St Mary Magdalene: apostle to the apostles

Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. - Luke 7: 4. Mary Magdalene is one of the most beloved of all the saints

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Chipo Chung, centre, portraying Mary Magdalene, and Greta Scacchi as Mary the mother of God, star in a scene from the 12-part television series titled “A.D. The Bible Continues,” which aired in 2015. Photo: CNS, NBC

Mary Magdalene was saved because she loved very much, a love so extraordinary that it is recorded in the Holy Scriptures.

Her name is mentioned 12 times in the Canonical Gospels. Her feast is 22 July.

Many historians have been infatuated with St Mary Magdalene over the centuries, often depicted in artworks as the beautiful penitent. We know she had seven demons cast out from her by Christ and that she had a remarkable comprehension of Christ’s teachings, to the point that her soul was elevated to an unearthly realm of spiritual joy.

Once she found Christ she never left His side, even at His death. She served with love and humility and understood His authority. She understood and revered the apostolic authority Christ bestowed on His chosen 12 Apostles, to whom he gave “authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out and to cure all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness.”

This is “Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene After the Resurrection” by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. Because Mary’s heart has been turned toward Christ through conversion and repentance, she becomes one of his most fervent, faithful disciples. Photo: CNS, Wikimedia Commons

What has this to do with St Mary Magdalene? She not only observed all these things as a follower of Christ, she herself experienced the liberating power of – and witnessed – authority and power being handed to the apostles.

Today, as written in the code of Canon Law, no one can perform exorcisms legitimately upon the possessed unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary (Can. 1172 §1,). The local ordinary is to give this permission only to a presbyter who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life (§2 ).

The local Ordinary of a Diocese is the Bishop. By virtue of his office, he is the formal Exorcist of the Diocese. He can grant permission for a priest to minister the rite of exorcism.

A woman venerates a piece of the right shinbone of St Mary Magdalene contained in a reliquary during its tour of the US in 2009. The relic is normally situated in France. Photo: CNS, Gregory Shemitz

Apostle to the apostles

So powerful is the authority of Christ, demons flee in terror at the very mention of His name when the prayers of the rite of Exorcism are said.

St Mary Magdalene did not seek such power, nor did she claim that these twelve men were superior nor did she accuse the  Apostles of clericalism. She loved and respected their office. She was a witness to Divine Mercy and worthy enough to see Angels as depicted in scripture. When she was outside the tomb weeping, “she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” John 20:11-13

In this way, it was a woman who was sent to announce His Resurrection. She was, as St Thomas Aquinas described, apostolorum apostola, the apostle to the apostles.

St Mary Magdalene is shown meditating on the crucifix in this painted wooden sculpture. Photo: CNS, Nancy Wiechec

An example we can all follow

She demonstrated the remarkable complementary role of women and men in Christ’s Church. Whereas one of the twelve apostles betrayed the Saviour and the rest fled in fear as Christ was dying on the cross, Mary Magdalene stood steadfast with the suffering Jesus. The first bishops, the chosen Apostles, valued and listened to her, a woman, because she showed by her true love for Christ that she was trustworthy and a true friend of theirs. In return, she accepted Christ’s teachings and the authority of the apostles without reservation.

In this way she was the messenger “apostola” to the Apostles, encouraging them after she had seen Him risen from the dead.

We have so much to learn from her example, to love our bishops like she loved the Apostles, even when they lacked courage or seemed afraid, or may have lost their way. Always pray Pray for your bishop, and do so by name, that he may have courage and strength to do God’s will and understand the importance of Apostolic succession and appreciate with humility the office he holds. This then will help your bishop, through the Holy Spirit, give clear guidance and encouragement to his priests, who in turn nurture the families from whom future vocations come.

These priests who minister to God’s people need good, strong holy bishops who stand firm with Christ and His Church, to spiritually stabilise and bolster a diocese to gain souls for God.

We are all called to holiness like St Mary Magdalene. Don’t worry about being popular with people; be pleasing to God and never lose your joy. And so find strength when the Church is experiencing extraordinary times, as it did also in the times of St Mary Magdalene.

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