Mary of Magdala, Incomparable Apostle

Mary of Magdala

by Chantal Reynier

Venison, 148 p., €12

After having demonstrated how women occupied, against all odds, a place of choice in the ministry of Paul (Saint Paul, liberator of women, La Croix of February 18, 2021), Chantal Reynier, professor of biblical exegesis at the Center Sèvres (Jesuit Faculties of Paris), sifts through an eminent female figure of the Gospels: Mary of Magdala. The exercise is difficult as Marie Madeleine was held “prisoner, to the point of being disfigured, of the reception that has been made of it over the centuries”. Her religious and above all cultural destiny – to which the author devotes two rich chapters – pushes her figure “to the extreme, mixing eroticism, occultism, gnosis, sex, Grail”.

It is necessary to disentangle the tangled threads which confuse several Marys: the one who is cured of seven demons, present at the foot of the cross, at the burial of Jesus and who benefits from the first apparition of the Risen One; Mary of Bethany, Marthe’s sister; the one who anoints the head of Jesus; and the anonymous prostitute who pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. This fusion is imposed on the Church by Pope Gregory the Great, in a sermon given at Saint-Jean-de-Latran in 591. A detailed scriptural investigation concludes that the authentic Mary Magdalene is the woman “from which came seven demons”.

The allusion to his demons is not intended “to draw her gaze to her past but to highlight what she is becoming thanks to Christ” : a woman, “subject in its own right, free and responsible for his life”. Mary Magdalene takes the lead of the group of women who follow Jesus – an unprecedented presence among the religious masters of the Ier century.

These women “serve” (diakoneo in Greek) by preparing meals, ensuring daily life, and contributing with their own resources – another rarity for the time. They are part of the dynamic of Jesus who is “like one who serves” and who invites his disciples to do the same. Faithful to the end, they accomplish the “comprehensive journey” of discipleship” by being with Jesus during his ministry, by accompanying him – unlike the Twelve, on the run – in his Passion, his death, his burial. Marie Madeleine is, for her part, the “privileged witness” from his resurrection, until his ascent to the Father. Charged by Jesus with announcing the reunion in Galilee, she will be honored by tradition with the unique title of“apostle of the apostles”. Going “beyond his desire for ‘possession'”, Mary of Magdala “Let yourself be guided by the desire to do the will of God”. She “initiates the new presence of the absent and changes desolation into joy”.


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