By Mel Jasmin
Pope Francis has given Mary Magdalene a canonical rank equivalent to that of the apostles.
The most important woman in human history was Mary, the Mother of God. No mere mortal has ever been so richly honored as she who bore God in her own flesh and truly named him her son.
Who was the second-most-important woman? It’s more debatable, but a strong case could be made for St. Mary Magdalene. This July 22, for the first time, Catholics will celebrate her feast.
By formally elevating her memorial to a feast, Pope Francis has given Mary Magdalene a canonical rank equivalent to that of the apostles. He has many times mentioned his wish that Catholics might reflect more deeply on the role of women in the Church. Now, with this change to the Roman calendar, he has taken a concrete step towards that goal.
For such an important person, it’s amazing how little we really know. She must have come from Magdala, a village in Galilee. That means she grew up along those same sandy shores where the apostles were called to be fishers of men.
From there, speculation begins. The Gospels are full of Mary’s, but we aren’t sure which was she. Was Mary Magdalene the woman caught in adultery, rescued by Jesus with his demand that a sinless person cast the first stone? Was she the sister of Martha, who sat by Christ’s feet to hear his teachings? Did she anoint him before his death, weeping and wiping his feet with her hair?
We do know this: St. Mary Magdalene came to Christ’s tomb on the third day, found it empty and ran to tell the apostles. Then, as she wept by the tomb, the Risen Christ came to her and addressed her by name (John 20). She was the first to see him alive. She was the first ever to share the Good News with the world.
It’s beautiful to reflect on the parallels: Both at his birth and at his rebirth, Jesus’ first intimate moments were shared with a woman named Mary.