A Book of Hours dedicated to Mary Magdalene
compiled as part of a bygone seminary project!
It is impossible to reconstruct from the few, brief references that we have in our scriptures, a biography or character of Mary Magdalene. All that we know for certain from these sources is that she was a follower of Jesus, and that she witnessed both the crucifixion and the resurrection event. She is mentioned in all four gospels, and finds the empty tomb in all four, although only in John does she actually see Jesus close to it. It seems likely, also, that she was at least among the first to speak the news of the resurrection to the community of Jesus’ followers, Mark 16:8 notwithstanding, although there is uncertainty as to how her news was received (Luke 24: 10-11).
Nevertheless, the character of Mary Magdalene has been the source of fascination for Christians throughout the centuries. From the few verses that we have about her in the Bible, a wealth of traditions and legends have developed. Some come from the conflation of Mary Magdalene with other women of the Bible, such as Mary of Bethany, who anointed Jesus for his death after he had raised her brother Lazarus from his own death, and the unnamed women of Mark and Luke’s gospels who likewise anoint Jesus, either predicting his burial or repenting of her own sins and offering her love and devotion. Indeed, after Pope Gregory the Great announced in a homily that these women were, in fact, one and the same Mary Magdalene, this conflation became accepted as fact,[i] even to the extent that when a sixteenth century scholar, Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, dared to venture the opinion that these were separate women, he was found guilty of heresy.[ii]
The identification of Mary Magdalene with the penitent woman of Luke’s gospel, in particular, set the groundwork for her translation from the “Apostle to the apostles” to a notorious prostitute. Thus, one of the strongest women’s voices in the gospels is effectively silenced. The association of the apostle with sin and sex was an impediment to the advancement of women’s ministries in the church for many centuries, and persists in some ways today, although from at least the seventeenth century, women such as Margaret Fell Fox were beginning to reclaim Mary and all of these women as examples of women receiving a commission to serve Christ and to preach the gospel from Jesus himself.[iii]
… The devotions that follow join more recent attempts to redress the impact of legend and innuendo by honouring the example of discipleship found in the biblical Mary Magdalene.[ix] They follow loosely the traditional structure of the liturgy of the hours, an ancient tradition of Jewish and Christian religious life which marks out secular time and offers it to God.[x] Seven times in a period of twenty-four hours, prayer, psalmody, and scriptural readings are offered.[xi] Each hour has its own focus, whether penitence, praise or the communion of saints, but each is centered on a reading of scripture which helps to relate the story of Mary Magdalene. The hope is that the story of the biblical Mary and her life with Christ will prove to be a sufficient inspiration to prayer and proclamation, without the embellishments of legend.
These prayers are particularly suitable for use beginning on July 21st, culminating on the morning of Mary’s own feast day on July 22nd, with the climax of her biblical narrative, as she becomes the first apostle of the Resurrected Lord.
A Book of Hours dedicated to Mary Magdalene
(see Resources, below)
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the LORD be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
Reading Mark 3: 34-35
And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Prayers may be offered for ourselves and others.
The Lord’s Prayer
O God, by whose grace your servant Mary Magdalene, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Throughout his gospel ministry, Jesus was radical in his treatment of women as equal in dignity to men, and equally deserving of access to his teaching, healing and loving forgiveness. This passage follows the attempt of his family to restrain his eccentricity, and can be read as a rejection of them; but it can also be read instead as a radical inclusion of all of his followers in his intimate love and care. In it, Jesus makes clear that his female as much as his male disciples are a part of his new “family.” Its challenge to us may be the inclusion and respect for those who are different from ourselves, who are marginalized in our communities and our hearts, whom we fail to see as “sister,” “brother,” or fellow child of God.
The Emergent Psalter says of Psalm 113: “Psalms 113-119 are … prayed as part of the Passover meal, with Psalms 113 and 114 said before the meal and Psalms 115-119 said afterward. There’s a good chance that Jesus sang this psalm at the Last Supper.”[xii] As our story moves toward the crucifixion following this hour, the Psalm is particularly appropriate to open our devotions.
The Collect, for a Saint, and particularly a Monastic, reflects the monastic tradition which we honour with these liturgical hours, and calls us to walk as “children of light,” inspired by Mary’s example.
Psalm 22: 1-5
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; by night as well, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forefathers put their trust in you; they trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were delivered; they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
Reading Mark 15: 37, 40-41
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger, and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
Prayers may be offered for ourselves and others. Prayers for the dead and those who mourn are especially appropriate.
The Lord’s Prayer
Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In all but John’s gospel, where the beloved disciple stands at the side of Jesus’ mother, it is the women who watch the crucifixion. The men, afraid, confused, perhaps feeling forsaken themselves, have hidden themselves away. The women wait.
Whether it is a birth or a death, or a giving in marriage, women seem to be the ones appointed to attend life’s milestones and markers; and just as a mother in labour cannot run away from her pain, her fear, her confusion, when it comes to the end of life, these women cannot turn away. They will not forsake Jesus even when he thinks that even God might.
The Psalm used at this hour speaks of hope gleaned from the story of God’s faithfulness to the ancestors of Israel. The Collect speaks of courage in the face of adversity. As a long day wears on, or a task seems endless, or a relationship hopeless, may we at this hour find inspiration in the rebellious persistence of these women at Jesus’ side, who refused to look away even from death, and may God grant us the courage and strength to persevere in whatever we have to face this day and beyond.
O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
Reading Mark 15: 46-47
Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Prayers for ourselves and others may be offered at this time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of the bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
At this dark hour, as evening falls, those of Jesus’ disciples who are able continue to offer their love and support. Some cannot bear to be there. Some are afraid of the authorities. But some remain, even in the valley of the shadow of death, to offer what comfort they may. Joseph of Arimathea did what he could to honor Jesus. Mary and the other women still watched, waiting for what would come next.
This hour, as evening falls and the day is done, is often the time when families come together to talk about the ups and downs of their day; when communities meet to pray the Evening Office, and when the lonely watch the setting of the sun with resignation or dismay.
As we pray this hour for a light to guide us into the darkness, may we remember all who are in sorrow, grief, sickness, or any other kind of trouble. May we offer what comfort we may, even if it means venturing into that shadowed valley with someone. May we remember to give thanks for those who have walked that path with us.
Following the usage of the Book of Common Prayer, the ancient evening hymn, Phos Hilaron, is sung or said in place of a Psalm at this hour.
At the Close of Day
Psalm 119: 25-32
My soul cleaves to the dust; give me life according to your word.
I have confessed my ways, and you answered me; instruct me in your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your commandments, that I may meditate on your marvelous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
Take from me the way of lying; let me find grace through your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set your judgments before me.
I hold fast to your decrees; O Lord, let me not be put to shame.
I will run the way of your commandments, for you have set my heart at liberty.
Reading Matthew 5: 43-45
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Prayers may be offered for ourselves and others. It is appropriate for thanksgivings for the blessings of the day and penitence for its sins be offered at this time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the scriptural reading for this hour, traditionally the time for an assessment of the day and repentance for its sins; but the story of Mary Magdalene became intricately wound up in themes of sin and repentance from the early centuries of Christianity on. As we saw in the introduction to these devotions, much of this had to do with mistaken identity: she was thought to be the “sinner of the city” of Luke’s gospel, or perhaps the woman caught in adultery. Her name was besmirched by scandal, and her status changed from a real human being to a symbol of wanton femininity and extremes of penitence.
Mary Magdalene was certainly a sinner; we all are. She also certainly suffered in name from the patriarchal structures which sinfully oppressed women in the centuries after her story began. As we contemplate our own part in perpetuating sinful structures, by acknowledging, in the words of the confession offered below, the sin done on our behalf, and as we forgive those who have had a hand in oppressing us, may we by God’s grace find new ways of repentance which change those structures and attitudes, and restore and reconcile us to right relationship with God and with one another.
A suggested form of confession*
God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives.
We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.
Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
Psalm 103: 1-5
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities;
He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
Reading Luke 8: 1-3
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cure of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Prayers may be offered for ourselves and others at this time; especially for healing, and for a peaceful night.
The Lord’s Prayer
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
The tradition that Mary Magdalene was healed or freed by Jesus from seven demons is attested to here and in the longer ending of the gospel of Mark. Many of the people whom Jesus heals in the gospels follow him out of gratitude, awe or wonder, and Mary is perhaps one of them. Healed and renewed, then, she joins with other people whom Jesus has helped to offer what assistance she may to Jesus and his other disciples, to do her part in the work of preaching the kingdom of God and the salvation of the world.
Later tradition sometimes interpreted the demons as the seven deadly sins, but it is more usual in the gospels to view demons as tormentors of their innocent victims, who once healed and restored are ready to serve God and God with us, Jesus.
When we are woken in the night by our own demons, whether they be physical afflictions, emotional traumas, guilt, grief or other tormentors, we may remember that the One who healed Mary is there for us to turn to in prayer. May we know God’s peace in our hearts and be restored by the night’s rest to do our own part in proclaiming the reign of God come the morning.
Psalm 27:17-18, 130:5-6
What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart;
wait patiently for the Lord.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Reading John 20: 1, 11b-12
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
Prayers for ourselves and others may be offered.
The Lord’s Prayer
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In each of the gospels, an angel, angels or persons of angelic appearance attest to the truth of the resurrection at the empty tomb,. They reassure the women that the fact that Jesus’ body is missing is, in fact, a sign of the good news of his new life. In the Hebrew scriptures angels tend to be representatives and messengers of God; in the gospels, they both announce the good news of the Incarnation and Resurrection, and they minister to Jesus in his times of trial, in his retreat to the wilderness and perhaps at his awakening after his death, after his exile in the land of the dead.
As Mary searches for Jesus, either in fear or in faith, she encounters an angel who points her towards the truth. As we await the dawning of a new day, to encounter Christ anew in those we meet and serve, may we be attentive to the messengers of God who come to us by night or by day, in dazzling white clothes or in rags. When we do not know what to make of what we see, experience or hear, may we remember the mystery of the empty tomb, and look for God’s word in and for the moment.
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
Reading John 20: 16-18
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Prayers for ourselves and others may be offered. Prayers for vocation, mission and evangelism are particularly appropriate.
The Lord’s Prayer
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
One of the following prayers may be added:
Prayer for mission
O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men and women everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for a Missionary
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Mary Magdalene, whom you called to preach the Gospel to her fellow disciples. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20, 21
The story of Mary Magdalene reaches its mysterious climax in the scene in the garden. She is weeping, wondering where Jesus might have gone, in her grief still thinking that his body might simply have been stolen, or moved. She has forgotten for a moment his promises to rise from the dead, to return to his friends. When a man speaks to her, asking her why she is crying, she thinks at first that it must be the gardener. Only when he speaks her name does she turn and recognize her beloved Lord.
There is no embrace, however, no falling weeping into his arms. Instead, Jesus has a specific task for Mary: to tell all of his followers what she has seen and heard in the garden, so that they, too, might be relieved of their grief and know the wonder of God’s salvation.
One of the Eucharistic prayers of the Book of Common Prayer asks God to, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Like Mary, we are charged not to keep this to ourselves. We who know the story of God’s radical acceptance of women, men, children, rich and poor and healthy and sick; who know the story of God’s abundant forgiveness; who know the touch of God’s healing love; who know the community and fellowship of God’s church; we are not to keep these things to ourselves. They are not provided only for our own comfort and rest but for the whole world, and now is our time to proclaim them aloud: “I have seen the Lord!” and he has done great things.
The devotions offered here follow the pattern of the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families provided in The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church, 1979
The Psalms, Collects and the Phos Hilaron are from The Book of Common Prayer.
*The “Suggested form of confession” is found in Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, The Great Litany, The Holy Eucharist: Supplemental Liturgical Materials prepared by the Standing Liturgical Commission 1997 (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 1998), 19 .
Scriptural quotations are from the NRSV.
[i]Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalene: The Essential History (London: Pimlico, 2005), 95
[ii] Haskins, 250-1
[iii] Margaret Fell Fox, Women’s Speaking Justified, 1667, included in Charlotte F. Otten, English Women’s Voices, 1540-1700 (Gainesville: Florida International University Press, 1991), 363-378
[ix] For example, her entry in the 2006 Lesser Feasts and Fasts of the Episcopal Church describes her “ministry of service and steadfast companionship, even as a witness to the crucifixion, [which] has, through the centuries, been an example of the faithful ministry of women to Christ. Lesser Feasts and Fasts (New York: Church Publishing Inc., 2006), 314; and Haskins notes that in 1969, changes were made to the Roman Calendar “as part of which, as the result of scholarly re-evaluation of her biblical persona, Mary Magdalene’s character was officially relieved of its sinful imputation.” Haskins, op cit., 388
[x] Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours: Pocket Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), vii; Robert F. Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and its Meaning for Today (Collegeville: The Order of St Benedict, Inc., 1986, 1993), 331-366, via googlebooks.com
[xi] Psalm 119: 164 “Seven times each day I praise you for the justice of your decrees,” Phyllis Tickle, op cit., dedication page
[xii] Isaac Everett, The Emergent Psalter (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2009), 217