mercredi, juillet 22, 2009

Saint Mary Magdalene and Provence

Excerpt from the work of Father Henri Lacordaire, O.P.
"Sainte Marie-Madeleine"

Jesus is no longer of this world in visible form. He has left the Apostles, his Mother, his personal friends, but in providing to each of them a life and a death that He had predestined. St. Peter dies in Rome the same mode of death as his Master; all of the Apostles confirm their faith by martyrdom. St. John, himself, is not entirely spared; he suffers in Rome, in front of the Latin Gate, a painful process of torture, and only escapes death by conserving the glory of a willing martyrdom. However, it is clear that the Saviour watches over him with the memory of the special affection he bore him; escaping from the ordeal by a miracle, and from exile by the overthrow of a hated tyrant, he prolongs his days into an old age which attracts the attention of the entire Church, and which allows him to render to the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the last and most sublime of the Gospels, an irrefutable testimony. He belongs to him also, by a privilege unique in the New Testament, to see prophetically the future of the Church, and he dictates the revelation under a form which will enlighten one day and fortify, in their tribulation, in the Elect of the end of time. He dies after that, wrapped in peace and only knowing how to repeat to Christians these words fallen from the mouth of Jesus Christ: "My children, love one another."

The Mother of Jesus does not survive by so many years the Resurrection and the Ascension of her beloved Son. She feels herself borne towards Him by an aspiration that unbinds in the depths of her soul everything which held it captive, and from his tomb, visited by him, she mounts to the throne from where she reigns for ever over the angels and over mankind saved by the fruit of her womb.

The Sainte-Baume Mountain

Like the Mother of God and like St. John, Mary Magdalene will not finish her days by martyrdom. She will also live in the tranquil benediction of her love. She will live at the feet of the vanished Christ, as she lived in Bethany and in Calvary, a lover accustomed to the delights of contemplation, and having no other need but to look with her soul at the One whom she looked upon in other times through the transparent veil of mortal flesh. But what famous or obscure havens will have been prepared for her? Where will she hide the blessed remainder of her existence? Are they to be the deserts of the East, the river banks of the Jordan, Mt. Sion, the field after the harvest of Nazareth or of Bethlehem, which will be the last witnesses of her inaccessible charity? Jesus Christ bequeathed his Mother to Jerusalem, St. Peter to Rome, St. John to Asia --- to whom will he have bequeathed Mary Magdalene?

We know already, it is France who received from the hands of God this part of the Testament of His Son. Tradition, history, the monuments tell it to us clearly, and Providence has taken care to give to their testimony an invincible clarity. One cannot bring one's feet down on the soil of Provence without encountering at each step the memory of St. Mary Magdalene. Everywhere present, she does not live there under the form of an isolated accident; she is linked to the soil by the fact which holds the first place in the history of all Christian people, by the great events of their conversion and nothing doubtless ought to have perpetuated more obstinately in the memory of a race and of a country, than this change brought to its beliefs and customs by a new cult, proscribed, and triumphant by dint of its own virtue. In addition, there is no Christian nation which has not kept the memory of its first Apostles, which has not honored their tombs, built churches in their name, invoked their help, and which does not laugh at the vain reasonings of a blind science against this popular and all-powerful tradition. Provence was not a barbarous grouping of an insignificant people when Christianity appeared there; it was since more than a century a Roman province. It had received from its masters all the culture of Rome, and from its origin all that of Greece. It was connected by Marseilles to all the seaports of the Mediterranean, and untiring vessels conveyed to it from then on the tribute of the furthest shores. When, then, the first sound of the Gospels struck its ears, it could not be in error about those who were bringing to it from the East this great revelation. It knew them, judged them, and, converted by them to the new law, their names were sacred to them as no name had been for them until that moment. Who could doubt it? Who does not see that a people, above all when it is a question of its religion, has a more reliable memory than that of a man, and that age, instead of altering it, renews it without ceasing? That which is engraved on the altar by worship and in the heart by prayer, lasts longer than marble and than bronze, and the kings who have only history to live by have assuredly less than the soul of generations gives to their apostles.

From whom then does Provence date its faith? To whom does it give thanks, after nineteen centuries, for having received, on the day after the proclamation of the Gospels, a ray of the light that had just risen over the deep shadows of humankind? It gives thanks to this illustrious family of Bethany which had had Jesus Christ as a guest and as friend to Lazarus, to Martha, to Mary Magdalene and to their companions Trophime and Maximin. These are the names that the sons have learned from their fathers, and which the fathers have received from the knowledge of their ancestors. Marseilles wishes that St. Lazarus had been its first bishop; Aix attributes this glory to St. Maximin, Arles to St. Trophime; Avignon and Tarascon name St. Martha as the apostle who delivered them from error; and St. Mary Magdalene, united to all by a memory which is supported by this which goes beyond it, hovers over the whole Church of Provence, like the sovereign of the apostolate which established it.

The monuments respond to the acclamation of the centuries. It is in vain that the barbarians have covered Provence with their fleets; it is in vain that, renewing their ferocity once it was appeased, the Saracens have added to the ruins already there long and terrible scimitar blows: those ruins, already consummated twice, have not been able to prevail against the monuments that the people and Providence have destined to perpetuate the memory of the holy founder of the Church of Provence. Marseilles still sees, in the cavern of the ancient abbey of St. Victor, the crypt where there assembled under St. Lazarus the first Christians which it had formed for God, and where rested the very body of its first bishop, right up to the day when he was plucked away from the ravages of the followers of Islam by a translation with which the Church of Autun was endowed. Tarascon venerates the tomb where the relics of St. Martha are enclosed, where it keeps them still, and of which the mark, stronger than time, enables the pilgrim to recognize, despite its mutilation, the very living scene of the resurrection of Lazarus. Two other tombs, still more famous, two tombs reunited in the same crypt by a fraternal piety, recall to the traveler that St. Magdalene lay there opposite St. Maximin, and the name even of St. Maximin, given to the spot when this double and unique burial took place, testified to the impression which it produced in the people -- an impression that has never been extinguished. It is there that St. Mary Magdalene ended her pilgrimage; it is there that St. Maximin buried her in an alabaster sepulchre, in memory of that other alabaster where the saint had twice enclosed the ointment with which she anointed the Savior; it is there that St.Maximin himself wanted his mortal remains to be deposited, beside those other remains so dear to his heart, to Jesus Christ, to the angels, and to mankind and where they came in quest of it -- a veneration that will soon be twenty centuries old.

The tomb of St. Maximin stands for the apostolic mission that was given to him by Jesus Christ. That of St. Magdalene retains the trace of the various characteristics of the life of the Son of God, and on a frieze that the piety of the faithful has more than mutilated, one could see at one time, according to venerable and reliable testimonies, the ointment that she poured on her beloved Master.
All of these tombs, linked together by the divine relationships of Time, of people and of sanctity, convey the impression of the first period of Christianity. One recognizes first of all the Roman form, and this unusual mixture of Christian subjects with the symbols of idolatry, that was familiar to this epoch. There is no archaeologist who has not been struck by it, and the avowals of the least credulous have confirmed people in the respect they attach to these old and faithful witnesses.

They are not the only ones. The liturgy of a multitude of churches is in accord with them and with the tradition, and finally history itself, supporting tradition, the monuments and the liturgy, has put the seal of a final demonstration on all these certainties. For a long time it was believed that the pen of no classical writer had touched upon the life of St. Mary Magdalene and engraved the important events of her life into the solid block of history. Against the belief of people through the ages, the mute language of marble, the feasts and lessons of the Church, the chain of all this proof -- was opposed the primitive and continuous silence of human writings. It was asked where was the history of St. Magdalene and if before the 11th or 12th century there had been found in the libraries of Europe any trace of a biography consecrated to a woman who ought so naturally to have seduced the heart and to have inspired the genius of saints. At Oxford, in one of the 24 colleges of this famous university, a college still dedicated today to St. Mary Magdalene, pious hands have discovered a manuscript bearing the name of Raban-Maur, Archbishop of Mainz at the beginning of the ninth century, and containing the life of St. Martha and of St. Mary Magdalene. The authenticity of this manuscript has been confirmed by the collection of letters that in the archaeological world inspire confidence in the date of the book, its authenticity and its integrity.

We will not enter into these details, which are to be found elsewhere, and we will limit ourselves to saying that Raban-Maur was, in the 9th century, by his knowledge, his piety, his influence, his renown and his dignities, one of the most considerable men of his time. Abbot of Fuld for 20 years, then retired voluntarily, by the resignation of this office, into a deep solitude, then called despite himself to the archbishopric of Mainz, he shines out in his century by everything that can recommend him to posterity, the exactitude and sincerity of a historian. His biography of St. Martha and of St. Mary Magdalene is sober, he follows the Gospels step by step, and when the Gospel vanishes with the ascension of our Savior, he draws on writings that he declares to be ancient and to have been the foundation of his account.
And, moreover, these ancient writings have been rediscovered as have his own; they have been unearthed in the public libraries of Paris: pages all the more precious and venerated in that in comparing them to the history of Raban-Maur, one recognizes them almost word for word. They are of the kind, according to the testimony of the Archbishop of Mainz, that are well before the ninth century, since he calls them ancient, and they are in effect, in their naturalness and their brevity, of the taste of a century that had not yet known, with regard to saints, the vain amplifications of a false rhetoric. They are thought to be of the fifth and sixth centuries, that is to say from an epoch where all the monuments of St. Magdalene's apostolate and of her companions in Provence were still young, where the invasion of the barbarians and that of the Saracens had not yet destroyed the very names of our churches, from which, as a consequence, it had been easy to draw, in order to write them, annals true and certain.

Scenic view from the grotto of Saint Mary Magdelene that she could contemplate every day

It is thus that time, instead of weakening the glory of St. Mary Magdalene, has prepared for her resurrection. What is happening today for the Christian Bible, whose veracity has been confirmed by the same lapse of time, has happened also for the Bible of St. Mary Magdalene. A deeper science has reclothed the tradition in a more vivid light, and, taking up henceforth the life of our dear and illustrious saint at the empty sepulchre of the Savior, we can follow its course in this blessed land of Provence.

Today there is a little Dominican community that takes care of the grotto of Saint Mary Madgelene. Find more information and beautiful pictures on their website:

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