St Mary Magdalen

She has loved much

Today is the feast of St Mary Magdalen. Who is this woman whose story more than any other in the gospels speaks to us of the Mercy of God?

From fragments of scripture, an image emerges.

In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3). It is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She was a repentant sinner who honoured her Lord through lavish displays of love and repentance (Luke 7:36-50).

Further she is recorded as standing at the foot of the cross of her dying Saviour (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49) and finally as seeing Christ placed in the tomb, and as being the first witness of the Resurrection.

This extract from St Peter Julian Eynard’s reflections on Mary Magdalen, however, goes straight to the core and draws out for us a beautiful teaching:

Before her conversion Magdalen was a public sinner. She possessed all the qualities of mind and body and all the gifts of fortune that can lead one to the worst excesses. And she fell into them. The Gospel lowers her to the rank of a public sinner. She was so degraded that Simon the Pharisee felt disgraced when she entered his home. And he even doubted the prophetic power of Jesus because the Master allowed her to remain at His feet.

But after having been forgiven, this poor sinful woman was to take her place among the greatest of saints. See her at work. Human “dignity”, more than anything else, is what holds back great sinners and prevents them from being converted. “I will not be able to persevere,” they say. “I dare not start what I cannot finish.” And disheartened, they go no further.

She went straight to Jesus without mistaking anyone else for Him. But where had she known Him? Ah! An ailing heart knows well where to find the One that will comfort and cure it!  Mary dared not look upon Jesus. She said nothing: true contrition acts that way. Look at the Prodigal Son and at the Publican. The sinner who looks God full in the face after having offended Him insults Him. But Mary wept: she “washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head.” Her place is at the feet of Jesus. These feet trod the earth, and she knew she was but the dust of a corpse. The world is extremely fond of beautiful hair; she used hers as a rag.

She remained prostrate on the ground, awaiting her sentence. She heard the remarks made by the envious Apostles and Jews who honored only the triumphant and crowned only the virtuous. They did not like Magdalen who was teaching every one of them a lesson; for every one of them had sinned, but not one had the courage to ask pardon publicly. Simon himself, bloated with pride and hypocrisy, grew indignant. But Jesus avenged Magdalen. What beautiful words of re­habilitation: “More has been forgiven her because she has loved more …. Thy faith hath made thee safe,” said the Saviour to her. “Go in peace.” He did not add: “Sin no more.” Jesus had said this to the adulteress, who was more humiliated for having been caught in the act than repentant for having offended God. But Magdalen had no need of that advice; her love assured Jesus’ of her firm purpose of amendment. What a beautiful and touching absolution! Magdalen must have had a very perfect contrition! When you go to confession, unite yourself to Magdalen and let your contrition, like hers, proceed more from love than from fear.”

It was not for her faith then, or for any extraordinary feat of hers, but for her outrageous love, strong to the point of folly, that the Lord rewarded Mary Magdalen by choosing her to be the first to see Him after His Resurrection.

On this Feast of Mary Magdalen, might I ask you to say a short prayer for me, another repentant sinner, who bears this great Saint’s name.

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12 Responses to St Mary Magdalen

  1. Frere Rabit says:

    Good post, Maryla. The rabit pèlerin will say a prayer for you in the parish church in Bonneval tomorrow. Today I passed a church called ‘Les Trois Marie’, between Chartres and Bonneval, with a modern mosaic of the three Marys at the tomb, with the angel telling them to go to Galilee. The mosaic was already falling apart, and I reflected upon the difference between the permanence of the 13th century craftsmen’s work at Chartres and this shabby ephemeral modern offering.

    I had just missed the morning Mass and a dozen people were coming out. I had been to the early Mass in Chartres anyway, and it was a fairly uninteresting 19th c. church, so I was about to jump back on the velocipede, but I noticed that the parishioners did not disperse but made their way instead across the green. There was an old chapel there, probably 13th or 14th century, and as they walked silently over to it, I followed.

    Inside the old chapel there was a dusty altar with no reserved sacrament, a few faded wooden statues of saints, and a picture on the wall of the Holy Face: a nineteenth century print of the Turin shroud, framed in a dusty wooden picture frame. The dozen or so people, mostly women in their sixties and older, but also three or four men, lit candles and placed them on a pricket in the middle of the chapel, and then they processed around the chapel, simply touching the feet of the statues, kissing the Holy Face, and then out of the chapel again to partake in the daily gossip.

    Catholicism pure and simple. Impressive.


  2. Gertrude says:

    It is indeed a lovely post. When I was at school in France (when Noah was building the Ark) the Feast of St Mary Magdalen was quite a major feast, as although the Greek Church have her accompanying Our Blessed Lady to Ephesus, in the Roman Church she went to France. I seem to recall her head was supposed to be in a Church in Provence (La Sainte-Baume I think). Rabit may or may not know if this is true? It was reputed to be a large center for pilgrimage. Sadly, I never went that far!


  3. heracletian says:

    A touching piece. I have said a wee prayer for you too. John Henry Newman wrote something very moving about the repentance of Mary Magdalene is (the fifteenth paragraph of) his discourse Purity and Love.


  4. toadspittle says:

    ”The Gospel lowers her to the rank of a public sinner.”

    Lowers her from what ? Am I to assume she had a higher rank as a private sinner? Isn’t it better to at least be open about it?

    ”Before her conversion Magdalen was a public sinner. She possessed all the qualities of mind and body and all the gifts of fortune that can lead one to the worst excesses. And she fell into them.”

    As an enthusiastic public sinner myself, before I failed the medical, I would be interested and delighted if MMVC would expand on this. Sounds as if it will make good reading. And also tell us the source. The New Testament, I suppose.


  5. churchmouse says:

    Toad — Do you not know the story of Mary Magdalen, or are you being ironic?


  6. toadspittle says:

    No, mouse, I know hardly anything about Magdalen. Haven’t even read Dan Brown. That’s really ignorant, is it not? My questions, while somewhat skeptical, are also honestly intended. From a perspective of total ignorance, just how much is seriously known about the life of Mary Magdalen?
    I suspect all of it could be written on the back of a postage stamp. But I am an ignoramus, and am open to correction.
    After you, Claude..


  7. mmvc says:

    Toad, as far as public versus private sin is concerned, nobody is advocating hypocrisy, but sometimes when sin is worn on the sleeve, this indicates that the individual has neither shame nor guilt, which are useful prerequisites for repentance. Though all sin damages our relationship with God and others, public sin can also cause scandal and encourage others to behave likewise.
    For more details of what we know about St Mary Magdalen, you may like to visit this website; and, of course you could always read the appropriate passages from Scripture.


  8. churchmouse says:

    Toad — Have you had any sort of religious education — even sporadic — at home, school or church? I’m not being funny, but with all the time you’ve spent on Damian’s blog with your co-bloggers here, I would have thought you would have started researching things yourself.

    Every child learns about Mary Magdalen. She is one of the great saints. Maryla couldn’t have done better in explaining who she is. She even gives you the Bible passages as source material.

    Her washing Jesus’s feet with her hair — what greater act of humility from a notorious sinner could one imagine (even today)? Think of the dusty, dirty times in which Jesus and His contemporaries lived. Even slaves of that era were not asked to wash their masters’ feet — it was unthinkable, over the top. Yet, this woman — reviled by all — realised how much she had sinned against God by what she had done during her life. She is also one of the few people who comes to the realisation of who exactly Jesus is — Lord and Saviour. Jesus can see that she is fully repentant and forgives her.

    She turns from sin and accompanies Him and the disciples. She is present at the Crucifixion. She goes to look for him afterward on the third day — Easter (the Resurrection) — which the disciples did not do. You can read more about her here in that context:

    I hope I didn’t waste my time with this message. I really wonder if you are searching for answers.


  9. toadspittle says:

    I was born a Catholic , and until I was about fourteen, I did not question anything I was told. Then I started .
    Have not stopped yet.

    Magdalen is a case in point. I seem to have irritated you and others here. But nobody has answered a single question on here that I have asked. What about her past life? What did she actually do? Does the gospel call her a ‘public sinner’? What does that mean?
    But it is late and I will check the bible references, as you suggest. Then possibly ask more dopey questions tomorrow.


  10. churchmouse says:

    Toad — She was a prostitute and an adulteress. I think you have the British ‘nous’ to read between the lines. Based on your ‘toads du jour’, you can figure it out. You’re playing people. Go play on a Calvinist blog and see what response you get:

    We’ve given you an easy ride. Go play with the big boys.


  11. toadspittle says:


    Well, I clicked on the link from ‘the big boys.’ You are right. Too ‘big’ for little me. Long and incomprehensible.

    I guess I’m sacked then. Thanks for the easy ride, though.


  12. golden chersonnese says:

    My dear toad, with due respect to all, I hope you don’t tarry too long with the “big boys” and come back to us here.


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