Pope Francis has raised the celebration of the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the dignity of a liturgical Feast, recognizing the importance of her role as the “apostle to the apostles.”
In the modern Church calendar, saints may be commemorated with a memorial (optional or obligatory), feast, or solemnity. By making the commemoration of Mary Magdalene a feast, it is elevated to the same grade as that of the apostles.
In a letter announcing the change, made in a decree signed 3 June 2016, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Archbishop Arthur Roche, writes the decision means one “should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.”
Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection, and is the one who announced the event to the Apostles.
“Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter,” he writes.
“The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” writes Archbishop Roche.
He also notes Saint Mary Magdalene was referred to as the “Apostle of the Apostles” (Apostolorum Apostola) by Thomas Aquinas, since she announced to them the Resurrection, and they, in turn, announced it to the whole world.
“Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same grade of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the General Roman Calendar, and shines a light on the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.”
Here is an English translation of the decree:
The Church, both in the East and in the West has always regarded Saint Mary Magdalene the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection and the first evangelist, and with the greatest reverence has always honoured her although in diverse ways.
Given that in our time the Church is called to reflect in a more profound way on the dignity of Woman, on the New Evangelisation and on the greatness of the Mystery of Divine Mercy, it seemed right that the example of Saint Mary Magdalene might also fittingly be proposed to the faithful. In fact this woman, known as the one who loved Christ and who was greatly loved by Christ, and was called a “witness of Divine Mercy” by Saint Gregory the Great and an “apostle of the apostles” by Saint Thomas Aquinas, can now rightly be taken by the faithful as a model of women’s role in the Church.
Therefore the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis has established that from now on the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene should be inscribed in the General Roman Calendar with the rank of Feast rather than Memorial as is presently the case.
The new rank of celebration does not involve any change of the day on which the celebration itself takes place and, as for the liturgical texts, the following is to be observed:
- a) The day dedicated to the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene remains the same as it appears in the Roman Calendar, that is 22 July.
- b) The texts to be used in the Mass and in the Divine Office remain the same as those contained in the Missal and in the Liturgy of the Hours on the day of the Feast, with the addition in the Missal of a proper Preface, attached to this Decree. It will be the responsibility of the Conferences of Bishops to translate the text of the Preface into the vernacular language so that, having received the approval of the Apostolic See, it can be used and in due time included in the next reprint of the Roman Missal.
Where, according to particular law, Saint Mary Magdalene is legitimately celebrated on a different day and as a Solemnity, this day and rank remains as before.
All things to the contrary notwithstanding.
From the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 3 June 2016, Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Robert Card. Sarah Prefect
Arthur Roche Archbishop Secretary
Fr Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Vatican press office, has provided a working translation of the Preface that will be used at the Mass for the feast:
Preface of the Apostle of the Apostles
It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
whose mercy is no less than His power,
to preach the Gospel to everyone, through Christ, our Lord.
In the garden He appeared to Mary Magdalene,
who loved him in life, who witnessed his death on the cross
who sought him as he lay in the tomb
who was the first to adore him when he rose from the dead,
and whose apostolic duty was honored by the apostles
that the good news of life might reach the ends of the earth.
And so Lord, with all the Angels and Saints,
we, too, give you thanks, as in exultation we acclaim:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might …