ST. Thomas Aquinas, whose scholarly and deeply spiritual writings guide a great many Roman Catholic doctrines, customs and traditions, called St. Mary Magdalene the Apostle of the Apostles.
Those of us who have a devotion to this saint, because she is a good example of the search for God at every moment, will be pleased to know that Pope Francis has raised the liturgical commemoration (or the Holy Mass, in less technical vocabulary) for Mary every July 22 from what is now just a “memorial” to the level of a “feast” just like the feast days of each of the Holy Apostles.
This promotion will be recorded in the next editions of the daily missals and in the general Roman Catholic calendar.
Under July 22 opposite the name St. Mary Magdalene, the new missals will say “feast” instead of “memorial” as the present missals say.
The Vatican Radio’s online news, dated June 6, tells us that the news was announced on Friday that “Pope Francis has decided to raise the celebration of the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the dignity of a liturgical Feast.”
In the modern Church calendar, Radio Vaticana explains, saints may be commemorated with a memorial (optional or obligatory), a feast, or a solemnity.
Most liturgical celebrations (Masses) of saints during the year are referred to as memorials, and whether the memorial is optional or obligatory is detailed in some missals. Masses classified as feasts are reserved for important events in Christian history and for saints of great distinction, like the Twelve Apostles.
To calm the objection of some, specially Protestants, St. John Paul 2nd wrote in his apostolic letter “Dies Domini” (“The Lord’s Day”), that the “commemoration of the saints does not obscure the centrality of Christ, but on the contrary extols it, demonstrating as it does the power of the redemption wrought by him.”
Pope Francis signed the decree on June 3, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
The Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Archbishop Arthur Roche, in his letter announcing the papal decision, urges the faithful to realize that this decision means one “should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.”
Archbishop Roche draws attention to the fact that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection (next to Jesus’ and our Holy Mother Mary) and is the one who announced the event to the Apostles.
“Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter,” he writes.
“The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” writes Archbishop Roche.
He also notes that Saint Mary Magdalene was referred to as the “Apostle of the Apostles” (Apostolorum Apostola) by Thomas Aquinas, since she announced to them the Resurrection, and, they, in turn, announced it to the whole world.
“Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same grade of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the General Roman Calendar, and shines a light on the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.”
Pope Francis’ decree also called St. Mary Magdalene a “true and authentic evangelizer.”
The decree, titled “Apostolarum Apostola” (Apostle of the Apostles), formalizing the decision was published June 10 by the Congregation for Divine Worship together with an article, also titled “Apostolarum Apostola,” on the significance of the decree.
In a homily about St. Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ’s mercy toward a woman who was “exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous,” but He loved and forgave her.
The Holy Father, in a homily on April 2, said that Mary Magdalene’s tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
In the prayer Pope Francis composed for this Year of Mercy, he referred again to St. Mary Magdalene: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured paradise to the repentant thief.”
Archbishop Roche said that Jesus gave St. Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection. This shows that “Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering.”
Archbishop Roche also compared Eve, who “spread death where there was life,” to St. Mary Magdalene, who “proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death,” and urges the faithful to see in St. Mary a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ who is “alive and risen.”
“It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the church,” he said.