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And here we go with chapter 4 of Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies.  This chapter covers the earliest stages of patristic thinking about the saint. It’s shorter.

(Why do this? Because her feast is Sunday – July 22.)

I hope what you notice that one of the things I try to do here (and in everything I write along this line, as well) is to help the reader understand not only Mary Magdalene herself, but broader  epistemological matters as well. How to read the Bible. How to understand early Church History. It’s one thing to throw factoids at people. It’s important in the long run, however, to open them up to the greater issues of, not just what to know, but how to know – especially about religious matters – in a culture in which they are told, repeatedly, that all knowledge, especially about religion, is fundamentally uncertain, relative, and ideological.

For previous chapters:

Chapter one: Introducing Mary Magdalene in the Bible

Chapter two: Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection

Chapter three: Mary Magdalene in Gnostic writings

For the entire book, available for Kindle for .99 – here. 

While Gnostic writers were — or perhaps weren’t – – writing about Mary Magdalene, favored student of the Gnostic Jesus, orthodox Christian writers had a few things to say as well during those early centuries of Christianity.
She didn’t dominate the scene, but a few thinkers found her an intriguing figure, helpful in understanding the nature of faith and redemption. She’s represented in art from the period as well, most often in her role as “myrrhophore” — one of the women bringing oils and spice to Jesus’ tomb.

It’s that theme that we see most frequently: Mary Magdalene as faithful disciple and witness to the empty tomb, and then, digging a little deeper, Mary as the New Eve and Mary as the Church, symbolized with power and passion in the Old Testament Song of Songs.

Those who think that the Gnostics were more appreciative of Mary Magdalene than were orthodox Christians who were perhaps busy demonizing her might be in for a surprise. Many early Church Fathers had no problem identifying Mary Magdalene in quite exalted terms: “Apostle to the Apostles” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” titles which may be now neglected in the West, but which remain her primary identification in Eastern Christianity to this day.

‘Come, My Beloved’

It might be helpful, before getting to Mary herself, to set the scene. When we talk about the “early Church” and the “early Church Fathers” and their writings, what exactly do we mean?

For the purposes of this chapter, “early Church” means Christianity up to the late sixth century, at which point we start creeping into the early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, as they are quite unfairly called.

During this period, Christianity spread throughout the Middle East, into Africa, far into Europe, and even into India. The time began, of course, with most of that area (with the exception of India) as part of the Roman Empire, where Christianity was illegal. By the time the sixth century rolled around, the old Roman Empire had collapsed, new kingdoms and empires had taken shape, and Christianity was not only legal in all of them, but was the established religion in most as well, a situation that would last until the rise of Islam in the eighth century.

By the end of the first century, a basic church structure of presbyters (priests) and bishops was beginning to evolve (we can even see this in the New Testament: for example, in the First Letter of Paul to Timothy). The religious landscape was not the same as it is today: there were no seminaries, no universities, and of course, no publishing houses or religious newspapers. But there were theologians, spiritual writers, and bishops, who wrote and preached. Many of their works have survived and are available in English — even on the Internet — today.

Most commonly, the texts that we can read that give us an idea of what these Christians were thinking and how they believed and practiced their faith are:

  • Defenses of Christianity against skeptics and heretics.
  • Commentaries on Scripture.
  • Catechetical instructions.
  • And not coming from individuals but from church communities were liturgies and,beginning in the fourth century,
  • decrees from gatherings of bishops.

So you see, although there is much we don’t know, a great deal of evidence has survived that gives us an excellent picture of Christian life in its first five centuries of life. It is not as mysterious and ambiguous as some claim. Christian thinkers were seeking to deepen their understanding of the Gospel, in the context of a culture that was extremely hostile to them, as well as intellectually and religiously diverse.

There’s a good reason people still read the writings of these early Church Fathers. Their situation was not that different from ours. They were dealing honestly and tenaciously with the most fundamental aspects of Christian faith, and they were trying to make them understandable to a world that, while skeptical, was obviously deeply in need of Christ. Two thousand years is a long time — but not long enough for human nature and humanity’s need for Christ to change.

These early Christian writers viewed the literal truth of Scripture — in which they firmly believed, by the way — as a starting point. From that factual level, they routinely set off exploring nuance, making connections, and discovering useful analogies and allegories. Patristic writing is extremely rich in that way.

So for them, Mary Magdalene was more than a woman at a tomb, just as Jesus had been more than a man on a cross. In Jesus, all of history is redeemed and all of creation is reconciled to God.

Into this richness step ordinary men and women like you and me, people like Peter, Levi, John, and Mary. As they live and move in Jesus’ shadow, listening and responding to him, they, too, become more. Their actions evoke other figures’ responses to God’s out-stretched hand. Their doubt, faith, sin, and redemption become more than just their own, as we look at them and see echoes of our own lives and, in fact, of the whole human story.

So, for example, when some of these writers meditated on Mary Magdalene, they saw her responding to the Good News of redemption and eternal life — in a garden. It recalled another scene, at the beginning of salvation history, also in a garden in which a woman and a man disobeyed God, and humanity fell. And so, for some, Mary Magdalene became a sort of New Eve, long before the title had attached itself to the Virgin Mary.

For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria, who lived in the fifth century, said that because of Mary Magdalene’s witness at the empty tomb, all women were forgiven of Eve’s sin (Haskins, p. 89). St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nyssa also made the connection:

“She is the first witness of the resurrection, that she might set straight again by her faith in the resurrection, what was turned over by her transgression.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa,Against Eunomius3.10.16, quoted in The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, by Jane Schaberg [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002], p. 87).

The image of a woman grieving and waiting in a garden evoked another image for Christians: that of the great love poem in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Song of Songs (also known as the Canticle of Canticles or Song of Solomon).

The third-century Christian writer Hippolytus made a great deal of this in his own commentary on the Old Testament book. He brings in not only Mary Magdalene but also the other women reported at the tomb in the various Gospels, and sometimes in confusing ways. The female image, rooted in specific figures, becomes more generally symbolic but, with Mary Magdalene as one of them, echoes the deep desire of the bride in the Old Testament book, her desire for her beloved, as they seek Jesus at the tomb:

“ ‘By night, I sought him whom my soul loveth’: See how this is fulfilled in Martha and Mary. In their figure, zealous Synagogue sought the dead Christ. . . . For she teaches us and tells us: By night I sought him whom my soul loveth.” (Hippolytus,third century, quoted in Haskins, p. 61)

Finally, writers during this period cited Mary Magdalene for her witness at the tomb and sharing the Good News with the apostles. Hippolytus, who was also a bishop, referred to her as “Apostle to the Apostles.” Other Church Fathers also praised Mary for her role as a witness, some holding that through her example, all women are honored and, in a sense, redeemed.

A fourth-century Eastern poet named Ephrem used this image, although, confusingly to us, he conflates Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the following (as we saw in the last chapter, this was a characteristic of Syrian Christianity in this period):

“At the beginning of his coming to

earth A virgin was first to receive him, 

And at his raising up from the grave

To a woman he showed his resurrection.

In his beginning and in his fulfillment

The name of his mother cries out and is present.

Mary received him by conception

And saw an angel at his grave.”

(Quoted in Haskins, p. 90)

In this early period of Christian reflection, theological and spiritual writers worked in a relatively simple garden. Scripture — both Hebrew and Christian Testaments — was their primary source. Their sense of who Mary Magdalene was and of her importance for Christians was derived completely from that. She was historically significant because she was the first to see the empty tomb and the Risen Christ. Her role evoked other women in other gardens, and another layer of reflection was woven, celebrating Mary Magdalene as a New Eve or as representing the Church as the expectant bride seeking her bridegroom, Christ — but all because of what the Christian tradition had testified about her role in the events of the Resurrection.

The story of Mary Magdalene obviously does not end here, for at this point — the fifth and early sixth centuries — some images, quite familiar to us today, have not yet appeared. What of the penitent Magdalene? The prostitute? The evangelizer of the French?

Where these came from we shall soon see, as we enter the Middle Ages, a period of intense creativity and legend-building, in which the evidence of Scripture was revered, but popularly viewed as only the beginning to far more interesting tales.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why did early Christian thinkers refer to Mary Magdalene as the “New Eve?”
  2. Why did they connect Mary Magdalene to the Song of Songs?
  3. What do you think of this approach to interpreting Scripture? Do you find it helpful or not?

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Good Friday – not exactly what I expected – again – and some disappointment that I probably could have avoided. But all in all, a good day – a good Friday.

This will be briefer than Thursday’s novella. I want to use my early morning time on Saturday to walk around a bit, not write, and then I’ll get the boys up earlier than normal for we are heading out of town just for the morning I hope – and if it is to be just for the morning, it will need to get going early.

Note: there are video clips of the procession, the concert and the Good Friday service at Instagram. 

My understanding was the that big Good Friday procession would begin at 11:30. I wasn’t worried about catching it “on time” – it’s a big procession through town and I knew that we’d be able to see it during a few-hour window. So after everyone woke up and gained some alertness and energy, we decided to try to get breakfast. The crowds were already gathering for the procession – and in case you were wondering, there was absolutely no change in the social tone from Thursday. It could have been any market/celebration day. We picked a random restaurant around the zocalo and ate – detail on that later. We then began our efforts to try to see the procession. The first clear shot we had was very good, but it was preparatory – it was of a (large) group making its way to the Cathedral for the beginning of the event. After that point once things got formally underway, it got more challenging. The crowds were very large and even though (honestly) most of us skew taller than the rest of the population, we had a difficult time finding a good viewpoint. We’d find something that seemed okay, but then it turned out not to be, or the sun came out and everyone pulled out their umbrellas and well, there goes that view. We finally walked towards what I thought might be the last third of the route, and scored.

The procession was certainly something to see – various groups in their uniforms, some beating drums, others winding noisemakers in the shape of crosses, others singing. The floats were, as you probably know, carried by men who, every once in a while would be relieved by others. There was singing and chanting Viva Jesus! One group of children walked carrying representations of the instruments of the Passion. At one point we came upon a large stretch of road that was evidently going to provide the end of the procession, and at several points along the way, classical musicians were playing sacred music, either from balconies or from ground-floor building alcoves.

But…it wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, and for some reason, I had expected a via crucis to be a part of it – I have no idea why. But what I discovered over the course of the day as I studied the listings of Semana Santa on church doors, was that everyone had their via crucis in the morning. Dang it!

Ah well. We’ll just have to see what else comes our way today…

But first, a glitch. One of our party started experiencing some stomach upset – well he’d woken up not feeling right, and it just wasn’t getting better. He needed to go back to the hotel, so I went with him, and it was good I did because once we arrived, we discovered a leak in the bathroom sink – so that needed to be reported and taken care of. Once I saw that it was underway, the other party and I set out to do some exploring to see what we could discern about activities for the rest of the afternoon. (it was about 2:30).

We first went into the Cathedral where I discovered that what I’d seen yesterday was Screenshot_2018-03-30-23-42-16.pngindeed a rehearsal  –  for a 3pm performance of Bach’s St. John’s Passion by the Orquesta Sinfónica Esperanza Azteca. There were no seats available, and it was quite crowded, so we didn’t stay for all of it, but what we heard was excellent, the power and beauty of the Cathedral matched by the sound filling it.

(It was also being either recorded or broadcast live – there was a small setup in the rear, which was interesting to watch, as one person followed the score and several others coordinated editing – for the broadcast was not just of the performance, but overlaid with it were translations of the text as well as dramatizations of the events.)

When we returned to the hotel with some medicine recommended by a pharmacist in IMG_20180330_171849.jpghand, Party #1 reported he was recovering pretty well and could probably eat. Given that it was still Friday, and Good Friday at that, we were committed to going meatless, and cheese pizza seemed  – as it does all Lent – the easiest route, and the one most amenable to an unstable constitution. There’s a pizza place a couple of doors down – we went and got a simple 4-cheese pizza, which, I’m telling you, was superior to anything you could buy in Birmingham.

It was then late enough to wander with the full expectation of hitting a Good Friday service, which we did – at 6:30 at the church of St. Dominic, site of the famed Rosary Chapel – the service was not there, but in the main church, which is ornate enough. The service was simple. It was rendered a little shorter by the fact that the Solemn General Intercessions were all spoken, not chanted, and there was no kneeling or moments of silent prayer. Also, no congregation “participation” in the reading of the Passion. The Dominican preached enthusiastically. I wish I’d known what he said…..

(Weird  side note – possible. I am almost positive that the conductor of the orchestra playing St. John’s Passion was in attendance at this service. He’s pretty distinctive looking – a long mane of dark hair – and after the service I saw him greeting people who were approaching him in a congratulatory way – and he was carting a cello.)

There was to be more happening afterwards, including a procession with statues of the Blessed Virgin and a corpus of Jesus in a glass case, but there was a long prayer service preceding it, and the Party with the unstable constitution was…unstable, so we headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow: everyone is looking forward to the end of Lenten and Good Friday disciplines, because there’s a lot of meat and candy around here waiting to be eaten….

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“Lachrimae Amantis“
Lope de Vega Carpio (1562-1613), translated by Geoffrey Hill

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered ‘your lord is coming, he is close’

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
‘tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.’

Agony in the Garden

Source

Also, from my favorite vintage textbook. We’ll just keep it simple today. That’s the best way.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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I have been on a bit of a hobby horse about pre-Lent. And yes, I am still on it.

In reading over some older devotional materials (more on that in the next post) and thinking about this Sunday’s Mass readings, the problem (one of them) clicked into place in a very simple way.

Lent begins next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Which means tomorrow is the last Sunday before Lent begins. What are the Mass readings?

They are the readings of the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Gospel: Matthew 6, continuing our reading of the Sermon on the Mount which has been going on for a couple of weeks.

How about last year? The last Sunday before Lent began was the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time and the Gospel – calling of Peter, etc. from Luke. 

And before that? 2015 – 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Gospel – healing of a leper from Mark. 

Quinquagesima Sunday readings, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, everywhere in the Catholic world before the Second Vatican Council?

(Remember there were only two readings)

Corinthians 13:1-13 – ….but do not have love…

Gospel: Luke 18:31-43

At that time Jesus took unto Him the twelve and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spit upon: and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again.

And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.

Now it came to pass, when He drew nigh to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the wayside, begging. And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying: Jesus,  son of David, have mercy on me. And they that went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace. But he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto Him. And when he was come near, He asked him, saying: What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: Lord, that I may see. And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight, thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he saw and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

 

"amy welborn"

So the entire Catholic world would hear these Scriptures , not just whatever happens to be the readings of that last Sunday of Ordinary Time, but these Scriptures (and Propers and prayers) specifically and organically evolved with the coming of Lent in view.

(Catholics who participate in the Extraordinary Form or the Anglican Ordinariate still experience this form of pre-Lent, and of course Eastern Rite Catholics have their own form as well, with set readings that don’t change from year to year.)

In that older post I highlight the work of scholar Dr. Lauren Pristas, who wrote an essay detailing the thought and politics that went into the elimination of pre-Lent in the Latin Rite. As I say there, the conclusion is essentially that it was too hard for us poor lay folk to keep it all straight and stay focused.

Unintended consequences, anyone? Not to speak of weirdly wrong thinking. Pistas entitled her essay “Parachuting into Lent” and that is exactly the effect, isn’t it?

The best-intentioned post-Conciliar reformers (in contrast to those who simply didn’t believe any of the stuff anymore) seemed to me to be operating from the assumption that the  Church’s life and practice as it had developed over time functioned as an obstacle to deeply authentic faith, and that what was needed was a loosening of all this so that Catholics would develop a more adult faith, rooted in free response rather than adherence to structures.

Well, you know how it is. You know how it is when, on one day out of a million you have a blank slate in front of you? No rigid walls hemming you in? No kids to pick up, you don’t have to work, no one’s throwing obligations and tasks at you? And you think, Wow…a whole day free. I’m going to get so much  done! 

And then it’s the end of the day, and you realize that maybe what you had thought were restrictions were really guides and maybe not so bad because you look back on your Day Without Walls and you wonder…wait, how many cat videos did I watch today? Do I even want to know?

Yeah. That.

Where’s my parachute?

 

 

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What to cook for those Lenten meals? Such a dilemma!

Me, I always have dreams of various interesting vegetable-based stews and soups, but you know what it always ends up being?

Cheese pizza. Lots and lots of cheese pizza. With maybe some pancakes and eggs tossed in there for variety.

For some reason, I went on a bit of a rabbit trail last night..I have no idea how I happened to think that there might be a treasure trove of Lenten-themed vintage food advertisements out there…but there is. It’s at an advertising design archive website, and, yes, there is a “Lent” keyword, although several of the ads in that category are Valentine-themed, but who knows.

But then I thought, Wait. The Era of Regrettable Food was also pre-Vatican II…when Catholics abstained from meat every Friday anyway…what were the Lenten regulations right before the Council? Why would Lent-themed advertising even be a thing if Catholics were going meatless on Fridays all year?

Turns out that it was: fasting every day of Lent except Sunday, of course, fasting and abstaining from meat on all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and on the other days, meat allowed in one of those “one regular and two small meals” of the fasting days. So that explains the advertising directed at helping the cook be creative within those constraints since less meat would be consumed for several weeks…hence Lima Loaf.

(Too bad they changed that. Really. It lends a sense of greater body/soul continuity to the season, in my mind.  It’s also kind of insulting that they thought we couldn’t handle that mild of a regime any longer, but what else is new. )

Of course, not all of this is regrettable. Some is just quite normal – vegetable soups, hot cross buns and pancakes and such. Some is surprising – using Lent to even advertise peanuts! – and a reminder of a time in which religious practice was just considered…normal and as amenable to commercial exploitation as any other part of life!

So enjoy, and may these be an inspiration…

of what not to cook during Lent, that is….

(You should be able to right click on each ad for a larger version)

Bring on the Cranberry-Fish Souffle Salad, the Velveeta Jelly Omelet and the Individual Tuna Dreamboats!

 

 

 

annpage-good-03-01-1940-115-m-copy-copy

STEEL CANS LADIES' HOME JOURNAL 03/01/1954 p. 15

HEINZ FOODS BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS 03/01/1960

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Even peanuts get in the Lent game!

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Because everyone want prawns, pineapples and egg scramble.

Or a tuna-olive-cream of mushroom soup biscuit ring.

Penance!


On a less gruesome note, there were, in that era (as there are in ours) many cookbooks and handbooks to help a Catholic homemaker make her home…Catholic. Some are still in print and are very good. One that I have was published by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. I have a post on it here, with a reader evaluation of a modern reprint. But in case you don’t want to head over to that old post, here’s the first page of the Lent section, so you can see how substantive it is:

If a healthy penitential attitude is to grow with our children, it should be fed with their daily Lenten bread.

…or tuna-olive-cream of mushroom soup biscuit ring.

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As I mentioned yesterday, this week, in anticipation of the July 22 feast, I’ll be posting excerpts from my book De-Coding Mary-Magdalene, published by OSV a few years ago, now out of print. When a book goes out of print, the rights revert to the author, who can do what she wishes with it. And what I want to do is share it with you!

If you want to download a pdf of the entire book, just go here.  Feel free to refer others, and if you like, to use it as the basis of a parish study or discussion group.

Chapter 2:

‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’

Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross

In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.

Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.

After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.

Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.

At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.

What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.

Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.

Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.

The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.

What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?

After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

 

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).

And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.

They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.

Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.

However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?

“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)

496px-noli_me_tangere_-_poussin_-_museo_del_prado

Noli Me Tangere

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

 

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)

One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”

So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.

Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.

But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

 

Mary of the Bible

 

Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

 

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you? How do you experience this in your own life?
  2. Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostle
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relation-ship to Jesus?

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A quick rundown of last week, which was all over the place, liturgy-wise.

Palm Sunday and the Good Friday service were at St. Barnabas, a small parish that is not too far from us – a little farther than the Cathedral, but still, maybe just three miles. I admit  – freely– that we attended those liturgies at that parish for reasons related to time.  No shame. The Sunday Mass time (10) is quite convenient (the *best* Mass time, IMHO) and on Friday, for various reasons, we couldn’t get to the 3pm service at the Cathedral, so that left us with evening services, wherever we could find one.  It’s a small church, so things like the procession with Palms and the Veneration of the Cross would not be as long as they would be in other, larger parishes, and at this point, we’ll take it. I don’t get protests – at all – but given the boys’ serving responsibilities and the heaviness of the Triduum, a small parish doing it simply and doing it right is a very good thing to experience.

Holy Thursday at the Cathedral with the fitting, amazing music we are spoiled with there.

Good Friday, in addition to the nighttime service, we got to the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral at noon. A permanent deacon led the stations, while three priests heard confessions during the service.  Penitents lined against the walls.

Visiting family responsibilities precluded the Vigil this year, but the boys served at Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House.

Excellent, well-prepared homilies all-round – I mean, homilies that were obviously  the fruit of close  study, preparation and a keen pastoral sensitivity. And all preached from a prepared text. It’s fine.   

"amy welborn"

Related to Catholic Things in Birmingham, Alabama, of course you know that after many, many years of stroke-related disability, most of which she has been in the cloister in care of her sisters, Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday.

By far the best commentary so far is Bishop Robert Barron’s:

I can attest that, in “fashionable” Catholic circles during the eighties and nineties of the last century, it was almost de rigueur to make fun of Mother Angelica. She was a crude popularizer, an opponent of Vatican II, an arch-conservative, a culture-warrior, etc., etc. And yet while her critics have largely faded away, her impact and influence are uncontestable. Against all odds and expectations, she created an evangelical vehicle without equal in the history of the Catholic Church. Starting from, quite literally, a garage in Alabama, EWTN now reaches 230 million homes in over 140 countries around the world. With the possible exception of John Paul II himself, she was the most watched and most effective Catholic evangelizer of the last fifty years.

"mother angelica"

I reached the point on the Current Project in which, within the space of a day, I transitioned from despair to complete confidence – in meeting the deadline, that is.  well, the second deadline, that is – after spring break made it clear that the first deadline was impossible.  It’s a good feeling – not as good as finishing the thing and getting it out of my brain forever, but almost.

What messed me up as, not only spring break, but the structure of this year’s spring break, which must be divided between San Diego and Charleston.

So, yes, I’m typing this on a plane, presently descending into Houston, and from there on to San Diego, here I’ll be speaking at the Catholic Library Association and signing books for both OSV and Loyola at NCEA– so if you know anyone who will be at either convention, tell them to stop by and say hi!

 

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