The name “Mary” appears over and over in the Scriptures. This should not surprise us because the culture of the Middle East actually doesn’t include many different names for either men or women. In the Roman world, it was not uncommon to name all the male children after their father and simply add the Latin word “Primus,” “Secundus,” “Tertius,” etc. to the name to indicate their position in the family. The same often happened for girls who were most often named for their mother or for an aunt. So when we read the Gospels, we frequently are given extra information to indicate about which Mary we are speaking.
The name “Mary,” or “Miriam,” originally meant “bitter” or “rebellious” which in English carry some negative connotations. However, in the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were told to eat “bitter” herbs at the Passover. It simply means “strong-tasting,” so the name “Mary” carries the connotation of a strong woman. This is especially true of the first woman of the Hebrew Scriptures to carry that name, Miriam, the sister of Moses. She was a very strong woman and just a little rebellious.
Today we remember Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene, who appears in all four Gospels. She was one of the women who was cured by Jesus. The Gospel of Luke 8:2–3 lists Mary Magdalene as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry "out of their resources," indicating that she was probably relatively wealthy. The same passage also states that seven demons had been driven out of her. Here again, we must remember that illnesses were often characterized as demons. Perhaps she was epileptic, a disease that was considered a kind of possession even as late as our own 20th century.
However, if we really wish to describe this woman, the first and most important attribute we must credit to her is that of faithfulness. Mary was a faithful disciple who is said to have followed Jesus all the way to Calvary. She was chosen by God to be the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, and was the first to bear the news of his rising to the Twelve. Thus she is known as the evangelizer of the evangelists.
Her fidelity to Jesus is certainly something worth celebrating and, to be sure, a quality we should all wish to emulate.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator