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St Mary Magdalene’s memorial is promoted to a feast day

Candles with an image of St Mary Magdalene at a church in Illinois (CNS)

Pope Francis has decided to raise the celebration of St Mary Magdalene’s memorial to a feast day.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said in his announcement of the change that it emphasised “the dignity of women, the New Evangelisation, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy”.

The status of a feast is higher than a memorial, but below a solemnity (such as Corpus Christi or Ss Peter and Paul). The celebrations of the apostles are feast days, as are commemorations of some other major saints such as St Lawrence.

Archbishop Roche noted that St Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection, leading St Thomas Aquinas to call her the “Apostle of the Apostles” (Apostolorum Apostola). The bishop said: “St Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelisation; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter.”

The bishop added that the Pope’s decision was also related to the Year of Mercy. “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,” said Archbishop Roche.

In Catholic tradition, Mary Magdalene is identified with the “woman of the city” who, in the Gospels, comes into the house of Simon the Pharisee and washes the feet of Christ with her tears. Christ tells Simon: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”