St. Mary Magdalene – Apostle to the Apostles

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St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is July 22 and it can be said that hers was perhaps Jesus’ greatest conversion of a woman. She is named at least 12 times in the four Gospels, which is more than most of the apostles. Jesus loved her and she loved him all the way to the foot of the cross, where most of his disciples abandoned him. Let us investigate why she is such a powerful saint and has earned the nickname the “Apostle to the Apostles”.

1. Three in one

St. Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus with the jar of perfume (Luke 7:36-50) are the same woman. Read here for an in-depth explanation, but combining the facts in all four Gospels and piecing them together, we can reasonably deduce these are the same woman.

2. There is no proof she was a prostitute

Mary in fine clothes

It is a common tradition that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but there is no direct evidence of this in the Bible.  She was a great sinner though. In Luke 7, during Jesus’ first anointing, the Pharisee said if Jesus was a prophet he would know the woman touching him was a sinner. Women were considered in general “untouchable,” especially during menses or if they committed a serious sin such as adultery, fornication or promiscuity, for which this woman could have been crying tears for.

3. Jesus freed her from seven demons

Penitent Magdalene

In Luke 8:2, where we are first formally introduced to Mary, we are told that seven demons had previously gone out of her, presumably during the scene in Luke 7. Pope Gregory the Great suggested that the seven demons represent the seven deadly sins: Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride (homily XXXIII).

4. Jesus taught a woman

Jesus teaching Mary

During the scene with Mary and Martha, where Martha asks Jesus to get tell Mary to help her, Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” During Jesus’ life, women were not educated or taught the Torah, so for Jesus to allow a woman to hear him teach was radical (Luke 10:38-42).

5. She witnessed a great miracle

Rising of Lazarus

In John 11:1-44, we are told that Martha and Mary, the one who anointed him, went to find Jesus to tell him their brother was dying. Jesus loved this family, but did not leave right away. When he finally arrived, he found Lazarus four days in the tomb, and went with the sisters to his tomb and wept. He asked to move the stone and commanded, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus obeyed, still wrapped in his burial cloth. Their brother has returned!

6. A second anointing

Penitent Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Regnier

Six days before the crucifixion and right after the raising of Lazarus, John tells us of a second anointing of Jesus by Mary (John 12:1-8). This time Judas chastises her for being wasteful (and not selling it so she could donate to the poor, wink wink), but Jesus welcomes the attention and tells him we will always have the poor, but not always have him with them, foreshadowing his death.

7. She witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion

Detail of Mary kissing the feet of the crucified Jesus

She was at the foot of the cross with Mary, his mother, and Mary the wife of Clopas. See John 19:25, Matthew 27:56, and Mark 15:40.

8. She witnessed Jesus’ burial

Icon of St. Mary Magdalene

Mark 15:47 and Matthew 27:16 tells us that Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were the only women mentioned who followed Jesus all the way to his burial and witnessed the stone being rolled over the door.

9. She witnessed the Empty Tomb

Empty Tomb with angel

Early in the morning after the conclusion of the Sabbath, she went with the women to finish anointing Jesus’ body. They immediately ran away when they say the stone was removed, to tell the disciples “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). The women followed Peter and John back to the tomb and did not go in but peeked inside. Soon, everyone left except for Mary Magdalene.

10. Jesus spoke to her first

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene by Pietro da Cortona

After Peter and John left the tomb devastated, she stayed behind and wept. Jesus came to her first and revealed himself to her. She is called the “Apostle to the Apostles” because Jesus told her to “go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17). She ran to them and reported, “I have seen the Lord.” Mary Magdalene was the one who brought them the Good News when they were hidden away! This was revolutionary, that Jesus used a woman to announce his return.

11. She is a witness to us

Icon of St. Mary Magdalene

Jesus uses the sinner to give us witness that no one is beyond forgiveness. After being freed from her sin and later raising her brother, in her tremendous gratitude, she anointed the Lord not once, but twice. She was one of only a few disciples who followed Jesus all the way to the Cross and to his burial inside the tomb. She isn’t just a passive disciple. Jesus used her to spread the Good News.

12. Solidifies the role of women in God’s Kingdom

Mary Magdalene with angels

Pope Saint John Paul II stated: “Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men.”

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