Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The various empty tomb and appearance stories which we read during Easter week are often times contradictory. One story says that the women appeared at the tomb after sunrise while another says it was still dark. Various Gospels record that one, two or three women went to the tomb. One Gospel records that there were two young men or angels at the tomb while another says there was just one. However, there is one element which is consistent throughout the tradition; namely, Mary Magdalene is part of each of the stories.
Down through the centuries, Mary Magdalene has often been identified as the "sinful woman" or the woman caught in adultery that was forgiven by Jesus and told to sin no more. She is often characterized as a repentant prostitute. One religious congregation made up of such women even called itself the Magdalenes. We have seen an effort lately, however, to "redeem" or "save" Mary Magdalene from this characterization. The evidence of the Gospels tells us two things about Mary: she had been possessed of seven demons and was cured by Jesus, and she was the first to hear the news of the resurrection. There is no mention of her name in connection with a woman of sin.
Iconography depicts Mary Magdalene holding an egg which has long been the symbol of the resurrection. On her liturgical memorial, the Gospel of the resurrection is proclaimed. Each of the Gospels records that she was among the first group (John identifies her as the first person) to hear the news of Jesus's rising from the dead.
The misidentification of Mary as the adulterous woman or as a prostitute is understandable because of the fact there were only a very few "first names" that were used during this period of human history. The name "Mary" or "Miriam" was one of the most prevalent. There are at least four different women named Mary who appear in the Gospel: Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha) and Mary, the wife of Clopas.
As the first witness of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene's place in the Gospel is certainly deserving of our attention and veneration. She stands as one who proclaims the new life won in Jesus.