Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saint Mary Magdalene

I have written before about Mary Magdalene on the occasion of her feast day today (as usual, you can check the links below), and about the scholarly confusion that has ensued over the years over just which "Mary" we're reading about at various points in the Gospels.

Not everyone agrees that the woman in Luke 7:36-38 is Mary Magdalene, though she often has been depicted as that woman in art and literature, as well as in today's hymn.  However, I decided to use this hymn text because it does go on to recount her witness to Jesus' crucifixion (when most of the disciples were in hiding).  And then I couldn't resist an addition of my own: a stanza honoring her role as "apostle to the apostles" on Easter morning.  This is an ancient concept which seems to have been (mostly) forgotten for a few centuries but is more often recognized in modern hymnody about Mary Magdalene.

The original Latin text was written by Cardinal Bellamine, probably in the fourteenth century, and used as an office hymn for this day ever since.  It begins:

Pater superni luminis,
Cum Magdalenam respicis, 
Flammas amoris excitas, 
Geluque solvis pectoris.

The English translation, constructed in the same meter by Edward Caswall (whose birthday I missed last week) may have first appeared in Lyra Catholica (1851), a prominent book of ancient Latin texts translated into English.

Creator blest! one glance of thine,
Whose eyes the Universe control,
Fills Magdalene with holy love,
And melts the ice within her soul.

Her precious ointment forth she brings,
Upon Christ's sacred feet to pour;
She washes them with humble tears;
And with her hair she wipes them o'er.

Impassioned to the Cross she clings:
Nor fears beside the tomb to stay;
Nought for its ruffian guard she cares,
For love has cast all fear away.

The morning breaks: He calls her name,
The pow'rs of death could not prevail; 
She hastes to tell the fearful twelve,
First to proclaim the glorious tale.

O Christ, thou very Love itself!
Blest hope of earth, through thee forgiv'n!
So touch our spirits from above,
That we may rise to thee in heav'n.

Riccardo Bellarmine, ca. 14th cent.;
tr: Edward Caswall, 1851; alt. (st. 4 C.W.S.)
Tune: PIXHAM (L.M.)
Horatio W. Parker, 1901

If you don't think that the ancient office hymns should be disturbed, feel free to leave out the fourth stanza, but it seems to me that the Cardinal could have included the idea.  However, for many years the primary educational value of Mary Magdalene was considered to be the story of the reformation of a "fallen woman."

P.S. - The statue above is South German in origin, by an unknown fifteenth-century artist, and currently in the collection of The Cloisters, a renowned museum in New York City.  It caught my eye because one of the stained glass windows in my church (depicting the Presentation) is also from the fifteenth century and was supposedly loaned to and on display at The Cloisters for several years in the 1930s and/or 40s.

Four Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Three Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott

Two Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

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