Saturday 24 July 2010

St Mary Magdalen and Altar Servers

“Three saints," said our Lord to St. Bridget of Sweden, "have been more pleasing to me than all others: Mary my mother, John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalen.” The Fathers tell us that Magdalen is a type of the Gentile Church called from the depths of sin to perfect holiness; and indeed, better than any other, she personifies both the wanderings and the love of the human race, espoused by the word of God.

Dom Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, entry for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen, 22nd July.

"When he was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard: and breaking the alabaster box, she poured it out upon his head. Now there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said: Why was this waste of the ointment made? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her. But Jesus said: Let her alone, why do you molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come beforehand to anoint my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memorial of her.”
Gospel of St Mark 14:3-9

St Mary Magdalen deserves a high place of respect among the female saints to be revered by altar servers. As the words of the Gospel make clear, she served Him in person, with great attentiveness, in the days before His Passion and death. She served Him with great love, with great penitence, and with deep devotion. She did not spare cost, but offered up the alabaster box and the precious ointment - worth almost a year's wages to a labourer - to show honour to Our Lord. Some of the bystanders - including the apostle Judas Iscariot - were scandalized by this devotion, and Judas immediately after went to the Chief Priests, to betray Our Lord for silver.
Altar servers must also serve Our Lord with attentiveness, penitence, love and deep devotion. In this, we may imitate St Mary Magdalen. It is also a fact that there are many in the world today - including apostolic men who are called to know better - who are scandalized by the love and attention shown to Our Lord in the traditional liturgy of the Church. Like their predecessor, they are more concerned with worldly matters - feeding the poor, reforming society, the good opinion of the World - than with the service of Our Lord. Thus, despite their good intentions, they miss the point, and betray Our Lord.
The good altar server will do the opposite of these modern day Judases, and imitate St Mary Magdalen. Let us by unsparing in our attention to the service of Our Lord. Let us give Him the best we can offer. As altar servers, let us be "fidelis usque ad mortem" and commit ourselves to the service of our Eucharistic Lord all the days of our life.
Here is a prayer before Communion, which is easily memorized, and expresses well the dispositions we should have before approaching the Sacrament. It recognizes that we cannot, of ourselves, make ourselves worthy to receive Our Lord - only His grace can do that. We also need the intercession of the saints, especially His Blessed Mother, to enable us to approach the Sacrament without shame.
"Oh Lord, may I receive Thee in Holy Communion with the purity, humility, and devotion with which Thy Blessed Mother did receive Thee; with the penitence and love with which Holy Magdalen did receive Thee; and with the spirit and fervour of all the saints."
Finally, here is the Office hymn to St Mary Magdalen, written for the Roman Breviary by St Robert Bellarmine in the early 17th century, and translated by the Oratorian Fr Edward Caswall:

Father of lights, one glance of Thine,
Whose eyes the universe control,
Fills Magdalen with holy love,
And melts the ice within her soul.

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

Impassioned to the Cross she clings,
Nor fears beside the tomb to stay;
Naught of the ruffian guard she recks,
For love has cast all fear away.

O Christ, Thou very love itself,
Blest hope of man through Thee forgiven,
So touch our spirits from above,
So purify our souls for heaven.

To God the Father, with the Son,
And Holy Paraclete, with Thee,
As evermore hath been before,
Be glory through eternity.

1 comment:

  1. A splendidly inspiring post !

    May we all emulate S. Mary Magdalen in her bottomless generosity of spirit, and her absolute devotion to Our Blessed Lord . . . and if He says to us, too, 'Noli Me tangere', let us realize that this is only to prevent us clinging to His earthly form, that we may not be delayed in joining Him in His heavenly kingdom.