Pope elevates memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to feast day

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Recognizing St. Mary Magdalene’s role as the
first to witness Christ’s resurrection and as a “true and authentic
evangelizer,” Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of St. Mary
Magdalene to a feast on the church’s liturgical calendar, the Vatican

A decree formalizing the
decision was published by the Congregation for
Divine Worship June 10 along with an article explaining its significance.

Both the decree and the article were titled
“Apostolorum Apostola” (“Apostle of the Apostles”).

In the
article for the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the
congregation, wrote that in celebrating “an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of
Easter,” St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a call for all Christians to
“reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the
greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.”

“Pope Francis has taken this decision precisely in the
context of the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the relevance of this woman who
showed great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” Archbishop
Roche wrote.

While most liturgical
celebrations of individual saints during the year are known formally as
memorials, those classified as feasts are reserved for important events in
Christian history and for saints of particular significance, such as the Twelve

In his apostolic letter “Dies Domini” (“The
Lord’s Day”), St. John Paul II explained that the “commemoration of
the saints does not obscure the centrality of Christ, but on the contrary
extols it, demonstrating as it does the power of the redemption wrought by

Preaching about St. Mary
Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ’s mercy toward a woman who was
“exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous,” but
she was loved and forgiven by him.

Her tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a
reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see
Jesus,” the pope said April 2, 2013, during Mass in his residence, the
Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis also mentions her specifically in the prayer
he composed for the Year of Mercy: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and
Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking
happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and
assured paradise to the repentant thief.”

Roche explained that in giving St. Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first
person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the
resurrection, “Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman,
who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and

a comparison between Eve, who “spread death where there was life,” and St. Mary
Magdalene, who “proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death,” the
archbishop said her feast day is a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ
who is “alive and risen.”

“It is right that the liturgical celebration of this
woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in
the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who
is an example and model for every woman in the church.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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