"Apostle to the Apostles"

Titian, Noli me tangere, 16th century

Three years ago, Pope Francis elevated the July 22 liturgical memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the dignity of a feast day to be celebrated universally throughout the Church on par with feasts of the apostles. He also gifted the great saint with the title of “Apostle to the Apostles,” an ancient designation first tokened in part by St. Thomas Aquinas himself. In his Lectura super Ioannis, we find this passage in caput 20, lectio 3:

“Note the three privileges given to Mary Magdalene. First, she had the privilege of being a prophet because she was worthy enough to see the angels, for a prophet is an intermediary between angels and the people. Second, she had the dignity or rank of an angel insofar as she looked upon Christ, on whom the angels desire to look. Third, she had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord’s resurrection to the disciples. Thus, just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life.” (2519)

Aquinas affords a triple dignity to Mary Magdalene, the first disciple to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus Christ: she is a prophetess, an angelic messenger, and an apostolic figure. As a witness to the resurrection and as a bearer of the glad tidings from the resurrected Christ, Mary is portrayed by St. John as an apostle commissioned by Jesus himself to the apostles. It should not surprise us that the Common Doctor picks up on this archetypal role filled by the Magdalene.

On this universal feast of the Church, let us give thanks to God for the evangelical witness of St. Mary Magdalene who “first announce[d] the words of life,” and for our indebtedness to St. Thomas Aquinas for naming her “apostle to the apostles.”

With thanks to Rev. John Ubel for the inspiration for this post.