A Novena to St. Mary Magdalene
for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene July 22 - (July 13 to 21)
(or any time one wishes to pray this novena)
Created by Bp. +M. Elaine Bessette
(This novena may be copied for devotional use
providing the piece remains intact and the author is credited, and Not for Sale.)
A novena means nine days (or weeks) of public or private prayer for some special occasion or intention. It can take on a variety of forms, but all are meant to fulfill our Lord’s mandate to pray ceaselessly with confidence.
The idea of ‘novena’ is possibly an adaptation of ancient practices as found in groups like the Nazirites of Judea who took temporary vows and performed rituals in order to dedicate themselves to spiritual progress. Along with ritual sacrifices the Nazirites set themselves apart, refrained from cutting their hair for the specified time of the vow, and avoided situations that might bring them into proximity with the dead.
Within Christianity there is a wide variety of practices, some of which are: entering into a set routine of prayers and meditations, abstaining from idle chatter in order to deepen the interior life, acts of mercy, daily reception of the Eucharist, and a variety of good works.
A Flexible Novena
As bearers of the Good News, we should look upon the idea of a novena as a joy-filled time we have set aside in order to contribute to the building up of the kingdom within; our time of communication with the Divine and a deepening of our connection to the ‘communion of saints’.
As a minimum, we suggest that you read the daily readings faithfully and allow yourself ten to twenty minutes each day to reflect upon the readings. Then add whatever practices you feel will enhance your spiritual life. Here are some basic guidelines:
1. Begin with a sincere prayer to the Holy Spirit that your heart may be opened to receive new insights.
2. Imagine yourself as one of the original disciples.
3. Read with new eyes, not taking the words too literally, but adopting a playful mood that will allow you to consider hidden meanings and subtleties that may not be immediately apparent.
4. Attempt to find a connection in the readings that will lead you to an opportunity to do some good for another during the day, or one that might uncover your own woundedness, bitterness or resentment that needs healing. In other words, keep the channel open for new insights and live the nine days as a vehicle for God’s mercy in the world.
5. End each session with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the insights you received and ask the Holy Spirit to continue to work within you as you go about your day.
Day 1 She Who Provided for Jesus’ Mission
Reading 1 - Luke 8:1-3
Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.
O Magdalene, were you despised because you had the means to fund Jesus’ mission? Clearly, you were better off than most. People of the first century believed that abundance was linked to pleasure seeking. Did Jesus call you ‘blessed’ for the slander you endured for His sake?
Did people stare at you because you traveled in the company of men? You had no husband’s name to designate you as someone’s property. Great Lady, you are among those who truly believed and followed our Lord even though it meant that you would often be humbled by the reproaches of others. What kind of woman is this that does not fear their gazes and petty remarks?
And you are among those who were cured by the Beloved! In faith you let go of all doubt and fear in order to live a mystical journey with our Lord! We see you walking taller as the burden is lifted from you and you have become radiant with His Light.
There you are in the market place choosing figs and dates and pomegranates, cheese and wine, grains for bread, fish and spices. How carefully you choose so that your offering may be perfect for your King!
Tell us of the dusty roads from Galilee to Jerusalem, arid places parching your skin and choking you with dust . . . cold nights out in the open along the way. Allow us to travel with you so that we might also be close to our Lord!
Reading 2 Song of Songs 1:2-4
Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine!
Your name spoken is a spreading perfume
that is why the maidens love you.
St. Mary Magdalene, you gave up everyday comforts to be with the Beloved.
He kissed you! . . . and you were caught up in an ecstasy of Divine Love.
He taught you the secrets of His words . . . and now, in a distant time, we hope to have a glimpse of your greater understanding. Whisper His secrets to our hearts.
He spoke your name as if it were a prayer! And your breath caught in your throat as you replied, “Yeshua”. . . , “Rabbouni!”.
Sing to us the Song of the Bride His church! Reveal to us our Bridegroom!
Reading 3: Song of Songs 1:5-6
I am dark but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem
As the tents of Kedar,
as the curtains of Salma.
Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
because the sun has burned me.
My brothers have been angry with me;
they charged me with the care of the vineyard;
my own vineyard I have not cared for.
O Magdalene, you did not stay hidden as the women of the towns did wherever you traveled. You were chosen to work in the Lord’s vineyard. Your brothers did not understand when the Beloved spoke with the woman at the well. Were you there witnessing their dismay?
You were discounted because women could not be a legal witness under the laws of your time. Yet, we realize that you, like that woman at the well, brought whole towns to the faith.
At last, in our times the Coptic gospels have been discovered that bear witness to your greatness. They have shed light upon your hardships and your special place among the saints. Pray for us, to heal the wounds of our society. Show us what you have learned in the Beloved’s vineyard.
Day One - Meditation:
Your name spoken is a spreading perfume -
Note: readings from the Song of Songs are a traditional part of the liturgy for the Feast of Mary Magdalene
Day 2 The Better Part
Reading 1 Luke 10: 38-42
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Now, Martha does not take her problem to the head of the household or to the eldest male member of the family as was customary in matters of household management; but rather, she takes her complaint to the honored guest. This break with tradition may show that, as a disciple of Jesus, Mary has become part of His household. Her place directly beside Jesus at his feet is a place of honor.
O Magdalene, pray that we may know when we are to serve at table and when to draw near to our Lord to listen.
Pray for us, that we may look deeply into our hearts and uncover the times when we burden others by avoiding the stuff of everyday life, our haughtiness demanding special privilege. Pray, also, that we may not allow the world to shackle us to the earth’s household in times when we are summoned by the words of the Master.
Show us how this passage reflects the request of James and John (Matt. 20:21-27) who wished to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in the kingdom, and how we who wish to be great shall be the servants.
Reading 2 Song of Songs 2: 3-4
As an apple tree among the trees of the woods,
so is my beloved among men.
I delight to rest in his shadow,
and his fruit is sweet to my mouth.
O Mary, pray for us; that we may draw ever closer to the Beloved and rest in His shadow, tasting the sweet fruits of His words!
Day 2 Meditation:
I delight to rest in his shadow.
Note: Since early Christian times the church has declared Martha’s sister Mary and Mary Magdalene to be one and the same, as declared by Hippolytus (160-236), Origen (185-254), Gregory the Great (540-604), and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). No “St. Mary of Bethany” is listed among the saints. Surely the one who is chosen to anoint Jesus would have been listed if she were ‘another Mary’. The lives of the saints tell us that both Martha and Mary Magdalene died in Gaul.
Day 3 The Anointing Woman
Reading 1 - John 11:1
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
O Magdalene, even before our Lord washed the disciples feet you anointed His feet, washed them with your tears and dried them with your hair. It was outrageous! The disciples did not grasp that you had anointed their King? Did they not know that in that instant Jesus became “Cristos” “the Christ” the Anointed One? We who hear His title so often - “Christ!”
O Mary, pray that we might share in the anointing of our Lord! Pray for us, that we might be filled with the love that poured forth from you as tears that washed His feet. Pray for us, that we might see Him in others and love without restraint as you did.
Reading 2 - John 12:1
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So, Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Six days before the Passover, that is, nine days before the resurrection. Ah, Magdalene, we see a connection to our novena. Let us journey nine days together.
It is unclear whether this is the first or second anointing.
In nine days Mary, you will go to the tomb to anoint your dead king. Jesus has commissioned you to accomplish his final anointing.
Is there more than wastefulness in question when Judas’ objects to your using the precious nard to anoint Jesus? Surely, a zealous Jew such as Judas should understand that the anointing of Jesus’ feet paralleled the anointing of the foot of the temple altar. It appears that Jesus is being anointed as the new altar of the new covenant. But, instead of the head of the high priest being anointed to serve at this altar it is Mary’s head that receives the precious nard as she wipes His feet with her hair!
Reading 3 Song of Songs 1:12
For the king’s banquet my nard gives forth its fragrance.
The Song of Songs is the only book of the Old Testament that contains a reference to nard (spikenard). In John 12:1 Jesus is reclining at table. This dinner is the celebration of Lazarus’ return from the dead. On the occasion of His anointing the feast becomes the ‘King’s banquet’.
Holy Magdalene, pray that we may come to realize the sacredness of the moment when you anointed our Lord. Allow us to embrace the moment when you broke custom by releasing your hair from its binding, revealing its lustrous beauty. Reveal within our hearts your solemn bow as you bend to wipe His feet. No wonder the iconographers so often portray you with long wavy hair of red-gold! Only rare, priceless ‘red gold’ is fitting as the metaphor for this sacred instrument of our Beloved’s anointing. No need to keep your hair hidden and reserved for the bridal chamber. Behold, before you is the Bridegroom of the World!
Day 3 Meditation:
For the king’s banquet my nard gives forth its fragrance.
Note: In the book “Let Her Keep It” by Thomas W. Butler the author lays out the significance of the anointing of Jesus’ feet and makes a case for ‘Mary of Bethany’ being ‘set apart’ to serve at the new altar of our Lord.
Day 4 - First Among Equals
Reading 1 - Matthew 27: 55-61
There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
O Magdalene, we see that you have been a follower of Jesus from the start. You are also listed first when the women are named in: Matt. 28:1; Mark 15:40, 15:47; Luke 8:2, 24:10.
But, in John’s gospel you are listed last and this gospel is the only one that gives evidence of an eyewitness account. In writing down your story does John reveal you as his source or as if you yourself were author by listing you last?
Reading 2 - Micah 4:8
And you, O Magdal-eder [Tower of the Flock],
hillock of daughter Zion!
Unto you shall it come:
the former dominion shall be restored,
the kingdom of daughter Jerusalem.
O Mary, we now know that the town called ‘Magdala’ was called ‘Taricheae’ until second century Christians renamed it believing that the town may have been your home. In ancient times the place had been known as ‘Migdal Nunayya’ - the ‘Tower of the Fishermen’ because it was a place where fish was salted for trade. But the manner in which your title is presented in Greek does not indicate ‘of Magdala’. No, you are given the title of “The Tower” which announces you as “Mary the Great”!
O Great Mary, the iconographers have been trying to show this to us throughout the ages by portraying you as taller than the apostles; you who were chosen to be the ‘first sent’ with the good news.
Reading 3 Song of Songs 4:4
Your neck is like David’s tower
girt with battlements;
A thousand bucklers hang upon it,
all the shields of valiant men.
The Davidic bride with a long neck and shining necklace invokes imagery of a tall and stately lady of great virtue. The poetic imagery of the shields of valiant men may have been the inspiration for the tales of Grail Knights who placed a token of their Lady upon their shields.
Reading 4 Song of Songs 7:4 (or verse 5 in some translations)
Your neck is like a tower of ivory.
O Mary, pray for us to see you more clearly within the metaphors. Reveal yourself to us so that we may stand with you among the disciples.
Day 4 Meditation:
Open to me. . .my beloved, my dove, my perfect one!
Notes: The Greek of the Precise Parallel New Testament, Oxford University Press, reveals that each citation of Mary Magdalene's name is "Magdalene", not 'of Magdala'. (See: Matthew 27:56, 27:61; Mark 15:40, 15:47, 16:1, 16:9; Luke 24:10: John 19:25, 20:1, 20:18: Magdalene.)
Historical background on the town called Magdala by Hayyim ben Yehoshua
Day 5 The Mirror
Reading 1 - John 11:28-33
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.
O Mary, pray for us to understand. Why is it reported that you waited for Jesus to send for you? The people of your time would understand this. Is it possible that your role is to follow the Jewish custom of a wife in waiting within for your spouse to call you to come out? And why are we told that those who mourned with you were Jews? It seems that we expect everyone to be Jewish unless it is reported that they are not.
And here you are at His feet once again! You have made Him deeply troubled by your confident declaration that had He been there Lazarus would not have died.
‘And Jesus wept’! Now we see a pattern of the phrases used in the tomb scene (John 20: 1-18).
At both tombs Mary wept. At Lazarus’ tomb Jesus wept.
At Lazarus’ tomb Jesus says, “Where have you laid him?” and at Jesus’ tomb Mary Magdalene said, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
Perhaps there is another set of mirroring passages than surround the meaning of the events in the tomb scenes. In John 1:37-39 the first two disciples who came from John are noticed by Jesus. He said to them, “What are you looking for?” They say, “Rabbi” (which means teacher), “where are you staying?” (Where do you abide?). He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
At Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:34b) the Jews who are with Mary reply to Jesus’ question, “Where have you laid him?” by saying, “Sir, come and see.”
O Magdalene, pray that we might discover where our Lord abides!
Reading 2 Song of Songs 1: 7
Tell me, you whom my heart loves,
where you pasture your flocks,
where you give them rest at midday,
Lest I be found wandering
after the flocks of your companions.
O Mary, Tower of the Flock, pray for us to find the Lord’s companions.
Day 5 Meditation:
And Jesus wept.
Note: Ramon K. Jusino’s thesis, “Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel?” can be found at: http://www.BelovedDisciple.org
Dr. Joyce Kennedy proposes that the identity of the ‘Beloved Disciple’ is revealed in the pairing of John I: 37-39 and John 20: 13-16
Day 6 The Apocrypha
Reading 1 Gospel of Mary Nag Hammadi Library
10. Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know (but) we do not, nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.” And she began to speak to them these words: “I,” she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’ He answered and said to me, ‘Blessed are you, that you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the mind is, there is the treasure.’”
O Mary, our Lord chose to speak words to you that no other was given. Pray for us, that we might listen with our hearts and with our minds so that we might not miss the words he whispers to each heart. Beloved Magdalene, pray for us, that our minds remain ever open to the Light.
Reading 2 Gospel of Philip Nag Hammadi Library
59. There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
63. And the companion of the [lord was] Mary Magdalene. [He loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and use to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of the [disciples 64…]. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”
O Mary, pray for us, that we might walk with you and the other Marys and be ever present with the Lord. It is no wonder that you are celebrated with the Song of Songs! You are His beloved, blessed by the company of his mother and sister.
What song would you sing, Mary? If we could only hear it! Would it sound like St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” or would it be entirely joyous praise to the Light?
History maligned you and kept you hidden, but in the present age we have been granted the gift of codices and scrolls. They suggest the path to healing humanity’s brokenness as your place of honor is restored.
Reading 3 Gospel of Philip Nag Hammadi Library
77 Spiritual love is wine and fragrance. 78 All those who anoint themselves with it take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, those nearby also profit (from the fragrance).
Lord Jesus, you are the wine of gladness, the Holy Blood we share at your table. Let us behold the Bridegroom!
O Magdal-eder, tower of the flock, you provide the anointing of the Christ! Through humility and steadfast service you have filled the whole house with the fragrance of holy love.
Day 6 Meditation:
Spiritual love is wine and fragrance.
Day 7 The Crucifixion
Reading 1 John 19: 25-27
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”* Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
O Magdalene, here as in Mark’s gospel you stand at the foot of the cross with the holy women who remained steadfast when the men had fled in fear. You stood together on Golgotha and poured out the world’s sorrows as your tears and His blood hallowed the ground.
O Magdalene, pray for us to remain steadfast through all trials.
Reading 2 John 19: 28-30
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
Clearly, we are being told that this is not ordinary thirst. It is a thirst that fulfills the scripture; thought by many scholars to be an enactment of Psalm 22 which also contains the words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This psalm also ends in proclaiming deliverance to future generations.
O Magdalene, you stood at the cross and listened for Jesus’ words. Pray for us, that we come to understand His final words.
Reading 3 Song of Songs 5:6
I opened to my lover
but my lover had departed, gone.
I sought him but I did not find him;
I called to him but he did not answer me.
O Tower, pray for us to remain faithful to the Beloved when it seems that hope has fled. Pray for us to persevere as you did; that we keep the vigil until the Light returns.
Day 7 Meditation:
Note: *John 19: 26 - The word that has been translated as ‘son’ from the original Greek means ‘progeny’ or ‘offspring’. No gender is implied.
Day 8 The Tomb
Reading 1 John 19: 38-42
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with the burial cloths along with the spices, according to Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day, for the tomb was close by.
There is a great deal of mystery in this passage. Two ‘secret disciples’ who fear the Jews (one with a title that does not relate to any known place name) prepare Jesus for a hasty burial. The hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes used as the burial anointing/preparation is conspicuous here, as the other gospels do not mention it. Jesus had commissioned Mary to perform his final anointing at Bethany by saying, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.”
O Mary, pray for us, that we may understand these mysteries.
Reading 2 John 20: 1-11a
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home. But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
This report is strangely written. Peter and another disciple run to the tomb, with the other out-running Peter. The other stops and waits for Peter to arrive. Upon entering first, Peter discovers that the ‘soudarion’ (the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head) is rolled up and laid in a separate place. Then the other disciple goes in. They return home, but Mary remains. (Two people are reported to be there, yet after two people leave there is still one remaining.)
An important in this scene is the fact that Peter must enter first and discover the soudarion in its separate place. It appears to follow the pattern of the fulfillment of scripture and, more specifically, an enactment of a detail of the Passover Seder.
A traditional part of the Passover Seder is represented by the ‘afikomen’; that is, the ‘middle matzo’. This specific piece (half of the middle matzah) is wrapped in a linen cloth and hidden so that the children will conduct a search to discover it. The afikomen represents God’s blessings and the manna in the desert that God provided to his children. It is the food for the journey whose discovery celebrates a joyous reminder of Israel’s blessings while providing a part for young children who are too young to carry out a memorized part in the Seder.
O Magdalene, pray for us to understand the meaning of these events and Peter’s role as the young child who discovers the afikomen.
Reading 3 John 20: 11b-18
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.
Two angels in white where his head and feet had been laid: does this image invoke the Arc of the Covenant? Perhaps it is meant as a sign of the New Covenant.
We are reminded of the raising of Lazarus in Mary’s words, ‘Sir, . . . tell me where you have laid him’.
At the sound of her name Mary recognizes Jesus. It is as if the trumpet blast that awakens the dead to the resurrection has sounded in her ears. “Mary!”
She embraces him in ecstatic bliss, but is admonished to stop. Then she is sent as the first apostle of the Good News to tell his brothers.
Reading 4 Song of Songs 3: 1-4a
On my bed at night I sought him
whom my heart loves
I sought him but did not find him.
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
I sought him but did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me,
as they made the rounds of the city:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves?
I had hardly left them
when I found him whom my heart loves.
I took hold of him and would not let him go.
This reading is often used for the Feast of Mary Magdalene because it so closely parallels Mary’s discovery of the risen Christ.
O Mary, holy bride, pray for us, that we may find Him whom our hearts seek. And when we have taken hold of Him we shall not let Him go.
Whom do you seek?
Day 9 Cup of Joy
After Pentecost the followers of Jesus went out to preach the good news. His immediate family and closest disciples were in grave danger.
The legend of Joseph of Arimathea from the apocryphal “Evangelium Nicodemi” reports that Joseph of Arimathea was arrested and imprisoned immediately after he had laid Christ's body in the tomb. He was thrown into a cell and left to die. While in prison Jesus appeared to him and gave him the Grail containing the precious blood and sweat he shed at the cross. On Easter Day his captors discover him gone. Joseph testifies that on the Sabbath the risen Christ appeared to him, freed him from prison and returned him to his own home. Joseph then travels to Gaul and eventually to England where he founds the first Christian church in Britain at Glastonbury that housed the Holy Grail.
The legend of Mary Magdalene states that she, along with Martha, Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea, escaped to Egypt for a time. And when it was safe to travel they made their way by a rudderless boat to the shore of Gaul, landing near Marseille with the other Marys and a dark Egyptian child known as St. Sara.
They evangelized the Languedoc population and eventually the region was converted to Christianity.
Lazarus is said to have been a bishop, though clearly, all of the varying legends hold that Mary Magdalene was also a bishop and the unequivocal leader of the church there. It is said that the Magdalene lived out her later years in a cave and was sustained solely by the Eucharist provided by angels.
The ‘Black Madonna’ statues originate in this region are meant to honor Mary Magdalene and the child Sara.
Martha’s relics reside at her pilgrim church at Tarascon, France, and Mary’s reside at St. Baume; but the whole region is dotted with churches that bear the names of these saints and the ‘Three Marys’. Although St. Sara is not an officially recognized saint, gypsies make an annual pilgrimage to the region in her honor.
The society that sprung up from the Johannine Church of the Magdalene differed significantly from their more somber, quasi-monastic counterparts. As an egalitarian, educated, prosperous and gregarious people they enjoyed the most hospitable climate and fertile lands which they were often forced to defend against invasion.
One of the strands of the legend holds that the Magdalene was carrying Jesus’ child when she fled Jerusalem. The child born is Egypt was named Sara, (Hebrew for ‘princess’). She, with the help of the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, fled with the Marys and Lazarus. Since Judaic lineage is transmitted through the mother’s line, the child Sara founded a royal line of descendants who were to rule God’s people as their servant. The alleged ‘Desposyni bloodline’ known as the Merovingian kings, descended from Meroveus whose dynasty lasted from 448-751. (The existence of a bloodline from Jesus’ immediate family is confirmed in “Ecclesiastical History” by Eusebius, the fourth century Bishop of Caesarea.)
In the Name of God:
A group of lesser nobles made a pact with the ambitious Pope Zacharius in 751 in which they were assured the pope’s blessing for usurping the Merovingian throne in exchange for a papal state. Their success is commemorated by the establishment of ‘the anointing of kings’ inaugurated by Pope Steven II in 754 which was meant to supplant the true bloodline.
The Languedoc remained fiercely loyal to its original political and social customs for nearly five hundred years while plagued with battles and political intrigues.
By the early 1200s the Franks and the papacy had become strong enough to settle the problem once and for all. The first major battle for control of the territory (1209 to 1225) fomented over the death of the papal legate, the Inquisitor, Peter of Castelnau in 1208. The pope suspected that Count Raymond of Toulouse had instigated the plot to assassinate the legate. But, the decisive campaign was the Albigensian Crusade (1233 1263) when the entire region was relentlessly put to the torch and entire populations were annihilated.
The church described the heresy of the Albigensians, also known as the Cathari or Cathars, as: " . . . an antisocial sect whose members preached that the material universe was the creation and tool of Satan; hence they condemned the use of all things material, prohibited marriage, encouraged suicide, and in general stood for a morality that strangely combined asceticism and immorality."
There is a huge problem in attempting to reconcile the church’s description of the heresy with the reputation of the region’s immediate past. The twelfth century reveals an entirely different assessment. That century encompassed the original troubadour kings, the inauguration of the ‘Court of Love’, and a joyful egalitarian society in the Languedoc. The Grail legends of Cretien de Troyes and other great works were commissioned in the later half of the century by descendents of the Merovingian line who still held ducal power. If, indeed, the Cathari were antisocial, opposed to marriage, and suicidal, one would need only to stand back and watch for a short time to witness their removal of themselves from existance.
The Evolution of Grail Legends:
As the Merovingian dynasty’s power waned the great Celtic saga of the Grail emerged, necessitated by a need to perpetuate the Johannine traditions in a subtle form while avoiding the scrutiny of its adversaries. Spawned by troubadour tales in oral form and expanded upon by the minnesingers, the original work of grail mythology by Geoffrey of Monmouth, “Historia Regum Britanniae” in Latin, c. 1136, was expanded by Wace in a French version and dedicated to Eleanor of Aquitaine who inherited the Merovingian seat of power. Her grandfather, Guillaume IX, was the original troubadour king. She commissioned Cretien de Troyes’ version of the grail myth incorporating her ‘court of love’ elements, but de Troyes died before it was completed. Some twenty years later, c. 1200, Wolfram von Eshenbach completed his version entitled “Parzival” which is considered a great literary masterpiece. Although other versions appeared over the next four hundred years none would surpass “Parzival”. Later works such as Sir Thomas Malory’s “Tales of King Arthur” actually subvert the purity of the allegorical message of “Parzival” through the addition of ‘Queen Guinevere’s infidelity’, a political comment by Malory intended to exalt the British king Henry II and defame his foreign queen, the legendary Eleanor.
The Grail Quest:
The idea of the Grail has taken many forms. It is represented as a cup or chalice, a stone, and even a person - wherein Mary Magdalene is the vessel that carries the physical child of Jesus’ bloodline. These allegories all allude to the errand of the Grail Knight, that is, to empty one’s self in order to be the vessel for the living Christ. The ‘child’ that the Magdalene carries is the message of Christ.
The image of the ‘rudderless vessel’ that carries the Magdalene and her company to Gaul is called the ‘Vesica Piscis’. It is similar to the Grail symbol in that it represents the idea that the true seeker empties herself of ego (gives up the rudder) in order to become the vessel of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit carries the pure soul upon the sea of consciousness upon its mystical journey. In this way, the Light of Christ is returned to the world.
Meditation Isaiah 42: 6-7:
I the Lord have called you in righteousness
and have held your hand
and have strengthened you
and have given you a covenant to the people
and for a light to the Gentiles;
That you may open the eyes of the blind. . .
Copyright 2005: The Novena to St. Mary Magdalene is the intellectual property of the Presiding Bp. +M. Elaine Bessette, Order of Magdal-Eder, Magdal-Eder Seminary.
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