Imagine a Catholic Church where the name of Mary Magdalene immediately evokes images -- not of a repentant prostitute -- but of the first witness to the Resurrection, joyfully announcing the Good News to the Apostles and friends of Jesus.
Imagine a Catholic education system where artistic representations of Mary Magdalene as “Apostle to the Apostles” are just as ubiquitous as representations of the male apostles.
Imagine what it would mean for young girls in Catholic schools, for young women in Catholic universities, and for men studying to be priests to be deeply aquainted with the images of Mary Magdalene as “Apostle to the Apostles.”
Now imagine the lives you could change, the Church you could enrich through art!
Mary of Magdala was not a prostitute -- but the first witness to the Resurrection, joyfully announcing the Good News to the Apostles and friends of Jesus.
Since the beginning, Christian artists have created images that reflected and reinforced commonly held understandings of Christian ideals and Christian figures beginning with relatively primitive art forms to increasingly ornate renderings. Today, art continues to play a major role in informing our contemporary understanding of the message, meaning, and figures we embrace as saints and models for carrying out the mission of the Gospel.
Mary of Magdala may be the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity. In Christian art and hagiography, she has been romanticized, allegorized, and mythologized beyond recognition. Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner who, after encountering Jesus, repented and spent the rest of her life in private prayer and penitence. Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful and sinful. Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art. Indeed, she was the first to receive and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection. “She was one of Jesus’ most influencial apostles,” according to scholar Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. (https://news.fordham.edu/living-the-mission/truth-about-mary-magdalene-could-open-doors-for-women-in-the-church/)
Over 20 years ago, FutureChurch began encouraging Catholics to hold Mary of Magdala Celebrations as a way of recovering her authentic memory. As FutureChurch co-founder, Sr. Chris Schenk, CSJ, noted, “Perhaps the most important aspect of retriieving the historical memory of St. Mary of Magdala’s leadership is that contemporary believers who are women, can for the first time, see themselves in the Gospel stories and in early Church history.” (https://www.futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/mary-of-magdala/mary-of-magdala-great-apostle)
Since those beginnings, there has been progress. Awareness that the history of women, and particularly, the history of Mary Magdala had been suppressed has grown. As a result that that evolving awareness, in 2016, Pope Francis elevated the liturgical celebration of Mary of Magdala from a memorial to a feast day. Both the decree announcing the change and the preface written for the new feast were entitled “Apostle of the Apostles,” a title used by early Christian writers.The letter accompanying the decree states, “St. Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization, that is, an evangelizer who proclaims the joyful central message of Easter.” It concludes, “Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same level of festivity given to the apostles in the General Roman Calendar...” The elevation helps correct both oral and artistic traditions that obscured Mary of Magdala’s true role in the gospels and deprived generations upon generations of Catholic women and men of her “example of true and authentic evangelization.”
Still, most Catholics, including many who are ordained, still imagine St. Mary Magdalene as the repentant prostitute.
During our “Feeding Five Thousand Campaign” FutureChurch willl produce high quality posters (18 x 12) of St. Mary of Magdala Proclaims the Resurrection by artist Margaret Beaudette, S.C., package them with a cover letter explaining the significance of the art from our biblical expert and a copy of Pope Francis’s decree, “Apostle of the Apostles,” and send them to five thousand Catholic schools, universities, and seminaries.
To start we will mail postcards first to alert the schools to the mailing.
Then we will send the posters to 5000 Catholic schools.
We will follow up with a survey asking recipients how they displayed the art and what response they have had.
This exciting project is the first of its kind effort to make the art of St. Mary of Magdala as “Apostle to the Apostles” widely available for Catholic studeents of all ages.
Please support this effort!
And THANK YOU for your commitment and support for women in leadership in the Catholic Church.