July 22, 2020: ST. MARY MAGDALENE (Part I)
July 22, 2020: ST. MARY MAGDALENE, PENITENT
[Part I - Magdalen, a type of the Gentile Church]
“she began to wash his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of
her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”
(St. Luke, vii. 38)
Grant, O Lord, we may be assisted by the prayer of blessed Mary Magdalen: at whose request thou wast pleased to raise Lazarus from the dead, after he had been four days in the grave. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.
Bright Parent of celestial flame,
When thou behold’st the sinful dame,
A flame of love thou dost impart,
Which melts to tears her frozen heart.
With wounded heart, and ointment sweet,
She runs t’anoint thy sacred feet;
Which, bath’d in torrents from her eyes,
With kisses and her hair she dries.
With fearless mind she hugs the cross,
And at the grave bewails her loss;
Nor dreads the bloody centinels;
Her charity all fear expels.
O Christ, thro’ charity
The sinful state in which we live;
Into our hearts pour heav’nly grace,
And make us see thee face to face.
To God the Father, and the Son,
And Holy Spirit, three in one,
Be endless glory, as before
The world began, so evermore. Amen.
℣. Grace is spread on thy lips.
℟. Therefore God has blessed thee for ever.
St. Mary Magdalene, a type of the Gentile Church.
“Three Saints,” said our Lord to St. Bridget of Sweden, “have been more pleasing to me than all others: Mary my mother, John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene.” The Fathers tell us that Magdalene is a type of the Gentile Church called from the depth of sin to perfect holiness; and indeed, better than any other, she personifies both the wanderings and the love of the human race, espoused by the Word of God. Like the most illustrious characters of the law of grace, she has her antitype in past ages. Let us follow the history of this great penitent as traced by unanimous tradition: Magdalene's glory will not be thereby diminished.
When, before all ages, God decreed to manifest his glory, he willed to reign over a world drawn from nothing; and as his goodness was equal to his power, he would have the triumph of supreme love to be the law of that kingdom, which the Gospel likens unto a king who made a marriage for his son. (St. Matth, xxii. 2)
Passing over the pure intelligences whose nine choirs are filled with divine light, the immortal Son of the King of ages looked down to the extreme limits of creation; there he beheld human nature, made indeed to know God, but acquiring that knowledge laboriously; its weakness would better show his divine condescension: with it, then, he chose to contract his alliance.
Man is flesh and blood: so the Son of God would be made Flesh; he would not have Angels, but men for his brothers. He, that in heaven is the Splendour of his Father, and on earth the most beautiful of the sons of men, would draw the human race with the cords of Adam. (Osee, xi. 4) In the very act of creation he sealed his espousals by raising man to the supernatural state of grace, and placing him in the Paradise of expectation.
Alas! the human race knew not how to await her Bridegroom even in the shades of Eden. Cast out of the garden of delights, she prostituted to vain idols in their groves what was left her of her glory. For she had much beauty still, the gift of her Spouse, though she had profaned it: Thou wast perfect through my beauty, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God. (Ezech, xvi. 14)
God would not suffer his love to be defeated. Leaving humanity at large to walk in the ways of folly, he chose out a single people, sprung from a holy stock, to be the guardian of his promises. Coming forth from Egypt and from the midst of a barbarous nation, this people was consecrated to God, and became his inheritance. In the person of Balaam, the ancient Bride saw Israel pass through the desert, and filled with admiration at the glory of the Lord dwelling with him in his tent, her heart for a moment beat with bridal love. I shall see him, she cried in her transport, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. (Numbers, xxiv. 17) From those wild heights whence the Spouse would one day call her, she hailed the Star that was to rise out of Jacob, and predicted the ruin of the Hebrew people who had supplanted her for a time.
Too soon was this sublime ecstasy followed by still more culpable wanderings! How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? Know thou, and see, that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God. (Jeremias, xxxi. 22; ii. 19) But the ages are passing, the night will soon be over, and the day-star will arise, the sign of the Bridegroom gathering the nations. Let him lead thee into the wilderness and there he will speak to thy heart. Thy rival knows not how to be a queen; the alliance of Sinai has produced but a slave. The Bridegroom still waits for his Bride.
At length the hour came: bending the heavens, he was made sin (II Cor, v. 21) for sinful men; and hidden under the servile garb of mortals, he sat down to table in the house of the proud Pharisee. The haughty Synagogue, who would neither fast with John, nor rejoice with Christ, was now to see God justifying the delays of his merciful love. “Let us not, like Pharisees,” says St. Ambrose, “despise the counsels of God. The sons of Wisdom are singing: listen to their voices, attend to their dances; it is the hour of the nuptials. Thus sang the Prophet when he said: Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus.”
And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; and standing behind at his feet, she began to wash his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. (St. Luke, vii. 37, 38) “Who is this woman? Without doubt it is the Church,” answers St. Peter Chrysologus, “the Church, weighed down and stained with sins committed in the city of this world. At the news that Christ has appeared in Judea, that he is to be seen at the banquet of the Pasch, where he bestows his mysteries and reveals the divine Sacrament, and makes known the secret of salvation: suddenly she darts forward; despising the endeavours of the Scribes to prevent her entrance, she confronts the princes of the Synagogue; burning with desire she penetrates into the Sanctuary, where she finds him whom she seeks, betrayed by Jewish perfidy even at the banquet of love; not the passion, nor the Cross, nor the tomb can check her faith, or prevent her from bringing her perfumes to Christ.” (Pet Chrysol. Sermo xcv.)
Who but the Church knows the secret of this perfume? asks Paulinus of Nola with Ambrose of Milan; the Church, whose numberless flowers have all aromas; the Church, who exhales before God a thousand sweet odours aroused by the breath of the Holy Spirit, viz., the virtues of nations and the prayers of the Saints. Mingling the perfume of her conversion with her tears of repentance, she anoints the feet of her Lord, honouring in them his Humanity. Her faith, whereby she is justified, grows equally with her love: soon the Head of the Spouse, that is, his Divinity, receives from her the homage of the full measure of pure and precious spikenard, to wit, consummate holiness, whose heroism goes so far as to break the vessel of mortal flesh by the martyrdom of love, if not by that of tortures.
Arrived at the height of the mystery, she forgets not even there those sacred feet, whose contact delivered her from the seven devils representing all vices; for to the heart of the Bride, as in the bosom of the Father, her Lord is still both God and Man. The Jew, who would not own Christ either for head or foundation, found no fragrant oil for his head, nor even water for his feet; she, on the contrary, pours her priceless perfume over both. And while the sweet odour of her perfect faith fills the earth, now become by the victory of that faith the house of the Lord, she continues to wipe her Master's feet with her beautiful hair, i.e., her countless good works and her ceaseless prayer. The growth of this mystical hair requires all her care here on earth; and in heaven its abundance and beauty will call forth the praise of him who jealously counts, without losing one, all the works of his Church. Then from her own head, as from that of her Spouse, will the fragrant unction of the Holy Spirit overflow even to the skirt of her garment.
Thou despisest, O Pharisee, the poor woman weeping with love at the feet of thy divine Guest whom thou knowest not; but “I would rather,” cries the solitary of Nola, “be bound up in her hair at the feet of Christ, than be seated with thee near Christ, yet without him.” Happy sinner to be, both in her life of sin and that of grace, the figure of the Church, even so far as to have been foreseen and announced by the Prophets. For such is the teaching of St. Jerome and St. Cyril of Alexandria; while Venerable Bede, gathering up, according to his wont, the traditions of his predecessors, does not hesitate to assert that “what Magdalene once did, remains the type of what the whole Church does, and of what every perfect soul must ever do.”
We can well understand the predilection of the Man-God for this soul, whose repentance from such a depth of misery manifested so fully, from the outset, the success of his mission, the defeat of Satan, and the triumph of Divine love. While Israel was expecting from the Messias nought but perishable goods, when the very Apostles, including John the beloved, were looking for honours and first places, she was the first to come to Jesus for himself alone, and not for his gifts. Eager only for pardon and love, she chose for her portion those sacred feet, wearied in the search after the wandering sheep: here was the blessed altar whereon she offered to her Divine Deliverer as many holocausts of herself, says St. Gregory, as she had had vain objects of complacency. Henceforth her goods and her person were at the disposal of Jesus; the rest of her life was to be spent sitting at his feet, contemplating the mysteries of his life, gathering up his every word, following his footsteps as he preached the Kingdom of God. How swiftly, in the light of her humble confidence, did she outstrip the Synagogue and the very just themselves! The Pharisee might be indignant, her sister might complain, the Apostles might murmur: Mary held her peace; but Jesus spoke for her, as if his Sacred Heart were hurt by the least word said against her. At the death of Lazarus the Master had to call her from the mysterious repose wherein even then she was seated; her presence at the tomb was of more avail than the whole college of Apostles and the crowd of Jews. One word from her, though already said by Martha who had arrived first, was more powerful than all the words of the latter; her tears made the Man-God weep, and drew from him that groan which he uttered before recalling the dead man to life—that divine trouble of a God overcome by his creature. Oh truly, for others as well as for herself, for the world as well as for God, Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her. (St. Luke, x. 42)
In all that we have said, we have but linked together the testimonies of a veneration universally consistent. But the homage of all the Doctors together cannot compare with the honour which the Church pays to the humble Magdalene, when she applies to the Queen of heaven on her glorious Assumption-day the Gospel words first uttered in praise of the justified sinner. Albert the Great assures us that, in the world of grace as well as in the material creation, God has made two great lights, to wit two Maries, the Mother of our Lord, and the sister of Lazarus: the greater, which is the Blessed Virgin, to rule the day of innocence; the lesser, which is Mary the penitent beneath the feet of that glorious Virgin, to rule the night by enlightening repentant sinners. As the moon by its phases points out the feast days on earth, so Magdalene in heaven gives the signal of joy to the Angels of God over one sinner doing penance. Does she not also share with the Immaculate One the name of Mary, Star of the sea, as the Churches of Gaul sang in the Middle Ages, recalling how, though one was a Queen and the other a handmaid, both were causes of joy to the Church: the one being the Gate of salvation, the other the messenger of the Resurrection?
On that great Easter day, Magdalene, like a morning star, announced the rising of the Sun of Justice, who was never more to set. “Woman,” said Jesus to her, “why weepest thou? Thou art not mistaken.” He seemed to say, “It is, indeed, the Divine Gardener speaking to thee, the same that planted Eden in the beginning. But now dry thy tears; in this new garden, whose centre is an empty tomb, Paradise is restored; the Angels no longer close the entrance; here is the Tree of Life, which has borne fruit these three days past. This Fruit, which thou, O woman, art eager, as of old, to seize and taste, belongs to thee now by right; for thou art no longer Eve but Mary. If thou art bidden not to touch It yet, it is because, as thou wouldst not heretofore taste the fruit of death thyself alone, thou mayest not now enjoy the Fruit of Life till thou bring back him that was first lost through thee.” Thus by the wisdom and mercy of our God, woman is raised to a greater dignity than before the Fall. Magdalene, to whom woman is indebted for this glorious revenge, has hence obtained in the Church's litanies the place of honour above even the virgins; as John the Baptist precedes the whole army of the Saints on account of his privilege of being the first witness to our salvation. The testimony of the penitent completes that of the Precursor: on the word of John the Church recognised the Lamb who taketh away the sins of the world; on the word of Magdalene she hails the Spouse triumphant over death. And, judging that by this last testimony, Catholic belief is put in full possession of the entire cycle of mysteries; she, to-day, intones the immortal symbol, which she deemed premature for the feast of Zachary's son.
Taken from: The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II,
The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.