Pope Francis has decreed that Mary Magdalene will now have feast day on the same liturgical level of importance as the other apostles. For nearly 1500 years, she has been described as the apostle to the apostles. She has had a memorial day on the liturgical calendar for centuries, sharing the date with fifteen other memorials. Now that the day is a feast, the Gloria will be sung and prayers dedicated to Mary Magdalene will be offered. The celebration carries more weight. This is beautiful thing.
But… I have questions. Lots of them.
Why announce the change in the liturgical calendar now? This announcement follows hot on the heels of the statements Pope Francis made about convening a committee to study (yet again) the possibility of ordaining women to serve as deacons. It also was timed during a three-day Jubilee Celebration of Women Priests which included participants from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and Women’s Ordination Worldwide, and was widely also publicized by A Church For Our Daughters and Call to Action. On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis made an announcement recognizing Mary Magdalene’s equal importance to her brother apostles while in the Piazza Pia activists from WOW held a purple stole witness for the ordination of women priests followed by a procession to Saint Peter’s carrying a petition titled Open The Door to Dialogue. So either this was a very lucky coincidence for the supporters of women’s ordination or a very shrewd marketing maneuver by Pope Francis to reiterate his message that the Church needs to create a greater (still undefined) role for women.
It should be duly noted that all Roman Catholic Women Priests have been excommunicated lata sententia for heresy, as have most of their public supporters. Attending a liturgy held by a Roman Catholic Woman Priest is an act of heresy. Members of the other three organizations are also considered out of bounds on many issues but since their actions are more indirect, they have not yet faced the same harsh penalties.
It’s true that Mary Magdalene had a memorial centuries before the ordination of the Danube Seven but it has taken the Church two millennia to not simply acknowledge, but to actually celebrate with a feast day the fact that, as Fr. James Martin put it, “Between the time she encountered Christ at the tomb and when she proclaimed his Resurrection to them, Mary Magdalene was the Church on earth because only she understood the full meaning of Jesus’s ministry.”
Why did it take so long? What was the Church so afraid of? The long held argument against the ordination of women centers around the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ followers. In the simplest of terms, the Church asserts that because Jesus chose to enter the world as a man and chose only men to be apostles, then clearly Jesus intended only men to serve as priests. No matter what position one takes on the ordination of women, one cannot avoid the obvious question: If Jesus intended for only men to serve as priests, why did he choose to first appear in his risen form to a woman? Furthermore, why did he then choose to send a woman to announce his resurrection? Keeping in mind his divinity, did Jesus not foresee the way these choices would influence the Church? Did the apostles, who were so entrenched in their patriarchal society, miss the message, as they so often did? Is it at all possible that by choosing to send a woman to announce the Resurrection, that Jesus was also sending the message that women had an equal, if not superior, role in proclaiming the Gospel? After all this is Jesus we’re talking about here. He could just as easily have appeared to the disciples in the locked room and foregone the encounter with Mary Magdalene. So why didn’t he do that? If we aren’t looking for that reason, we’re missing something.