Today, 22 July, we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, a Jewish woman from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Who exactly was Mary Magdalene and why is she so important today? Mary Magdalene was an apostle of Jesus Christ, the same as the other 12 apostles who were commissioned to spread the story of Jesus. She was the leader of the women that traveled with Jesus, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, prepared his body for burial, and was the first to witness and speak to his resurrected body on Easter morning. Her influence must have been so great for all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to have mentioned that she was the first to see the risen Christ.
Unfortunately, her story has been manipulated over time by the Church and society, erasing her role as one of Jesus’ most devout followers and transforming her into a sinner and a prostitute. There is no basis nor one word from the original texts for the Church to label her as a prostitute. This shame on Magdalene and other women from that time came from the Council of Nicea, under the orders from Emperor Constantine out of fear and jealousy of the power of the feminine. In 1st Century Palestine, women had very little freedom or credibility and their words were not held to be true in the Jewish courts of law.
Why was there so much controversy with Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene has been a powerful figure from the beginning of Christianity. The fact that the risen Jesus appeared first to her, giving a woman the mission of announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles, was a problem in a patriarchal society. It is truly impossible to hide Mary Magdalene’s central role in Jesus’ life so it was much easier to turn her into a sinner, tainting her image for 2,000 years and denouncing women's place in the church.
Has Mary Magdalene’s significant role been rediscovered?
Many might not know that there is a Gospel of Mary Magdalene. This apocryphal book was discovered in 1896 in Egypt among the other 5th-century papyrus codex Nag Hamadi Scriptures. These scriptures were restored in 1945 after being sealed up in clay for almost 2000 years. Discovering these writings has allowed us to have a better understanding of Jesus’ relationship with women and Mary Magdalene’s role as possibly one of the most important apostles to have followed Jesus.
On June 16, 2017, Pope Francis elevated the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the rank of liturgical feast and gave her the title "the apostle of the apostles,” naming her an important historical figure during the time of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is an eternal mystery, a divine feminine, and a power of renewal and rebirth. Her writings and lessons enlighten us on spiritual leadership and growth, the importance of a divine union, and a deep understanding of that which is larger than us.
Her story puts our experiences and reality in perspective. Her message is always one of love and encouragement. In the midst of humanity and our planet earth at a tipping point and with our future full of either opportunities for salvation or possibilities for destruction, I find comfort in her words and writings. Through studying her and reading about her life, I have come to fall in love with this woman. I encourage you to explore her story further if this calls to you.
May you find spiritual growth, a sacred union, and undying devotion as Magdalene’s legacy has exposed.