Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saint Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, sometimes called the "apostle to the apostles" because she was the first witness to Jesus' resurrection on Easter morning, is commemorated on some church calendars today. As I've written before, some of the other New Testament stories which supposedly feature Mary are now thought perhaps to be stories of other women.

It was Pope
Gregory the Great in the sixth century who declared Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (Martha's sister) and the penitent woman who washed the feet of Jesus to be the same person, and it was not until the twentieth century that Western religions separated those women and their stories (1969 for the Roman Catholic Church). During all that time, Mary Magdalene was frequently portrayed in art and literature carrying the jar of perfume that was used to anoint Jesus' feet in the story from Luke 7:36-50. This hymn for the day also puts her in that story.

When Mary, moved by grateful love,
The precious ointment poured
Upon the head and feet of him
She owned as Christ and Lord,
The odor of the costly gift
Pervaded all the room;
How grateful to the sense it seemed --
How sweet the rich perfume.

An off'ring similar I bring
In thanks and praise to thee
My heart's devoted love is all,
O Christ, accept of me
This gift, and may its fragrance rise
As incense to thy throne
And seal me with thy gracious hand
To work for thee, thine own.

Mrs. R. F. Williams, 1884; alt.
Clement W. Poole, 1875

This hymn text appeared in Women in Sacred Song (1889), a two-volume collection of hymn and song texts and tunes written by women and compiled by Eva Munson Smith, and I'm not sure if it appeared anywhere else. There were many more texts than tunes in Smith's collection, and this one was printed without music. Unfortunately, not much more can probably be determined about the author, not even her own first name, as the initials probably belonged to Mr. Williams.

P.S. The painting above is by the seventeenth-century Florentine artist Carlo Dolci.

***UPDATE***  This hymn with words and music together is now posted on Facebook (but with a different, more familiar tune).  Go to "Conjubilant W. Song" and click on "Photos" -- it's in the Downloadable Hymns section.

Two Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

One Year Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott


AuntE said...

I like the words of this hymn, CWS. For some reason, hymns that speak of giving one's self to Christ, as that is all we really have to give, always resonate with me. Inwardly, if not outwardly, I say a hearty "Amen!"

C.W.S. said...

Yes, even if modern scholars no longer think that this woman was Mary Magdalene, the theme of the hymn is certainly still valid. A better-known example would be Christina Rossetti's In the bleak midwinter.