St. Mary Magdalene

About Saint Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross
Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross

If we only think of St. Mary Magdalene as a historical figure, then the importance of her life will be missed entirely. She is not simply a character from the bible or a just saint from the early Church; St. Mary Magdalene is the chosen example of God’s boundless love and mercy. What Christ did for Mary Magdalene in the past, is what He wants to do for us today. The radical offer of forgiveness extended to St. Mary Magdalene then, is wants He to offer to us now. St. Therese of Lisieux understood this truth and, inspired by St. Mary Magdalene’s example, wrote,

“Even if I had all the crimes possible on my conscience, I am sure I should lose none of my confidence. Heartbroken with repentance, I would simply throw myself into my Savior’s arms, for I know how much he loves the prodigal son. I have heard what he said to Mary Magdalene… I know that, in the twinkling of an eye, all those thousands of sins would be consumed as a drop of water cast into a blazing fire.” (Story of a Soul, p.154)

Before her conversion, St. Mary Magdalene lived an openly scandalous, possibly as an adulteress or prostitute. She was so entirely consumed by sin, that seven devils were cast out of her. Nevertheless, through her encounter with Christ, she was flooded with grace and in an instant she was transformed. How clearly she saw the wickedness of sin! How clearly she saw the goodness of God! Entering into the house of Simon the Pharisee, St. Mary Magdalene thought nothing of the scorn and reproaches she would receive. Moved by love and sorrow for her sins, St. Mary Magdalene thought only of being reconciled to God.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene Mural

Though the Pharisee judged her, Christ defended saying, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:44-47).

After her conversion, St. Mary Magdalene became a disciple of the Lord, always remaining close to him. She was praised for choosing the “better part” and sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to Him. Even during Christ’s passion, St. Mary Magdalene remained with Him. Although the apostles had abandoned him, she stood at the foot of the cross and wept for her sins. She was unwilling to leave Him in even after His death. Early Sunday morning, St. Mary Magdalene was the first at the tomb and the first one Christ appeared after His Resurrection.

After the Ascension, nothing is certain of her life. There is a Greek tradition that St. Mary Magdalene went to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin Mary and was buried there. Yet, there is a competing tradition that St. Mary Magdalene lived the last thirty years of her life in a cave at La Sainte-Baume, France, doing penance for her sins. Regardless of her resting place, her example of penance has been the inspiration for countless conversions. St. Mary Magdalene remains a favorite saint and will continue to be a favorite, as she helps us to understand the incomprehensible love of God. Just as Christ received a repentant Mary Magdalene with unimaginable love and kindness, Christ wants to receive us with that same love and kindness, as long as we are willing to turn to Him and turn away from sin.

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More About St Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene Gazing Upward
Painting showing Mary Magdalene gazing upward hold a vessel of oils for anointing

Though she is mentioned in the New Testament several times and has become known as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” little information has been recorded about St. Mary Magdalene. Many historians and writers have tried to connect the dots between what is said of her in the Bible and what stories have been passed on through legend, often yielding opposing results. What matters most is what the Church does know to be true: St. Mary Magdalene was a penitent woman who so devoted her life to Christ that she was present at both His crucifixion and shortly after His resurrection from the dead. What a blessed woman, indeed!

St. Mary Magdalene was from a town in Galilee called Magdala, a Gentile town. She was a Jewish woman, but having come from a Gentile community, she had the culture and manners of the Gentiles (which the Jews noticed, and thus called her “of Magdala” or “Magdalene”, noting her origin). It is said that St. Mary Magdalene was a very beautiful and prideful woman. Yet, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, after she met Jesus she felt great sorrow for her sins and resolved to amend her lifestyle, seeking instead to be humble and holy.

Some believe that St. Mary Magdalene was the woman who washed the feet of Christ with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with expensive perfume, as told in all four gospels. Others say that she was the penitent woman from whom Jesus cast out seven devils. Still others believe she may have been the sister of Martha and Lazarus. While the Church is unable to verify or deny the accuracy of these associations, the most important factor in all of these stories holds true: St. Mary Magdalene was a woman who recognized her need for a Savior, and her example of striving for holiness is a model for Christians, even to this day.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene
Jesus and Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene was devoted to Christ no matter the cost. She stood at the foot of the cross, seemingly unafraid of what her love for him could mean for her own safety. Her priority was her God. Later, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, she went to anoint his body in the tomb (unaware He had risen). When she found the empty tomb, she ran to tell the apostles that the body of the Lord was missing. Later, Jesus appeared to her as she was weeping, so that she would know His body had not been stolen, but rather, He risen from the dead! St. Mary Magdalene was the first person that Christ appeared to after His resurrection. After this encounter, St. Mary Magdalene went to inform the apostles that the Lord had truly been raised. For this reason, she is sometimes called the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

The life of St. Mary Magdalene after Christ’s ascension to heaven is not recorded in the Bible. There are legends and stories speculating about the life of St. Mary Magdalene up to her death – some of which claim she spent her final years in a cave in the wilderness, praying and fasting. Others state that she, along with other Christians who were exiled for their religious beliefs, set sail in the Mediterranean, and landed in France. Her relics are believed to be in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence.

*Note: Over time, it has been believed that St. Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute prior to knowing Jesus, since she is once described in St. Luke’s gospel as a woman of “poor reputation.” There is no information available to verify , though, and so the Church denies this association.

Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross
Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. By Peter Schmelzle [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Patronage of St. Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of contemplative life, converts, hairstylists, penitents, perfume makers, and women. She has been designated as the patron of hairstylists and perfume makers due to the Gospel story of her anointing Jesus’ feet.

St. Mary Magdalene in Art

In art, St. Mary Magdalene is often shown wearing fine clothing, and may be holding a container of perfume or ointment. She also can be pictured with a vase of spices (symbolizing her visit to the tomb of Christ to anoint his body on the morning of the resurrection). Other images of her may depict a biblical scene where she was present, namely, when she anointed Christ’s feet, the crucifixion, and when Jesus appeared to her in the garden after His resurrection.

Prayers of St. Mary Magdalene

Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene

Saint Mary Magdalene,
woman of many sins, who by conversion
became the beloved of Jesus,
thank you for your witness
that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.
You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that some day
I may share in the same everlasting joy.

Amen.

Mary Magdalene Foot of the Cross Large
Mary Magdalene Foot of the Cross Large

Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed of all our infirmities and know you in the power of his endless life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Litany of St. Mary Magdalene

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.

Saint Mary Magdalene, Pray for us.
Who entered the Pharisee’s house to anoint the feet of Jesus, Pray for us.
Who washed His feet with your tears, Pray for us.
Who dried them with your hair, Pray for us.
Who covered them with kisses, Pray for us.
Who was vindicated by Jesus before the proud Pharisee, Pray for us.
Who from Jesus received the pardon of your sins, Pray for us.
Who before darkness was restored to light, Pray for us.

Mirror of penance, Pray for us.
Disciple of Our Lord, Pray for us.
Wounded with the love of Christ, Pray for us.
Most dear to the Heart of Jesus, Pray for us.
Constant woman, Pray for us.
Last at the Cross of Jesus, Pray for us.
First at His tomb, Pray for us.

You who was the first to see Jesus risen, Pray for us.
Whose forehead was sanctified by the touch of your risen Master, Pray for us.
Apostle of apostles, Pray for us.
Who lived for many years in solitude being miraculously fed, Pray for us.
Who was visited by angels seven times a day, Pray for us.
Sweet advocate of sinners, Pray for us.
Spouse of the King of Glory, Pray for us.

V. Saint Mary Magdalene, earnestly intercede for us with the Divine Master.

R. That we may share your happiness in heaven.

Let us pray. May the glorious merits of blessed Mary Magdalene, we beseech You, O Lord, make our offerings acceptable to You: for Your only-begotten Son vouchsafed graciously to accept the humble service she rendered. Who lives and reigns, God for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

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