· Vatican City ·

22 July, the feast of Mary Magdalene
A historian investigates her story

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27 June 2020

On July 22, 2016, at the behest of Pope Francis, the Church began to celebrate the memory of Saint Mary Magdalene with a liturgical feast (prior to that date it had been her memory that was celebrated). The historian and theologian Adriana Valerio’s recent book published by Il Mulino “Maria Maddalena - Equivoci, storie, rappresentazioni”[Mary Magdalene - Misunderstandings, Stories, Representations], is dedicated to her, and here we report on a passage from it.

The disciples recollections, and among them of the women who followed Jesus -with different outcomes depending on who transmitted these memories and the specific situations of the groups of reference- have merged into the different written redactions that gave rise to the Gospels. The stories of the Passion, which are very different from each other, refer to a double experience, the discovery of the empty tomb and the post-Easter apparitions, but they do not always converge on the role and emotions that the individual characters played and felt. However, in all Easter narratives it is women who are presented as the first witnesses of the empty tomb (...)

At the head of the female group is Magdalene, and she is described as having different approaches. In Mark, she flees in fear - together with Mary, the mother of James, and Salome - before the “apparitions of angels” that attest to the resurrection and is silent about what has happened (16,1-8); in Matthew, together with “the other Mary”, she recognizes the Risen One and runs to announce it to the other disciples (28,1-8); in Luke her testimony is considered unreliable (24,1-12). In John, more than anyone else, he pays special attention to her and places her at the center of faith in the Risen One (...) The fourth evangelist, in saying that “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept” (20:11), emphasizes how she was left alone crying in front of the empty tomb (...) Only by hearing herself called by name – “Mary!” –  could she recognize the voice of the Master, who appeared in the garden in the guise of a gardener (...)

Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Mary Magdalene immediately went to announce this to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” and also what he had told her (John 20:16-18). This narrative is a powerful symbolic reminder of that search for the beloved one, who was lost, found and kept.  This is celebrated in the Song of Songs (3:1-4) and forms the background to this dramatic and passionate encounter.  Mary here incarnates the ideal type of disciple who sees, recognizes, witnesses and announces. The Risen One, in fact, appears to her personally, and in breaking free of all restraint, sends her as the Living One’s witness to the community of disciples who have now become her “brethren”. We find ourselves in the presence of a true and proper apostolic mandate.

by Adriana Valerio