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Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

July 22, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore who Mary Magdalene was with the help of feminist scholar Elizabeth Johnson; engage official Church teachings, both inaccurate and accurate, about Mary Magdalene; and embody questions about women and sexuality in the church with the help of Dorothy Day and the Danube Seven.

Commentary by Amy Shaw

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Reading 1

Song of Songs 3:1-4b or 2 Cor 5:14-17

Song of Songs 3:1-4b

Oh, the nights are long in my empty bed;
All night in my dreams I look for you, my lover, my heart;
But when I wake, there is no one there.
I can’t sleep with this fire;
I’ll get up and go walking,
Out through the streets to the square,
Looking for the one I adore.

Ah, but I went looking, and found no one.
The sentries on their rounds
Found me though.
I wanted to ask them,
“Have you seen the one I love?”
But no sooner did I pass by them
that I found, at last, the one that I hungered for,
the one whom my heart loves.

2 Cor 5:14-17

The love of Christ overwhelms us whenever we reflect on this:
that if one person has died for all, then all have died.
The reason Christ died for all
was so that the living should live no longer for themselves but for Christ,
who died and was raised to life for them.

And so from now on,
we don’t look on anyone in terms of mere human judgment.
Even if we did once regard Christ in these terms,
that is not how we know Christ now.
And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation.
The old order has passed away; now everything is new!

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 63

Response: My soul thirsts for You, O God.

O God, You are my God whom I seek, / for You my flesh pines and my soul thirsts.
Like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R: My soul thirsts for You, O God.

Thus have I gazed toward You in the sanctuary / to see Your power and Your glory.
For Your kindness is a greater good than life; / my lips will glorify You.
R: My soul thirsts for You, O God.

Thus will I bless You while I live; / lifting up my hands,
I will call upon Your Name.
As with the riches of a banquet will my soul be satisfied,
And with exultant lips my mouth will praise You.
R: My soul thirsts for You, O God.

That You are my help,/ and in the shadow of Your wings I will shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to You; / Your right hand upholds me.
R: My soul thirsts for You, O God.


John 20:1-19*

* Please note that the lectionary assigns John 1-2, 11-18 for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. We suggest reading the entire account of John 20: 1-18, the full resurrection narrative in the Gospel of John. 

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Rabbi from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”

So Peter and the other disciple went out toward to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first;
bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.

When Simon Peter arrived after, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.

Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
Then the disciples returned home.

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.

And they said to her, “Why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Rabbi, and I don’t know where they laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

She thought it was the gardener and said,
“Please, if you carried Jesus away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!,” which means my Teacher.

Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to God.
But go to the sisters and brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Abba God and your Abba God.’”

Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Teacher,” and what the savior told her.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Making Mary – and all women – visible

As we celebrate the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, let us consider this larger than life, constantly reimagined, and long misunderstood disciple of Jesus with the help of Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Johnson is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Brentwood in Long Island, New York, and a Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in Manhattan. She has been a prolific scholar throughout her academic career, publishing over 100 articles and ten books, including the much acclaimed She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. She was the first woman to earn a doctorate from the Catholic University of America, ultimately going on to establish and develop the field of feminist theology over several decades of work. She has also served as the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is an expert on the dialogue between science and religion, both of which she taught in primary and secondary Catholic schools.

As today’s reading indicates, Mary Magdalene was the first of Jesus’s disciples to discover the empty tomb and the first to encounter the resurrected Christ, which she then announces to the rest of the disciples. One of the most important and recognizable figures in the Christian bible and, arguably, in Western history, she is mentioned in the gospels more times than the majority of Jesus’s male disciples, ultimately becoming the most significant witness to His resurrection. Since then, her life has yielded a profusion of different interpretations: as a devout follower of Jesus, by Ambrose, among others; as Jesus’s most beloved disciple and the only one who genuinely understood his teachings, in the non-canonical Gospel of Mary; and in fictional biographies of the High Middle Ages, as a fabulously rich noblewoman who either utilizes her wealth to support Jesus’s ministry or renounces it altogether. The most enduring of all interpretations, however, stems from a homily delivered by Pope Gregory I in 591 AD, in which he conflates Mary Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the unidentified sinner in Chapter 7 of Luke, who anoints Jesus’s feet with perfume. In this homily, Pope Gregory characterizes Mary’s sins as sexual in nature, identifies the seven demons cast out of her as the seven deadly sins, and frames her primarily as a repentant sinner. When, thereafter, Mary Magdalene’s identity was confused in popular myth with Mary of Egypt, her reputation as a sexually immoral woman turned penitent follower of Jesus was embedded in the common perception of her for the next 1,400 years.

In a talk at Fordham in 2015, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson addressed the issue of the misrepresentation of Mary Magdalene and its implications for Christian women throughout the centuries. Reiterating that Mary was not a prostitute, but a woman with the means to support Jesus and His disciples, as well as one of His most influential apostles, Dr. Johnson proceeded to explain the motivations for the defamation of her character. “Making her a prostitute has allowed her leadership role among the disciples to be generally forgotten,” she said, noting that even today, a millennium and a half after Pope Gregory’s infamous homily, “for those who prefer a Church with an exclusively male hierarchy, it is easier to deal with her as a repentant sinner than as an apostolic woman who had a voice and used it.” For this reason, understanding and communicating who Mary Magdalene really was has important implications for women’s roles in the Church. “The way we decide to tell her story can become [an] impetus for reclaiming the abilities of women. In rendering her visible, women also become visible.”

Commentary by Amy Shaw

Amy Shaw is a Catholic Worker in New York. She is currently unemployed.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Gender Justice

Part of the long rehabilitation of the biblically accurate Mary Magdalene was Mysterii Paschalis, the 1969 apostolic letter in which Pope Paul VI revised the General Roman Calendar and removed Mary Magdalene’s identification with Mary of Bethany and the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus’s feet, writing, “No change has been made in the title of today’s memorial, but it concerns only Saint Mary Magdalene, to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection. It is not about the sister of Saint Martha, nor about the sinful woman whose sins the Lord forgave.” More recently, in 2016, Pope Francis elevated Mary’s July 22nd memorial to the level of a feast day, while also adding to the Mass a Preface entitled “de apostolorum apostola,” or “Apostle of the apostles.”
Beyond the important work of understanding and talking about the historical Mary Magdalene, her long false identification with supposedly immoral sexual behavior raises questions about the Church’s orientation toward sexuality, both in general and in particular toward women’s sexuality. The heavy focus on Mary’s imagined past life involved in sex work, coupled with the predominant portrayal of her as a penitent sinner, reinforces the idea that sexuality is something shameful that one must be forgiven for expressing or acknowledging. Furthermore, as Dr. Elizabeth Johnson explains, it frames sex work as “an evil expression of female lust, rather than exploitation of women’s bodies.”

That said, the transgressions of the “sinful woman” in chapter seven of Luke, with whom Mary Magdalene had long been identified, are never actually named. Even though it is inaccurate to conflate this anonymous woman with Mary, we can acknowledge and allow that many Catholics may find inspiration and encouragement in an imperfect saint with whom they can more easily identify. This sentiment was expressed by one listener on the In Good Faith podcast, on which Sister Elizabeth Johnson appeared as a guest, stating, “You know, we can’t be pedestal Mary. But Mary Magdalene is someone I can identify easily with – how she loved Jesus and followed him and never left his side.” In response, Dr. Johnson answered that she considers this a perfectly valid way to view Mary Magdalene, and that although she knew Jesus and related to Him differently than His mother Mary, they are both important to us in unique ways.


A Contemplative Exercise

Today, on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, let us reflect on how women’s roles in the Church have been suppressed in the centuries since Christ’s ministry, when the resurrected Jesus himself deemed Mary worthy to announce His return to the rest of His disciples. As Dr. Johnson asked her audience at Fordham: “The risen Christ could’ve picked anyone he wanted to communicate the groundbreaking news of his resurrection – and he chose this woman. What should this tell us about Jesus’s trust in her?”

Let’s also consider how the sexualization of women is used to delegitimise and shame all women, whether they conform to misogynist moral strictures or not. How are women’s personal lives examined and invaded in ways that they aren’t for men? How do we combat sexualization without demonizing healthy sexuality and sex workers?

In both art and media, as in Pope Gregory’s portrayal of Mary Magdalene, we find many virtuous and kind-hearted characters who are either currently or formerly sex workers (see Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Vivian in Pretty Woman, or Gigolo Joe in Spielberg’s A.I.). Why do you think this trope is so pervasive and enduring? Do these portrayals challenge or uphold male-dominated hierarchies?

Finally, what about Mary resonates most with you? If you are able to discuss this with others, how does your answer agree or differ? Do you think there is room for Mary to mean something different to each of us? Beyond correcting the historical record, what do you think the Church can do to celebrate Mary’s authentic character and better reflect what resonates with you?

A Witness

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker in 1933 and devoted her life to the movement until her death in 1980, was declared a Servant of God in March of 2000, when Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open her cause for canonization. Before the United States Congress in 2015, Pope Francis praised Dorothy and her passion for justice and social activism along with three other exemplary Americans – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Merton. Despite her inclusion in such esteemed company and her five decades of dedication to New York’s poor, there remains an inordinate focus on her personal life before conversion, from her drinking habits, to her romantic partners, to her decision to terminate a pregnancy, so that even at the celebration to conclude her cause’s diocesan phase, reference was made to her “promiscuous” past. Like Mary Magdalene’s spiritual devotion and witness to Jesus’s resurrection, Dorothy Day’s pacifism and commitment to solidarity with the poor are often, tragically, overshadowed by a preoccupation with her sexuality.

A Community

The Danube Seven

On June 29, 2002, the Danube Seven, a group of Catholic women consisting of Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Theresia Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Muller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Dagmar Braun Celeste, were ordained as priests on the Danube River by Bishop Rómulo Antonio Braschi and two other unnamed bishops. In response, the Church excommunicated the Danube Seven and Bishop Braschi, eventually issuing the “Decree on the Attempted Ordination of Some Catholic Women” to deny their appeal. Later, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized automatic excommunication for anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.” Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Women Priests, descended from the Danube Seven, continue to grow globally and reclaim women’s God-given right to ordination.


Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Jane Dowling

Mary Magdalene at the Tomb was painted in 1990 by British artist Jane Dowling, who passed away on February 6, 2023  at the age of 97.

View at

Description: Against a light background with pastel colors is a yellow and orange figure bent over at the base of a standing figure in lighter colors.