|Blavatskaya, Mary Magdalene.|
(Image source DeviantArt.net)
On July 10, the Congregation for Divine Worship released a document raising the liturgical observance of St. Mary Magdalene’s traditional day from a memorial to a feast. Released along with it is an accompanying letter, Apostle to the Apostles, over the signature of the secretary of the congregation, Abp. Arthur Roche. Now would be a good time to explain who she is in the Catholic tradition, and why the Holy See has taken such an extraordinary step.
Who was Mary Magdalene?
“Mary” (Heb. Miriam, Aram. Maryam, Gr./L. Maria) was a common name among the Judeans, and due to the influence of both the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene would be common in Christian lands for the next twenty centuries. (Maryam is also frequent among Moslems, among whom the Blessed Virgin Mother is honored.) So in the New Testament there is a surfeit of women named Mary, not always kept distinct from each other.
There are two locations named “Magdala” in Talmud: one in the east on the River Yarmouk near the modern town of Umm Qais, the other on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, near the town of Migdal. Given the number of Galileans among Jesus’ disciples, Mary most likely came from the latter.
We know very little about Mary’s story. According to Luke, Mary joined Jesus’ ministry early. He tells us that “seven demons had gone out from” her, indirectly attributing it to Jesus, and that she was one of several women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, “[providing] for them out of their means” (Luke 2:1-3) After the Easter narratives, Mary of Magdala drops out of the scriptural record.