22 July 2010

S Mary of Magdala

What a rich and varied life S Mary Magdalen had, according to writers recent and ancient. An associate of the Apostle Junia in the kipper trade, she met our Lord while he was working as a healer, during his Year Out, in the spa at Tiberias. These things are certainties. And let us not question her well-documented presence leaning upon the Lord's breast at his Last Supper. Nor be doubting spoilsports if some latter-day equivalent of Chaucer's Pardoner announces that she possesses, enclosed in a rich reliquary, the genuine Wedding Certificate of Mary of Magdala and Jesus of Nazareth. All this, in addition to the longer established claims of Sant Maissemin de la Bauma. Rarely can a figure have attracted so rich a mythopoeia: the needs of medieval Provence for a Patron; of modern feminists for a female hyperapostolos; of conspiracy theorists for a Mrs Christ; all fulfilled in the Magdalen. Whoever was it who said that imaginative and fertile hagiography came to an end with the demise of the Middle Ages! It continues to fulfil our every need, however bizarre. What a jocose lady Clio must be.

The Magdalen provides new certainties in Biblical Sudies, too. Back in the boring old days of Modern Scientific Biblical Criticism, when S John's Gospel was Late and Unhistorical, nobody would have bet a bent farthing on the veracity of the story about her meeting with Christ in Garden on Easter Morning. But now .... it would be more than anyone's life was worth to question the truth ... nay more, its centrality to the whole resurrection story ... of that pericope*. Just imagine the shrilling.

Personally, I feel we've lost a lot since the Western Church, guided by Bugnini, followed Byzantium in distinguishing between Mary of Magdala - who is now as pure as the driven snow of August 5 - and the Sinful Woman. We now no longer have access to the attractive typology of Gueranger, who sees in the Sinner of Magala a type of fallen humanity and of adulterous Israel, destined to become glorious in her repentance.

Feet feature large in Dom Gueranger's entry for today; naturally he makes much of S Mary Magdalen's attachment to the feet of Jesus (he quotes S Paulinus of Nola "I would rather be bound up in her hair at the feet of Christ ..."). And he seems to suggest that S Cyril of Alexandria admired the beauty of her own apostolic feet. There is no doubt that the image of the reformed but still entrancing courtesan stirred up sensuous images in the minds of many. And is there very much harm in that?


*Similarly, the conviction of many Experts, based upon negligible evidence, that the last two chapters of Romans are inauthentic, is rarely aired nowadays. The Apostle Junia has guaranteed the centrality of Romans 16 to the entire Gospel message.


Br. Stephen, O.Cist said...

Well said, Father.

I just put up a few photos from last summer's visit to Rennes-le-Chateau, which is certain to disappoint those who go there looking for the bloodline of Christ, though the local wine will probably console them:


davidforster said...

What a strange alternative universe the Novus Ordo must be: Magdalen no longer a sinner, so therefore not a penitent. In which case, why a great saint? The major part of her appeal, I'd have thought, like that of St Augustin of Hippo, is that of a great sinner who has repented. She has been forgiven much, because she has loved much.

Joshua said...

As one of the Dominican hymns for her feast put it (and she's very dear to the Order of Preachers, as the Apostola Apostolorum): "what was the sink is now the cup".

A friar told me that they sang that hymn in English just once, before deciding that it was mala sonans in a language understanded of the people.

Joshua said...

Lauda, Mater Ecclesia,
Lauda Christi clementiam,
Qui septem purgat vitia
Per septiformem gratiam.

Maria, soror Lazari,
Quæ tot commisit crimina,
Ab ipsa fauce tartari
Redit ad vitæ limina.

Post fluxæ carnis scandala
Fit ex lebete phiala,
In vas translata gloriæ
De vase contumeliæ.

Ægra currit ad medicum,
Vas ferens aromaticum,
Et a morbo multiplici
Verbo curatur medici.

Surgentem cum victoria
Jesum videt ab inferis:
Prima meretur gaudia,
Quæ plus ardebat ceteris.

Uni Deo sit gloria
Pro multiforma gratia,
Qui culpas et supplicia
Remittit, et dat præmia. Amen.

- Hymnus ad Vesperas, Brev. S. O. P.

fieldofdreams2010 said...

I suppose it would be just too boring to believe what the Gospels actually say: that Mary was one of several women, probably middle-aged and married, who provided for the material needs of our Lord and the Apostles during his Galilean ministry, and who were in attendance at his crucifixion and burial. In Matthew, the women meet the risen Christ together and fall at his feet. What is it journalists say? If in doubt, print the legend.