St. Mary Magdalene celebrated in music and word

Friday, Jul. 28, 2006
St. Mary Magdalene celebrated in music and word Photo 1 of 2
Deacon Scott Dodge of the Cathedral of the Madeleine and Gregory Glenn, Cathedral director of liturgy and music and founder of the Madeleine Choir School, present the historical picture of Saint Mary Magdalene, the patron of the Cathedral and of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. IC photos by Barbara S. Lee

SALT LAKE CITY — In three days of festivities, the Cathedral of the Madeleine Parish celebrated the feast of its patroness, St. Mary Magdalene, who is also the patroness of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, July 21-23. The events began July 21 with a delightful historical perspective of the saint by Gregory Glenn, director of liturgy and music for the Cathedral and founder of the Madeleine Choir School, and Deacon Scott Dodge of the Cathedral. An organ concert by Jessica French, Madeleine Choir School alumna and a student of organ performance at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., was a special treat July 22.

The Cathedral welcomed visiting Bishop Alexander K. Sample of Marquette, Mich, who celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass in honor of St. Mary Magdalene. Cathedral rector Father Joseph M. Mayo presented the homily, which is printed on page 20 of this issue of the Intermountain Catholic. The Mass was followed by a parish picnic on the grounds of the Madeleine Choir School.

Glenn and Deacon Dodge spoke July 21 to a full religious education room in Scanlan Hall, explaining how St. Mary Magdalene has been the subject of "Legends, Blunders, and Codes" throughout the centuries.

"We actually know very little about Mary Magdalene," Glenn said. "Scripture tells us nothing about her before her conversion, and nothing after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven."

What we do know for certain is important, Glenn said. Given the specific "Paschal Privilege" of being the first person to witness the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene carried word of the resurrection to the apostles. Thus, St. Mary Magdalene is known as "the Apostle to the Apostles."

"She is the most prominent woman in the New Testament besides Mary the mother of Jesus," he said.

Leaving the broad speculations of "The DaVinci Code" aside, Glenn spoke instead of the relic of Mary Magdalene encased in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Cathedral, and the Renaissance painting of the saint obtained in Italy by the late Bishop Joseph S. Glass, who was responsible for the interior decoration of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Glenn and Deacon Dodge spoke of a historical "conflation" of Biblical women, all named Mary, whose actions have, at one time or another, been credited to Mary Magdalene. They include the nameless woman sinner, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons; Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, often portrayed as the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with oil and dried them with her hair in the home of Simon, and Mary of the port town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, "a boiling pot of fleshly desires."

Writers of modern flights of fancy aren’t the only people who have co-opted St. Mary Magdalene for their own purposes. Popes and heretics have done the same.

While writing a homily on the seven capital sins, Pope St. Gregory the Great "boldly declared St. Mary Magdalene the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons," Glenn said.

Of all the Marys in the New Testament, including Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the mother of James and John, Mary Magdalene is the only Mary who is not identified in relationship to a man, Deacon Dodge said.

Even St. Mary Magdalene’s Paschal Privilege, being the person to bear the news of the resurrection to the apostles, is denied her by those who cannot accept that Jesus would appear to anyone before he appeared to his mother.

Perhaps the Gnostics have had the most to say about Mary Magdalene. It is from this divided heretical sect that stories have come of Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married and that Mary Magdalene was selected by Jesus to lead the Church, not St. Peter. It is from the Gnostics, Glenn said, that we have the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, dating back to the mid-third century.

"Don’t oversimplify Gnosticism," Glenn cautioned. "They claimed to have special knowledge no one else had, and they tried to make Jesus a man more like ourselves. From them we also have the Gospel of Philip, which states that Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than any of the apostles, and kissed her frequently. That kiss was supposed to be a sign of the superior knowledge passed on from Jesus to Mary Magdalene."

Deacon Dodge explained how Gnosticism used Mary Magdalene to attack the hierarchical church, wanting a more visionary church, a virtue they found more in Mary Magdalene than in Peter.

The role of Mary Magdalene in the post-Ascension church differs in the Eastern and Western traditions, Glenn said. "The two traditions only agree on one thing; that her feast day is July 22.

Mary Magdalene’s role in the Church is mysterious at best. One story tells of her going to Rome, another has her traveling from Jerusalem to Ephesus with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and dying there. Still another story tells of her traveling with St. Lazarus to France, where she evangelized, then lived as a hermit until her death.

"Which tradition is correct?" Deacon Dodge asked.

"We don’t really know," Glenn said. Alleged relics of St. Mary Magdalene have been found in France and Ephesus.

"We have what Scriptures have told us," he said. "Preachers, Hagiographers, and the Mendicant orders have filled in the rest."

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