Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

First Celebration of the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 22, 2016 | In The Liturgical Year

Today the Church celebrates for the first time the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22. Previously this was an obligatory memorial, but last month the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments elevated the memorial to a feast. Read more about this change in my previous post, Elevating St. Mary Magdalene’s Celebration.

A Feast has particular Mass readings. For St. Mary Magdalene’s feast the readings are:

  • First Reading: Song of Songs 3:1-4b (which echoes Mary seeking Jesus at the tomb) or 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
  • Responsorial Psalm: 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God”
  • Gospel: John 20:1-2, 11-18, which retells the story of Mary at the tomb.

“There is Not Male or Female”

Last week the Gospel of Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time was Jesus visiting Lazarus, Martha and Mary in their home. Bishop Robert Barron in his podcast discussed three interpretations of this Gospel. What particularly struck me was his third point, taken from the writings of the Anglican Biblical scholar N.T. Wright. Martha was objecting to Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, not because she wanted more help or that the job load wasn’t balanced fairly, but because Mary was not staying in her traditional role as a woman. Mary was taking a place among the men.

Bishop Barron reminded us that in Jesus’ ministry His treatment of women was a radical break from current cultural norms. Women were welcome as active disciples of Christ. Matthew 27:55 mentions: “There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee.” As St. Paul to the Galatians explained, “[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Of course Bishop Barron (as do I) emphasized that while he is speaking of the dignity of women with Christ in the Church he is not advocating radical feminism or women priesthood, but rather how beautiful to think of the honor Christ gave to all of us, including women.

Although there are naysayers, this honor of elevating Mary Magdalene’s celebration to a feast seems very logical. Mary is the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. She has been called “Apostle to the Apostles” for she is the one who brought the “Good News” of Christ risen from the dead. Looking with N.T. Wright’s view of Martha and Mary, having the Church add Mary Magdalene to the rank of feast is a suitable honor for the woman who loved Christ so much and played such a significant role in His life. Only in the last century did the Church declare three women saints to be Doctors of the Church. The Church moves slowly, but deliberately, and this change into a feast instead of memorial seems long overdue.

For further reading I recommend two books that give a wonderful view in the role of women historically in the Church: Women in the Days of Cathedrals by Regina Pernoude (Ignatius Press, 1998) and Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe by Patricia Ranft (St. Martin’s Press, 1996). The former is harder to find, and the latter has a few liberal views, but both illustrate how much contribution women have played in the Church in earlier centuries.

He Calls Her by Name

One last thought about today’s saint. During the Easter season, my Level III atrium (Level III is ages 9-12 in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) was reading and discussing the different Resurrection narratives. I had a small group of 4 children, and we would gather around a round table to read and discuss Scripture (our Lectio Divina). On this particular day we were choosing our favorite Resurrection appearance and provide reasons why. All of us found it hard to choose just one, but today’s Gospel is one of my favorites, and as we discussed we found a close connection to the life of the atrium.

Mary Magdalene goes to anoint Jesus’ body, and finds His tomb empty. She is distressed and wants to know where He has been taken. Jesus appears to her, but she does not recognize Him until He calls her by her name. It is then that she recognizes Jesus.

In the life of the atrium, the youngest child gets to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd, how He knows each one individually, and calls each by name. That relationship with the Good Shepherd continues to grow and expand over the years.

This appearance with Mary Magdalene again brings the Good Shepherd to our mind. Jesus calls her name. She recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd and how He uniquely calls her name. This an individual call and response.

This Gospel passage is one that has been painted by artists repeatedly, usually entitled “Noli me tangere“ (“Do not touch me”). While this moment happened to Mary Magdalene, this scene should be repeated in all our lives. The Good Shepherd is always calling us by name. We must have that special love of Him and quietness of the soul to be able to recognize His voice.

On this new feast of St. Mary Magdalene, let us ask her for the grace to know and love the Good Shepherd intimately, just as she did. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

For Further Reading, see my previous posts:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jgmiller - Jul. 23, 2016 5:48 PM ET USA This has a good table of the rankings, and even before the 1962 changes, simply "Double" for Mary Magdalene would be equivalent to a memorial

  • Posted by: jgmiller - Jul. 23, 2016 5:13 PM ET USA

    It's the first called "Feast" in the current arrangement of the calendar. And the 1962 calendars that I have show it to be a class III. I think you are referring to the 1954 and before calendar which used the double classification.

  • Posted by: jgmiller - Jul. 23, 2016 5:03 PM ET USA

    John, that is a good point. I didn't include it in the list, but it is another example of how much Mary Magdalene fills our gospels. And with Jeff's highlight message, that message of repentance is important.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jul. 23, 2016 3:37 PM ET USA

    Well, I hate to be picky, but it is not accurate to call this the "first" celebration of the Feast of SMM. In the 1962 or Extraordinary calendar, this was/is the Feast of SMM, a "double" with its own proper texts--Introit, Gradual, etc. So what happened is that in the "new" calendar, the celebration was downgraded to a memorial, and Pope Francis simply restored it to its former importance.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jul. 22, 2016 7:51 PM ET USA

    Missing from this narrative probably because of uncertainty is the story of the Mary who entered a feast held by a Pharisee where Our Lord was reclining... It was a public act of extreme and extravagant repentance and reparation that scandalized the religious leaders there so much so that our Lord had to admonish them (the leaders). It was not private and it certainly was not two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys...!