We celebrate Saint Mary Magdalene as a feast day on July 22, a liturgical dignity Pope Francis made official last year. Explaining her significance to a good Catholic life, Father Sean Davidson, with the Missionaries of the Most Holy Eucharist, presents her as “a true model of adoration” who “provides us with examples of the four pillars of Eucharistic prayer,” that is “adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and intercession.” She shows, us, in other words, how to live a truer, more prayerful Catholic life. He spoke to Kathryn Jean Lopez about her and his book Saint Mary Magdalene: Prophetess of Eucharistic Love.
Lopez: What’s so special about Mary Magdalene and so significant about there being an official day marking her life on the Church calendar?
Davidson: Christians have always venerated her most fervently, and in spite of the debates that often surround her identity, at least this much is clear to everybody: She is the “Apostle to the Apostles,” that is to say, the first person in human history to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection.
She was charged with proclaiming the tidings of Paschal joy to the very apostles themselves! This really means that she was the first person ever to truly proclaim the full Gospel message, since salvation was not complete until Christ had risen from the dead. For this reason, it is fitting that Pope Francis has recently elevated her liturgical celebration to the status of a feast.
About Mary Magdalene and adoration and the four pillars of Eucharistic prayer, do all Christians need all these elements — adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and intercession — in their prayer lives? How might they change lives?
I was speaking of the four dispositions that Saint Peter-Julian Eymard deemed necessary for one who wishes to adore and serve the Lord perfectly. Adoration is a duty for every human being. It is part of the virtue of justice, a debt we owe to the One who created us out of love. Man was made for adoration. Adoration puts us in right relation to both God and his creation, bringing to the soul that peace which comes from order.
If we do not adore the one true God, we will invariably adore someone or something else, whether we are fully conscious of it or not. Some creature will ascend to the throne that God has erected in our hearts for Himself alone. Adoration is essentially about submission and love before the Most High.
Since Jesus Christ is divine and human, He is worthy of our total submission, and the kind of love which we offer to God alone. Adoring Him sets us free from the grip of the world’s idols. In the Gospel texts, Mary Magdalene always has these adoring dispositions in the presence of Christ. Not only does she adore, but Christ’s parable about the creditor who released two debtors shows that she is also filled with gratitude because of her experience of the Divine Mercy. (Luke 7:41-43)
In different Gospel texts, I believe that we also catch a glimpse of her making reparation and intercession before the Lord. The words of intercession which she and Martha sent to Jesus to inform him about their dying brother are magnificent: “Lord, he whom you love is ill …” (John 11:3) This is a beautiful way to speak to Jesus about our loved ones who may be sick in body, mind, or soul.
All of the attitudes which we admire in Mary Magdalene blend together to paint the picture of a perfect adorer of the same Lord who remains with us until the end of time in the Eucharistic mystery. The Holy Mass is the highest act of adoration in the life of the Church, but we can prolong this grace through Eucharistic Adoration.
Pope Saint John Paul II, who was deeply devoted to the Eucharistic Lord, asked us to fill the Church with “Eucharistic Amazement” in his final encyclical. To study the heart of Magdalene in the Gospels is to study a heart filled with holy amazement before the Lord.
You also write that the book is “the fruit of much time spent with Saint Mary Magdalene before the Most Blessed Sacrament.” How does one even do that? Why would one? Why would you?
I had the great privilege of spending two years working in the basilica in France in which her relics are treasured and venerated. While there, I would often use these texts as the springboard into my dialogue of love with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration. This biblical adoration in the company of Mary Magdalene ignited a new fire of love in my heart. Magdalene is a woman of fire, the teacher of a radical form of love.
By means of fervent love, an adorer must try to repair and make up for the negligence with which Christ is often surrounded. The more that sin and irreverence abound, the more the adorer must try to counterbalance and outweigh the evil by means of faithful love. As darkness rises, the light of love for God must rise even higher.
Saint Mary Magdalene taught me this truth. If we look carefully at the first text in which she anoints Christ’s feet, I believe that we witness her making reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Luke 7:36-50) As we mentioned earlier, for some reason, the Pharisee did not pay Jesus the signs of respect which are due to a guest of honor. He didn’t embrace him at the door, he didn’t wash his feet, nor did he anoint his head with oil.
Then Magdalene entered suddenly, and did all three in spectacular fashion. She canceled out the insult to Christ by the fervor of the love in her passionate heart. She probably did not yet fully understand the great mystery into which she had entered, but simply following the inspirations of love welling up within her heart, the will of God was accomplished, and she made worthy reparation to the dignity of Christ.
Later on, at the time of the second anointing, we learn that Judas is stealing from the Lord, while she pours out a year’s salary-worth of perfume in an instant, just to let Jesus know that he is loved. (John 12:1-8) As he looked upon the fervor of her pure love, the Lord would have been able to forget for a moment the bitterness caused in his heart by the traitor. The love of Christ’s friends allows Him to forget the treachery of those who make themselves his enemies.
I found that meditating on all of these scriptural texts, and using them to teach others about adoration, has the power to enflame and transform hearts. It was these meditations which convinced me that the tradition was correct in its interpretation of the biblical texts which relate to this holy woman of God.
A similar pattern emerges in all of these texts; a pattern which points to the fact that the same personality is on display. She almost always has her perfume, she is almost always at Christ’s feet, and she is almost always misunderstood by others, but defended by Jesus. She is the woman who did “something beautiful” for Christ, the renown of which must be made known wherever the Gospel is preached. (Matthew 26:10-13)
Just as she filled the entire house of Bethany with the fragrance of spikenard, symbolic for the sweet-smelling sacrifice of her love, I believe that a renewed devotion to her will help to fill our churches with zealous love for Christ in his sacramental mode of presence. (John 12:3)
You note that we can be distracted during Holy Communion, hindering “us from listening to the Lord when he wants to speak to our hearts.” Is there a recipe for developing “a discerning heart … [to] penetrate behind the Eucharistic veil and see that it is truly Jesus we are encountering”?
In addition to believing that adoration deepens our spiritual vision, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a deep connection between the Eucharist and Our Lady. In carrying out parish missions in different places, I have noticed that wherever Mary is loved, the Eucharist is also loved.
The contrary is also true. If a person consecrates himself to Mary, and lives in daily fidelity to that consecration, I am certain that such a person will soon find that Holy Communion becomes a more intense experience. In order to be receptive to the Incarnate Word, we need the assistance of the one in whom that Word became flesh.
After making my own consecration to Mary in 2004, I almost immediately felt called to spend more time in silent thanksgiving after Mass. On July 22, 2013, as I prayed before the relics of Saint Mary Magdalene, I felt a strong calling to increase the length of that time. Our Lady and Saint Mary Magdalene are both paragons of perfect receptivity to Christ, but I would be willing to bet that the latter learned a lot about this sacred disposition from the former!