SAINT MARY MAGDALENE
“After Magdalene was converted to penitence the Lord bestowed such great grace upon her that after the Blessed Virgin no woman could be found to whom greater reverence should be shown in this world and greater glory in heaven.”
These are the words of Bl. Humbert of Romans, OP (ca. 1190–1270) describing the importance of devotion to St. Mary Magdalene, the co-patroness of the Dominican Order. They are incredibly striking and possibly unexpected. Yet, they go to show how St. Mary Magdalene was viewed in the medieval world.
In 1286, Charles II turned the Dominican Order toward devotion to St. Mary Magdalene. In 1295, the the Order was given care of the Shrine of St. Mary Magdalene at the Holy Cave—Sainte-Baume—in southeastern France. Because she carried the news of the Resurrection to the apostles, she was referred to as the “Apostle of the Apostles” (Apostola Apostolorum) and from the beginnings of the Order, she was proclaimed co-patroness of the newly founded apostolic Order of Friars Preachers. In 1297, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene was celebrated with solemnity throughout the Order, as the General Chapter of Bologna had recommended.
WHY SAINT MARY MAGDALENE?
I want you to follow the Magdalen, that lovely woman in love, who never let go of the tree of the most holy cross. No, with perseverance she was bathed in the blood of God’s Son . . . she so filled her memory and heart and understanding with it that she became incapable of loving anything but Christ Jesus. This is what I want you to do right up to the end of your life, growing from strength to strength. Persevere day after day. Never give up . . . .
—Saint Catherine of Siena, OP
As Dominicans we seek to imitate her great faith and zeal in proclaiming the Good News of the Lord. Yet, a further connection can be established that links this saint, regarded as a patroness of the Order, to the Dominican family. Dominicans strive to be apostles, preaching the gospel of Christ, and so draw their inspiration from she who was so closely associated with Christ and the early history of the Order. Further, it seems that St. Mary Magdalene, in tradition and in literature, is constantly endowed with three characteristics: she is the converted sinner, she is the contemplative soul and she is the herald of the Resurrection. These characteristics powerfully describe the preaching office and thus our Dominican life. How can one speak of the mercy of God if one has not experienced it oneself? How can one speak of God without speaking with God?
Saint Ambrose, commenting on the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with oil (Lk. 7:37–38), whom the West associates with St. Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom seven demons had gone out (Lk. 8:2), states, “It was not the ointment that the Lord loved, but the affection; it was the woman’s faith that pleased him, her humility. And you also, if you desire grace, increase your love; pour over the body of Jesus Christ your faith in the Resurrection, the perfume of the holy Church, and the ointment of charity towards others.”
The life of St. Mary Magdalene as portrayed in the four Gospels serves as a model and a reminder not only for Dominicans, but also for all Christians, that to be fruitful apostles we must first be faithful disciples. In order to hear the call of Christ and follow it unreservedly, we must undergo a conversion of heart. As a sinner-turned-saint, Mary Magdalene’s life testifies that allowing the reality of our sinfulness to keep us from our vocation to follow Christ is a mistake. We see in this woman that Jesus calls, that Jesus heals, that Jesus brings the true freedom which enables her to embrace her vocation to holiness. We are inspired to embrace Him in that same freedom.
Grant to us, most merciful Father, that as the blessed Mary Magdalene, by loving our Lord Jesus Christ above all things, won the forgiveness of her sins, so may she obtain for us, through your mercy, everlasting happiness. Through Christ our Lord.
View the videos below for two meditations on St. Mary Magdalene and the Order of Preachers by Fr. Dominic Legge, OP.
(Text in part courtesy of the Province of St. Joseph's Dominican Saints 101)