Translation to English (2006) of the Life of Mary Magdalene by Henri Lacordaire, OP (1859)
Concerning the Second Anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene
But the hour was drawing near when the Son of God was obliged to complete the redemption of the world by the sacrifice of His life, and put to the test by misfortune the fidelity of those he had chosen and especially loved.Six days before this Easter, that would be the last one of the old world and the first of the new, he came to Bethany, and on this very day, on the eve of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, supper was prepared for him in the house of an individual whom the Gospel calls Simon the Leper.Lazarus was amongst the guests and Martha, always active, bustling, waited on them.It was not the last and supernatural supper that would immediately precede the death of the Saviour, and conclude by the institution of the Eucharist all those sources of grace that he had made to gush out upon the work; this one was the supper of friendship, the last meal before the great week of the Passion, that was opening on the following day.Jesus Christ had only six days to live of His life on earth, and in a few hours he was going to appear in Jerusalem as its king, while waiting for the time to die there soon as its God.St.John has indicated in a deliberate manner the moment of this pause at Bethany, at the entrance to the Via Dolorosa of the Son of Man:“Six days before Easter,” he writes, “Jesus came to Bethany, in the place where Lazarus had died and He had revived him, and they prepared a supper for Him there.Martha waited on them, and Lazarus was one of the guests reclining beside Him.”
Since Jesus Christ, the true Passover, died on a Friday, a little before the last hour of the day, we must conclude that the supper at Bethany took place on a Saturday evening.It took place, not at the house of Lazarus or of one of his two sisters, but in the house of Simon the Leper.This choice at such a moment proves that Simon was not unknown to Jesus Christ or to the family of Lazarus, and confirms us in the conviction that it was the same Simon who had been a witness and actor, three years earlier, to the conversion of Mary Magdalene.
The latter is not named amongst the guests or the servants.Her tenderness, informed by a light from above, told her that this meal had about it a valedictory nature and that they were at the threshold of happenings of overwhelming significance.She therefore took in an alabaster vase, as she had on the first occasion, a precious ointment, that St.John says was spikenard, and she went into the room where the meal was taking place.It was no longer this woman in whom youth and beauty ill-disguised the masks of vice and who came up timidly to the feet of Christ, like a servant girl, to anoint them with her tears and then to dry them.Three years of grace had passed over her and it was sanctity with which her whole person was robed as with a divine aura.She entered then, and, breaking the alabaster vase she held in her hands, she poured the ointment over the head of the Saviour.Magdalene broke the vase, because she understood that all was consummated, and that never again would our Lord receive from the piety of mankind a similar homage.This action of despair and of a prophetic love performed, Mary remembers her former degradation, and running up to the feet of Jesus, she pours onto them with a fragment of the vase the rest of the ointment that she dries with her hair.But the Gospel no longer speaks of her tears.She must have shed them for the last time on another occasion and in another place.Here, strength and serenity were what were called for; it was no longer the moment of forgiveness, and it was not yet the moment of the sepulchre.
Eternal wretchedness of man’s condition!This time it is no longer the Pharisee who begins to doubt God because he sees him being touched by a sinful woman; it is the disciples themselves who are outraged at seeing a very precious ointment poured over the head of their Master, and on this head that they will soon see under a crown of thorns.“To what good,” they ask among themselves, “is the loss of the ointment? It could have been sold for over 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.”One recognizes the feebleness of our intellect before the mysteries of God.Jesus does not take offense at their small faith; he says to them kindly, “Let her alone, why do you upset her? It is a good deed she has accomplished through me; you will always have the poor with you, and, when you want to, you will be able to do them good, but me you will not have always.This woman has done what she could with what she had at her disposal, and she has anointed my body for burial in advance.Verily, I say unto you, wherever this Gospel will be preached, throughout the world, it will be said of her, to her glory, what she has just done.”
One senses in the words a note of sadness, and one also sees in them the superiority of Mary Magdalene in love and in knowledge.What words have already been said of this woman, and from what a mouth!“Mary’s sins will be forgiven her because she has loved much.Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.Wherever the Gospel will be preached, it will be said of her, to her glory, what she has just done.”
We have said that the supper at Bethany was the supper of friendship; it ended in betrayal.Scarcely had the Saviour uttered the words where he justified the purity of Mary Magdalene, when the Gospel adds:“Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to find the high priests and said to them, ‘What will you give me if I hand him over to you?’ And they agreed with him on 30 pieces of silver.”