone." Crysdale asks, "Where is the salvation here? What is the theme of death and resurrection for these women?" Because, unlike the twelve, including Judas Iscariot, they did not betray or abandon Jesus during his passion and death, the meaning for these women "is not that of betrayal and subsequent forgiveness." In this encounter with the empty tomb it is not possible for them to discover "themselves as culpable murderers." Rather, just as they did as Jesus hung on the cross, at the empty tomb "they are 'looking on from a distance.'" Their response is a typically human one, they try to go back to doing to what they have always done, which, according to Dr. Crysdale, is to "take concrete care-taking action." But their encounter, their discovery of this world-changing, cosmic, event allows them no such comfort.

What this encounter with the empty grave forces them to do is to confront their powerlessness as sufferers of evil. "The moment of truth for these women," we learn, comes "when they must confront the dissolution of themselves, of their false assumptions." This moment comes precisely when they discover the empty grave. This is where we take up Mark 16,8: "This terse ending," Crysdale continues, "has baffled many for years" and "reveals how shocking this encounter must have been for these women" (pg 12)

"The possibility of resurrection challenged these women's powerlessness, as well as their traditional ways of coping. In watching the crucifixion these women had to come to terms with their own impotence in the face of evil. In the resurrection of Jesus this lack of power could be transformed. What also had to be transformed, however, was the women's traditional roles as 'copers' with evil (they were not able, after all, to anoint Jesus). They were confronted with the possibility of being true Selves, and this possibility was both exhilarating and terrifying. Whatever their response, new life was offered to these women not as a forgiveness of sins but as a freedom from powerlessness." (pgs 12-13)

Christ's resurrection, which for us is experienced both as a forgiveness of sins and as a liberation from powerlessness, also confronts us with the possibility of becoming our true Selves, of becoming the persons who God, out of the greatest love and the deepest goodness, made us and invites us to become in Christ. Therefore, today let's consider what it is that holds us back from becoming who the resurrected Lord beckons us to become- which is who we really are.

St. Mary Magdalene, apostola apostolorum - pray for us!


  1. I've got to balance out a 'yeah but' post with some praise. Thanks for the nice post on Saint Mary Magdalene including the lecture link.

    From a sermon given by Pope St. Gregory the Great...

    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."

    Dad, deacon, etc. Where do you find the time?

  2. No problem. Thanks for the compliment and for the critical, but constructive comments on ad orientem.

    Blogging is relaxation. My secret is that I watch absolutely no television


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