Thursday, October 25, 2012

The real Mary Magdalen: 'Qui Mariam absolvisti'?

The Woman taken in adultery
There is a letter in last weekend's Catholic Herald by a certain Gerald Price protesting about the identification of the 'woman taken in adultery' (John 7.53 and following) with Mary Magdalen, who was 'cleansed of seven devils' in Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9, was present at the Crucifixion, and so on. The identity of the woman taken in adultery is not made explicit in John, and, the letter-writer says, is embedded in the pre-Concilar liturgy; these references were removed in the 1970 Missal, something he regards as a Good Thing.

It is actually a little more complicated than this: that Mary Magdalen was the 'woman taken in adultery' is indeed in the tradition, but the identification of Mary Magdalen with the 'sinner' who broke the alabaster jar of nard to anoint Jesus' feet is a stronger tradition, reflected in the traditional lectionary which assigns, not the Woman Taken in Adultery, but the Sinner with the Nard, as the Gospel of St Mary Magdalen's feast day.

This identification would be sufficient to explain the Dies Irae, referring to Our Lord, saying 'qui Mariam absolvisti': 'who forgave Mary'. In the unlikely event that the Dies Irae is used in the Novus Ordo (see postscript), the wording has been changed to 'who forgave the (female) sinner'. There is an interesting Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) article defending the Western tradition of exegesis which identifies Mary Magdalen with the Sinner with the Nard, and also with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is interesting to note that the feast of St Mary Magdalen in the old calendar is 22nd July, and the octave day is the feast of St Martha (29th); again this has been changed in the 1970 calendar: 29th is now the feast of 'Mary and Martha', to distinguish this Mary from the other.

The Encyclopedia doesn't mention the Woman taken in adultery, but that identification was made by St Gregory the Great in a sermon he gave 14 September 591, and it is assumed in sources such as the Golden Legend, the classic medieval collection of saint's stories compiled in the 13th Century.
The sinner who anointed Jesus' feet

Is it really a problem, for the ancient liturgy, that it reflects the historical and exegitical traditions of the Latin (and often Greek) Fathers, in ways endorsed by doctors and Popes from those times right up to 1968? Not according to the Second Vatican Council, which implicitly condemned Cardinal Bea's 1948 Latin translation of the Psalter for going back to the Hebrew original without reference to this tradition of interpretation: Sacrosantum Concilium 91 pointedly says there must be a new translation of the Psalms into Latin, which

is to take into account the style of Christian Latin, the liturgical use of psalms, also when sung, and the entire tradition of the Latin Church.

(My emphasis.) This is made even clearer, and of more general application, in Liturgiam authenticam 41, the Instruction on translation which came out in 2001:

The effort should be made to ensure that the translations be conformed to that understanding of biblical passages which has been handed down by liturgical use and by the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, especially as regards very important texts such as the Psalms and the readings used for the principal celebrations of the liturgical year; in these cases the greatest care is to be taken so that the translation express the traditional Christological, typological and spiritual sense, and manifest the unity and the inter-relatedness of the two Testaments.

Mary and Martha at Bethany
On all this, see the FIUV Position Paper on the Vulgate. Now if translation of the sacred scriptures should bend to the tradition of interpretation embedded in the liturgy, clearly those traditions of interpretation are worthy of respect, and not the rejection demanded by Mr Price in his letter.

The decision by Bugnini and his collaborators to back away from the 'entire tradition of the Latin Church' in the liturgy's references to scripture is an example, to put it mildly, of unjoined-up thinking: were the liturgical reformers really mindful of Sacrosanctam Concilium as they went about their work? Or were they just out of control? Whatever the answer, what they produced can scarcely be considered, as Mr Price would like, as having a dogmatic authority overriding that of the Council, the Council which supposedly established the principles from which they were to work.

To ask about the historical basis for this kind of tradition is of course part of the trade of biblical scholarship. But to attempt to expunge it from the liturgy, and from Catholic culture, is just vandalism. Come to that, we may ask, is Mary Magdalen rightly invoked as the great example of penitents? As opposed, say, to demoniacs. A Google image search for 'Mary Magdalen' throws up dozens of images of her with the alabaster jar, which connects the incident of washing His feet with the intended anointing of His body on the first day of the week after the Crucifixion. The jar is her standard iconographic attribute, it is part of the Catholic artistic tradition, as well as the exegitical one. Do we want future generations of Catholics to look at these pictures, and their titles, with bafflement, or to derive the edification from them that their predecessors did?

Postscript: Supporters of the 1970 Missal often like to emphasise that texts like the Dies Irae are 'still there': they can be used optionally, and it is just a sad reality that they are not chosen. But look at Bugnini's own account ('The Reform of the Liturgy', p773):

'At the same time they got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as the Libera me, Domine, the Dies irae, and others that overemphasized judgement, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging the Christian hope and giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.'

I've blogged before on Dietrich von Hildebrand's response to this kind of argument.

Postscript: in response to the question, 'Where is the Dies Irae in the OF books?' the answer is:

The Dies irae found no place in the 1969 missal. So it is not mentioned in the Ordo Cantus Missae, or the 1974 Graduale Romanum.

The new Liturgia Horaria edited by Lentini divided it up into 3 hymns, to be used in the 34th week per annum, at the Office of Readings (Dies irae...), lauds (Quid sum miser...), and vespers (Peccatricem qui solvisti). A new doxology (found in some MSS of the 15th century) was added to end each of these three hymns:

O tu, Deus maiestatis,
alme candor Trinitatis,
nos coniunge cum beatis.

So this is the form in which the Dies irae appears in the Liber Hymnarrius (Solesmes 1983).   Lentini is explicit in his commentary that he has changed 'qui Mariam absolvisti' to 'Peccatricem qui solvisti' for the reasons noted above. Interestingly the Paris Missal of 1734 used 'Peccatricem absolvisti'. Another example of the liturgical reformers following Jansenist example, perhaps.

1 comment:

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