Birds flying from trees
Franciscan Spirit Blog

Honoring St. Mary Magdalene

May 25, 2020
Mary Magdalen kisses the feet of Jesus
Though she was never known to waver in her support of Jesus, Mary Magdalene’s actions in Jesus’ final days best exemplify her commitment.

Many Catholics mistakenly link Mary Magdalene with the “sinful woman” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (see Luke 7:36–50). Even though Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) said that they were, they are not the same person. The Gospels affirm that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. She was called the “apostle to the apostles” for proclaiming that fact.

Indeed, the character of Mary Magdalene, as commonly portrayed in books, theater, film and art, is more fiction than fact. How this “apostle to the apostles” came to be regarded as a reformed prostitute is owed to a sixth-century pope. He equated the “seven demons” Mary was healed of with the seven capital sins (a new theology in his time), lust being the worst.

The pope’s homilies received wide circulation, capturing the popular imagination, and the label stuck. Only in recent decades has a concerted attempt been made to set the record straight.

The Gospel story of Mary begins with her leadership of a band of women who, according to Luke, formed part of Jesus’ company of disciples. Jesus had cured her of “seven demons”—denoting the severity of an illness mystifying to doctors. Her health restored, she committed her life and all she possessed to supporting Jesus’ ministry.


An Exceptional Woman

Mary’s wealth was probably derived from either an inheritance or business. Being identified by her town, Magdala, rather than relationship to a spouse or male kinsman, tells us that Mary was a never-married daughter who consequently became independent in the eyes of the law. As such, she could engage in business so long as a male guardian handled legal matters. Magdala, by the Sea of Galilee, was a thriving hub for fishing and boat-building.

Mary Magdalene’s name is found fourteen times in Gospel passages—more than many of the male apostles. Her prominence is further suggested by the placement of her name whenever others are mentioned. She heads the list with one exception: when she stands at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother.

Popular Patron Saints

Though she was never known to waver in her support of Jesus, Mary Magdalene’s actions in Jesus’ final days best exemplify her unflinching commitment. Through the agonizing hours of his crucifixion and the desolate Sabbath that followed, she holds her band together. At dawn on Sunday morning, she leads them once again. This time, it is to perform the last service they can offer for their beloved Master: a reverential anointing.

To their dismay, they find the tomb empty and think that either Roman soldiers or local authorities removed the body. When her companions leave, Mary hurries to tell Peter and John the distressing news. They return with her, look into the tomb, also fail to understand and then depart. A heartbroken Mary, however, lingers near the tomb.


Bearer of Good News

Nothing could have prepared her for what happened next. Jesus appears at her side and speaks her name. “Teacher!” she cries. Overcome with joy, she would have wished time to stand still. But Jesus has work for her, commissioning her to go tell his brothers the Good News of the Resurrection.

When she runs to where the men are hiding and exclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” they dismiss her words. (Jesus would later reprimand them for their lack of faith.) Because of her faithfulness, Mary becomes the bearer of the message that remains at the heart of Christian belief.

Tradition has Mary accompanying the apostle John and Jesus’ mother to Ephesus, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where she spent the rest of her life. The memory of Mary’s discipleship is preserved in writings of the church fathers from the early centuries. Even theologians who expressed a low opinion of women (one calling them “the devil’s gateway”) heaped nothing but praise on Mary Magdalene. Their favorite title for her: the apostle to the apostles.


Stepping Out in Faith

Take advantage of opportunities to do good. Follow in the footsteps of...

Salome, who transferred her skills as wife and mother to minister to the crowds that followed Jesus. Consider sharing your talents, abilities, and knowledge in new ways within a parish ministry or social outreach effort.

Martha and Mary of Bethany, who provided Jesus with the support of friendship and a refuge, a place apart. Invite your pastor or member of your parish staff to dinner or for coffee. Write a note to thank a minister for his or her efforts on your community’s behalf.

Mary Magdalene, who committed her life to Jesus and carried the news of the Resurrection to the apostles. Commit to more fully living your faith in Jesus and the promise of the Resurrection. What will that look like in your life?

Keep reading!

Seven Radical Saints

Jesus and the Women of the Gospel

Sisterhood of Saints: 14 Women of God

Who Does He Say You Are? Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels

Saint of the Day brought to you by Franciscan Media


Mike Reininger
Fri, 07/22/2022 - 12:01 PM
Mike Reininger
As I clicked on the Seven Radical Saints section mentioned above, I scrolled down to St. Teresa of Calcutta and couldn't help but marvel on how she still impacts us today as I recollect all of the many sayings she made that struck a chord in me. For example, I remember her saying that "When one touches money, one loses touch with God," or the abortion quote mentioned in the article. She said a lot of interesting things such as how here in the U.S. even our so-called poor people are fat. She thought there was no excuse for filth or squalor as she strived to keep things clean even in a poor environment. She thought she couldn't do much for the loneliness in the rich industrial countries; she knew her limitations and thought only God could help those folks. She said how in the poor countries they might be poor, but at least they still had each other. The list of famous sayings of hers go on. Both she and St. Pope John Paul II are still affecting us today even though they died years ago. They both gave excellent witness to our Faith. They both had that earthy wisdom. I could mention some famous quotes from St. John Paul II too, but I'll save that for another day.
Fri, 07/22/2022 - 12:22 PM
The entire reason Mary Magdalene is so revered by so many is because she is one of the few examples of a woman who has sinned but been canonized, so why this push to take this away from us? And if she is reformed, then there is no "besmirching" her name. Why are sexual sins by women the only sins that are seemingly unforgivable? I am very tired of this attitude in the Church. Another woman and I were even having this argument with a man about how we had no role models for women who had sinned and been forgiven (our role model is supposed to be a woman who NEVER sinned??? Give me a break!!!) and he said, "There's the example of St. Augustine." Who is, if anyone needs it pointed out, a MAN. Women can be forgiven too. Jesus Himself had no issue with this; he forgave the woman caught in adultery. Why does everyone else have a problem with it? It's infuriating.
Tue, 07/26/2022 - 08:20 AM
Amen, Rebecca, Amen.

Add new comment