Academic journal article Magistra

The Disappearance of the Feast of Mary Magdalene from the Anglican Liturgy

Academic journal article Magistra

The Disappearance of the Feast of Mary Magdalene from the Anglican Liturgy

Article excerpt

he 1549 Book of Common Prayer included a feast of Mary Magdalene with its own collect, two scripture lessons, and introit psalm. In contrast, the book had no such feast and Mary Magdalene disappeared from the Anglican liturgy for some 400 years. One must ask why a feast of Mary Magdalene was omitted from the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. This was not explained at the time, nor have later Anglican commentators shed much light on this question.

This study begins with a brief consideration of the feast of Mary Magdalene in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, followed by a survey of the circumstances surrounding its disappearance in 1552. The identity of Mary Magdalene will be studied next, for the woman who disappeared in 1552 is not quite the same person as the woman known by that name today. Finally, several possible reasons for the decision to remove the feast of Mary Magdalene from the prayer book will be suggested; however, there is no definitive proof in this regard.

To put this liturgical feast in some historical context, it may be noted that by the mid-sixteenth century, the feast of Mary Magdalene had been known and celebrated in England for over eight centuries. Thus it was included in the martyrology of Bede (ca. 731), the Old English martyrology (ca. 850-900), and in eight of nineteen liturgical calendars published by Wormald and dated before 1100. It is found in all 18 calendars dated after 1100 that Wormald published.2

Mary Magdalene in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

The feast of Mary Magdalene in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer may first be considered in the context of the liturgical calendar of that book as a whole. This calendar was substantially briefer than that of the preceding medieval Sarum calendar. It included the christological feasts of Christmas, Purification, Annunciation, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost; Mary the mother of Jesus was visible only within this framework. In addition, there were feasts of the apostles and evangelists and a few other biblical men such as John the Baptist, Stephen, the Innocents, plus the archangel Michael. Finally, the calendar included one feast of a biblical woman, Mary Magdalene. No post-biblical saints, male or female, were included.

So far as the specific content of the liturgical feast of Mary Magdalene is concerned, the two scriptural lessons or readings were exactly the same as in the medieval Sarum liturgy: Proverbs 31:10-31 (the capable wife) and Luke 7:36-50 (the penitent woman). Psalm 146 was printed prior to the readings as an introit.

The collect was newly composed, and is substantially different from that used previously. These texts are given here:

Grant unto us, most merciful Father,

that like as blessed Mary Magdalene

by loving thy Only-begotten One above all things,

obtained pardon of all her sins,

so she may secure for us everlasting blessedness in thy

compassionate presence.

Through etc.3

Merciful father geue us grace,

that we neuer presume to synne through the example of

anye creature, but if it shall chaunce vs at any tyme to

offende thy dyuine maiestie: that then we maye truly

repent, and lament the same,

after the example of Mary Magdalene,

and by lyuelye faythe obtayne remission of all oure

sinnes: throughe the onely mérités of thy sonne oure

sauiour Christ.4

The medieval collect would have been problematic for Anglicans on the basis of reformed views of the intercession of saints and the sole mediatorship of Christ. These issues, therefore, were recognized and corrected in the 1549 collect; they should not have constituted difficulties when the prayer book was revised in 1552.

The Disappearance of Mary Magdalene in 1552

There is only one difference between the liturgical calendars of the 1549 and 1552 editions of the Book of Common Prayer. the feast of Mary Magdalene. The numerous feasts of biblical men remained unchanged. …

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