“And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).
This Friday these words of Jesus will find a particular fulfillment as the entire Catholic Church, by order of Pope Francis, will celebrate July 22nd as a feast rather than as a memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. This elevation to a feast is quite significant since the only other woman to enjoy the honor of having a feast day is Our Blessed Mother. Typically feasts are reserved to the Apostles. Yet, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, and Pope Francis emphasized with this decision, St. Mary Magdalene acted as the “apostle to the apostles” when she brought them the news of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. By establishing this new status for St. Mary Magdalene during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wanted to emphasize God’s Infinite Mercy in freeing this woman from seven demons and making her the first witness of the Resurrection.
St. Gregory the Great, who was Pope from 590 until his death in 604, called St. Mary Magdalene “a witness of Divine Mercy.” This Pope clearly indicated in his writing that St. Mary Magdalene was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. That she was Mary of Bethany was widely accepted in the Church in the west for nineteen centuries; however, in recent decades people have begun to think that St. Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were two different people. Yet it is quite easy to prove that Mary of Bethany was the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and that she again anointed Him in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany a few days before his death (cf. Jn 11:2; Jn 12:1-8; Mk 14:3-9). Jesus said of Mary of Bethany: “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mk 14:9). The word of God is infallible. If Mary of Bethany is not Mary Magdalene then where is Mary of Bethany today? It can’t be that the woman whose memory Jesus said will always and everywhere be associated with the preaching of the Gospel doesn’t even have a day to celebrate her memory on the Church calendar!
One reason why people tend to disassociate Mary Magdalene from Mary of Bethany is because they think it is an insult to Mary Magdalene to consider her as a former prostitute. Yet, that is precisely the beauty of St. Mary Magdalene! She, above all women saints, shows just how far the Mercy of God extends. Jesus Christ took a prostitute possessed by seven demons, set her free from Satan’s grasp, forgave her sins, gave her the strength to stand beneath the Cross, and made her the first witness of the Resurrection. This means there is hope for us all!