22 July [St Mary Magdalene]
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’
Mary Magdalene is so called because she came from a village in Galilee called Magdala. She experienced some profound healing at the hands of Jesus; the gospels tell us he cast out seven demons from her (Mk 16:9; Lk 8:2). (Illnesses were thought to be caused by demonic infestation - the popular belief was that the air was thick with them, like bugs today.) She helped him in his work and was a witness to his crucifixion.
It was customary for many centuries to identify her with the sinful woman of Lk 7:36-50, but this woman is not named and modern scholars agree that there is no basis for the identification. The fiction began with Ephraim the Syrian in the 4th century and was reinforced by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th. The ‘seven demons’ were then taken to refer to the seven deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Most people get by on just a couple of them, but Mary was thought to be hooked on all seven.
In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is the only woman at the tomb (in Matthew’s there are two, in Mark’s three, and in Luke’s an indeterminate number). They were the first to know of the Resurrection of Jesus. They were sent to tell the news to the brothers. The word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek apostellein, ‘to send’. Therefore the first apostles of the distinctive Christian proclamation of the Resurrection were women. Indeed, Mary Magdalene is traditionally known as “the apostle to the apostles,” apostola apostolorum. She is a patroness of the Dominican Order, which is called the Order of Preachers, and for this reason many Dominican houses are called ‘St Magdalene’s’. She could also be seen as the patroness of all the women who have preached the Gospel in countless ways throughout the Christian centuries.
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