It is to be noted in the midst of these Paschal joys that St. Mary Magdalene was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection of the Savior. She attained to this great grace by persevering in prayerful and selfless penance and charity at the foot of the Cross, under the tutelage and mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom she valiantly stood on that first Good Friday together with the beloved Apostle and Evangelist St. John and the other holy women.
The faithful of times past did not overlook the admirable design of Providence that decreed that the great Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the Word Incarnate, and the great Penitent of the Gospels should share the same name. Hence, in the Dominican Breviary we find the following Responsory:
R. Let us praise the work of God in Mary, Mother and Virgin, but also in Mary, sinner but penitent: * This Mary is given as a mirror of innocency, whilst this Mary is given as an example of penitence. V. That we may confess to Thy holy Name, and may glory in Thy praise, * That Mary is given as a mirror of innocency, whilst this Mary is given as an example of penitence. (v. Responsory, Brev. O. Præd.)
The conversion of the holy Magdalene is depicted in a curious and dramatic manner in the Premonstratensian Breviary (22 July):
R. The Leviathan’s jaw hath been pierced through as a ring, through whose aperture thou hast been drawn away, O Mary: do thou therefore help us, that, having fallen therein in sinning, we may merit to be drawn away from thence in imitating thee * Repenting. V. May the Divine Mercy, with thee interceding for us, may not only forbid us to go into the Leviathan’s mouth, but also may grant us to return from its mouth * Repenting. (ix. Responsory, Brev. O. Præm.)
The holy Magdalene's conversion is here vividly depicted as a rescue from the belly of the monstrous Leviathan, an allusion to the following passage of Holy Writ: "Canst thou draw out the Leviathan with a hook, and with a rope shalt thou tie his tongue? Shalt thou put a ring in his nostrils, or bore through his jaw with a buckle?" (Job ch. xl. 20, 21). Rev. Father Gregory Martin, in a marginal note to this passage in the Douay Old Testament, explains that the Leviathan is a “huge great fish, perhaps the whale, exceeding man’s power to be managed, yet it is subject, as also the devil signified thereby, to God’s power and providence.” In the Prophecy of Isaias, the Incarnate Word is foreshown as a mighty Conqueror who shall slay the monster: "In that day our Lord will visit with His sore, and great, and strong sword upon Leviathan and the serpent, the bar, and upon Leviathan the crooked serpent, and shall kill the whale that is in the sea" (ch. xxvii. 1).
Thus, in the Premonstratensian Responsory cited above, St. Mary Magdalene is represented as having been rescued from the wounded Leviathan, that is to say, from the devil overcome by Christ, the Divine Victor risen gloriously from the dead. The Responsory also reminds us that we are ever in danger of being devoured by the monster on account of fallen nature, but if we imitate the holy Magdalene's penitence and charity, we too may be freed from the Leviathan, "who as a roaring lion goeth about, seeking whom he may devour" (I S. Peter ch. v.
. But this is a gratuitous gift of God's infinite clemency, and it behooves us to seek such a grace by prayer, particularly in imploring the holy Penitent's intercession.
The infernal Leviathan can only swallow us up if we surrender ourselves to it, in the horrible magnitude of our malice and turpitude. Yet we too, if we should ever have the misfortune to lose Our Lord by our unhappy fault, can find Him yet again by penance and charity in this life, and by final perseverance we can find Him once more in that perpetual and unspeakable vision that constitutes the eternal bliss of the Angels and the elect. Hence the beautiful collect to be found in the Dominican and Norbertine Breviaries for St. Mary Magdalene's Office:
Grant unto us, O most clement Father, that as blessed Mary Magdalene in loving our Lord Jesus Christ above all things hath obtained the forgiveness of all her sins, so also before Thy mercy may she beseech for us everlasting beatitude. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
As Paschaltide continues its course, let us not forget to utter a prayer to the great Penitent who merited the grace of beholding the Risen Lord before the other disciples and before the Apostles themselves. Whilst they doubted and fled in the Garden, and all but one stood by the Cross, never did she abandon her beloved Jesus. Like the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph seeking anxiously and joyously finding the lost Infant at Jerusalem, she too sought Our Lord on that sacred Easter morning and found Him to her great joy.