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“Apostle of the Apostles” - Liturgical Notes on the Feast of St Mary Magdalene

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In the Missal of St Pius V, the Creed is said on every Sunday, and several categories of feasts: all those of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, Angels, Apostles, Doctors, etc. To this list is added one other woman, St Mary Magdalene, in commemoration of the fact that it was she who announced the Resurrection of Christ, the foundation of the Faith, to the Apostles; for this reason she has often been called “the Apostles of the Apostles.” This custom was widely observed in the Middle Ages, but originally not accepted at Rome itself; the Ordinal of the papal liturgy in the reign of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) specifies that the Creed is not to be said on the feast, indicating that it was known to be done elsewhere. It was still omitted according to the rubrics of printed editions of the Roman Missal in the first half of the 16th century; its addition in the rubrics of 1570 is one of the rare cases where a new custom was added to the Roman Rite from elsewhere in the highly conservative Tridentine reform. (It was removed from her feast in 1955, and from the Doctors in 1961.)
Two pages of a Roman Missal printed at Lyon, France, in 1500 (folio 95 recto and verso). The rubric about the Creed begins in the middle of the right column of the first page. Note that at the break between the two pages, St Bonaventure is listed as a Saint on whose feast the Creed is said; this edition was printed for the Franciscans, who counted him informally as a Doctor before the title was officially given in 1588. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Réserve des livres rares.)
The Gregorian propers of her Mass (Introit, Gradual etc.) are taken from the various common Masses of holy women; in the Middle Ages, the Epistle was that of Holy Matrons, Proverbs 31, 10-31, “Who shall find a valiant woman? etc.” In the Tridentine Missal, a new Epistle was created, the Song of Songs, 3, 2-5 and 8, 6-7, which begins as follows.

I will rise, and will go about the city: in the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not. (quaesivi illum et non inveni.) The watchmen who keep the city, found me: Have you seen him, whom my soul loveth? When I had a little passed by them, I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go …

St Gregory the Great refers the words “I will seek him whom my soul loveth” to John 20, 11-18, when Mary meets Christ at the tomb and mistakes him for the gardener, in the Breviary homily for Easter Thursday.

We must consider how great was the force of love that had enkindled this woman’s heart, who left not the tomb of the Lord, though even the disciples were gone away. She sought Him Whom she had not found there, (exquirebat, quem non invenerat) and as she sought Him, she wept, … Whence it came to pass that she alone, who had stayed behind to seek Him, was the only one who then saw Him.

“When I had a little passed by them” (i.e. the watchmen of the city) then refers to tomb of the Lord being just outside the city, and the words “I held him: and I will not let him go” to her embracing the Lord, until He says to her, “Cling to me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”

‘Noli me tangere’ by Jacob van Oostsanen, 1507. The words of John 20, 15, that Mary Magdalene at first thought the Risen Christ was the gardener gave rise to a delightful tradition of portraying Him with various gardening implements, such as the shovel seen here, or the kind of broad-brimmed hat often worn by gardeners.

From the time of St Gregory, the Western Church accepted that Mary Magdalene was also the sinful woman who anoints Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, as recounted in Luke 7, 36-50, and this is traditionally the Gospel for her feast. This connection was probably made from the words that immediately follow this passage, or at least reinforced by them, Luke 8, 1-3. “And it came to pass afterwards, that he travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God; and the twelve with him: And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth, And Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance.” (Mark 16, 9 also refers to the seven devils.)

She is also traditionally held in the West to be Martha and Lazarus’ sister, of whom Christ says in the same Gospel “Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10, 38-42) This passage is read on the feast of St Martha on July 29th, the octave of Mary Magdalene; from it, Martha has traditionally been seen as the symbol of the active life, and Mary of the contemplative. The same passage was then read also on the feast of the Assumption, a custom inherited, like the feast of itself, from the Byzantine Rite; this was understood allegorically in the Middle Ages to signify that in the person and life of the Virgin Mary are perfected both the active and the contemplative life.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, by Henryk Semiradzki, 1886

The Byzantine Rite (in which the Creed is said at every Eucharistic liturgy) keeps July 22 as the feast of the “Myrrh-bearer and Equal to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene,” and on June 4 commemorates “Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus the Just.” Neither of the two Marys thus distinguished is associated with the sinful woman of Luke 7, but the Gospel of Mary Magdalene’s feast day is the passage from Luke 8 noted above. The two sisters are traditionally numbered among the “Myrrh-bearers” who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ on the morning of the Resurrection, although they are not named as such by the Gospel; with them are included also Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, Joanna and Susanna named in Luke 8, and Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee. They are commemorated as a group on the second Sunday after Easter, along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. At Vespers of the preceding Saturday, the following idiomel is sung, paraphrasing Matthew 28 and Luke 24.

Mary Magdalen and the other Mary came to the grave seeking the Lord, and they saw an Angel like lightning sitting on the stone, who said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He has risen as he said; in Galilee you will find him’. To him let us cry aloud, ‘Lord, risen from the dead, glory to you!’

In the Roman Rite, Matthew 28, 1-7 is the Gospel of the Easter vigil, which concludes with a very much shortened Vespers; the antiphon for the Magnificat is the beginning of the Gospel, “And in the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulcher, alleluia.” Even though the term “Apostle of the Apostles” does not occur in the Roman liturgical books, the liturgy itself proclaims this role for her as the first person named in the accounts of the Resurrection.

The church of Rome was traditionally very conservative about the addition of new texts to the Office; one often finds that the proper Office of a saint hugely popular in the Middle Ages, such as St Nicholas, is found in virtually every medieval Breviary except that of the Roman Curia, the basis of the Breviary of St Pius V. Such is the case with Mary Magdalene, whose Roman Office is mostly that of the common of Holy Women. She has proper antiphons for the Benedictus and the two Magnificats, but none for the psalms; there are also three proper hymns, although that of Matins is a single stanza and a doxology. Three responsories at Matins referring to her are borrowed from Easter, but the rest are taken from the common of Holy Women.

Other medieval breviaries, however, adopted one of various proper Offices for the feast, of which the most interesting is that found in the Dominican Breviary. At First Vespers, the antiphon of the Magnificat reads as follows:

Celsi mériti María, quae solem verum resurgentem vidére meruisti mortalium prima: óbtine ut nos visu gloriae suae tecum laetíficet in caelis.
Mary of high merit, that first among mortals did merit to see the true Sun rising; obtain that He may grant us joy by the vision of His glory in heaven.

And at the Benedictus:

O mundi lampas, et margaríta praefúlgida, quae resurrectiónem Christi nuntiando, Apostolórum Apóstola fíeri meruisti! María Magdaléna, semper pia exoratrix pro nobis adsis ad Deum, qui te elégit.
O lamp of the world, and bright-shining pearl, who by announcing the Resurrection of Christ, didst merit to become the Apostle of the Apostles! Mary Magdalene, of thy kindness stand thou ever before God, who chose thee, to entreat him for us.

Outstanding among the responsories of Matins is the eighth, (necessarily not as beautiful in my translation).

R. O felix felícis mériti María, quæ resurgentem a mórtuis Dei Filium vidére meruisti mortalium prima! Pro cujus amore, sæculi contempsisti blandimenta: * sédula nos apud ipsum, quæsumus, prece commenda. V. Ut tecum mereámur, o Dómina, pérfrui felicíssima ipsíus præsentia. Sédula.
R. O happy Mary of happy merit, that first among mortals did merit to see the Son of God rising from the dead; for whose love thou disdained the blandishments of the world: * by thy prayer, we ask thee, commend us to Him with diligence. V. That with thee, o Lady, we may merit to enjoy his most happy presence. By thy prayer.

The Office used by the Premonstatensians shares a number of texts with that of the Dominicans; it contains this very interesting and uncommonly long (and hence rather rarely used) antiphon:

Fidelis sermo et omni acceptione dignus, quia Christus Jesus venit in hunc mundum peccatores salvos facere; et qui nasci dignatus est de Maria Virgine, tangi non dedignatus est a Maria peccatrice. Haec est illa Maria, cui dimissa sunt peccata multa, quia dilexit multum. Haec est enim illa Maria, quae resurgentem a mortuis prima omnium videre meruit Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, quem pro nostris reatibus oret, quaesumus, in aeternum.
A faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners; and He that deigned to be born of the Virgin Mary, did not disdain to be touched by Mary the sinner. This is that Mary, to whom many sins were forgiven, because she loved much. This is indeed that Mary, who before all others merited to see our Lord Jesus Christ rising from the dead; and we ask that she pray Him forever for our sins.

Lastly, we may note the Preface of her feast in the Ambrosian liturgy, another text that can only suffer in translation. 

Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos te, Pater omnipotens, omni tempore glorificare, et in die festivitatis hodiernae Beatae Mariae Magdalenae exultantibus animis praedicare. Quam sic tui amoris igne accendere dignatus es; ut ad Christi Filii tui vestigia devota corrueret, et eadem pretioso unguento perfunderet. Osculari quoque, ac lacrimis rigare, et capillis non cessat extergere, donec audire promeruit, ‘Dimissa sunt tibi peccata, vade in pace.’ O beata fides, divinae misericordiae munita praesidio! O digna conversio, quae tantum munus accepit, ut quae antea draconis antiqui faucibus merito tenebatur astricta, plena jam gaudens libertate, sanctis Apostolis dominincae Resurrectionis mereretur esse praenuncia. Et ideo…

Truly it is fitting and just, meet and profitable to salvation, that we glorify Thee, Father almighty, in every moment, and on this feast day of blessed Mary Magdalene proclaim Thee with spirits rejoicing. Whom Thou didst so deign to kindle with the fire of Thy love, that in devotion she fell at the feet of Christ, Thy Son, and anointed them with precious ointment; and ceased not to kiss them, to wash them with her tears, and wipe them with her hair, until she merits to hear, ‘Thy sins are forgiven go, in peace.’ O blessed faith, strengthened with the help of divine mercy. O worthy conversion, that merited to receive so great a gift, that she who was formerly deservedly held fast in the jaws of the ancient dragon, now rejoicing in complete freedom, should merit to be the first to announce the Lord’s Resurrection to the Holt Apostles. And therefore with the Angels and Archangels…

The Penitent Magdalene, by Caravaggio, ca. 1594-95.



Source: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2021/07/apostle-of-apostles-liturgical-notes-on.html


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