Pope Francis recently elevated the celebration of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd from a memorial day to a feast day.
What’s the difference? Memorials, which celebrate the lives of many of the saints, can either be obligatory (they must be observed) or optional (to observe them is optional).
Feast days are the next highest in rank of celebration. The Gloria is said on these days at Mass, and these are reserved mainly for certain saints like the apostles or the archangels.
Solemnities are the highest rank of celebration and these include the recitation of both the Gloria and the Creed at Mass. Solemnities are reserved for only a few certain saints and also mark the celebration of events in Our Lord’s life, like the Ascension.
Why the change for Mary Magdalene? The Church in her wisdom moves with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In present-day culture where woman is so often degraded, Pope Francis wants the Church and the world to focus on her dignity.
In the Year of Mercy, he directs our minds to the distinct honor Jesus gave to the one from whom seven demons were cast out. That honor is what St John Paul II called in his Apostolic Letter Mulierius Digitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, being the “apostle to the apostles.”
That’s right! Jesus chose a once-sinful woman to be the first to see Him after He rose.
And Jesus gave her the great task of going to tell her brothers the news. (John 20:17-18).
The world most likely judged her the least reliable to be a witness. And yet, God chooses for her feminine, bridal love to be read about for all time in the gospels. She is the “apostle to the apostles” because of her great love and faithfulness to her Bridegroom.
Could it be that a woman was the first to see the Risen Jesus because she was one of the last to leave Him in His darkest hour on the cross? And early the next day, her love makes her rise while it was still dark to run to the tomb that she finds empty.
This is no self-serving relationship. Mary Magdalene was all about getting nearer to her Lover. Weeping, she is lost, but when she hears Him call her name, she knows it is He for whom her heart seeks! And her longing is rewarded.
Perhaps Pope Francis is reminding us with this elevation to feast day for Mary Magdalene that if we are able to stand erect under the foot of the cross, and endure the agony that will redeem us, we too will rise early and find Him alive in our hearts. Our names He will call, and our hearts will throb with joy, that our Bridegroom lives so that we might have joy.
Copyright Cindy Costello 2016