Today is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi born 2 April, 1566. Of outward events there were very few in the saint’s life. She came of two noble families, her father being Camillo Geri de’ Pazzi and her mother a Buondelmonti. She was baptized, and named Caterina. Her childhood much resembled that of some other women saints who have become great mystics, in an early love of prayer and penance, great charity to the poor, an apostolic spirit of teaching religious truths, and a charm and sweetness of nature that made her a general favourite. But above all other spiritual characteristics was Caterina’s intense attraction towards the Blessed Sacrament, her longing to receive It, and her delight in touching and being near those who were speaking of It, or who had just been to Communion. She made her own First Communion at the age of ten, and shortly afterwards vowed her virginity to God. (4)
By Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
Our Paschal Calendar gives us three illustrious Virgins of the beautiful Italy. We have already kept the feast of the valiant Catharine of Sienna; in a few days, we shall be honouring the memory of Angela de Merici, surrounded by her school-children; today, it is the fair lily of Florence, Magdalene de Pazzi, who embalms the whole Church with the fragrance of her name and intercession. She was the loving imitatrix of our Crucified Jesus; was it not just, that she should have some share in the joy of His Resurrection?
Magdalene de Pazzi was one of the brightest ornaments of the Order of Carmel, by her angelic purity, and by the ardour of her love for God. Like St. Philip Neri, she was one of the grandest manifestations of the Divine Charity that is found in the true Church. Magdalene in her peaceful Cloister, and Philip in his active labours for the salvation of souls, both made it their ambition to satisfy that desire expressed by our Jesus, when he said: I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled (St. Luke, xii. 49).
The life of this Spouse of Christ was one continued miracle. Her ecstacies and raptures were almost of every day’s occurrence. The lights given to her regarding the Mysteries were extraordinary; and in order to prepare her for those sublime communications, God would have her go through the severest trials of the spiritual life. She triumphed over them all; and her love having found its nourishment in them, she could not be happy without suffering; for nothing else seemed to satisfy the longings of the love that burned within her. At the same time, her heart was filled to overflowing with charity for her neighbour: she would have saved all mankind, and her charity to all, even for their temporal well-being, was something heroic. God blessed Florence on her account; and as to the City itself, she so endeared herself to its people, by her admirable virtues, that devotion to her, even to this day, which is more than two hundred years since her death, is as fervent as ever it was.
One of the most striking proofs of the divine origin and holiness of the Church is to be found in such privileged souls as Magdalene de Pazzi, on whom we see the Mysteries of our salvation acting with such direct influence. God so loved the world, as to give it his Only Begotten Son (St. John, iii. 16); and this Son of God deigns to love some of His creatures with such special affection, and to lavish upon them such extraordinary favours, that all men may have some idea of the love wherewith His Sacred Heart is inflamed for this world, which he redeemed at the price of His Blood. Happy those Christians that appreciate and relish these instances of Jesus’ special love! Happy they that can give Him thanks for bestowing such gifts on some of our fellow-creatures! They have the true light; whereas they that have an unpleasant feeling at hearing of such things, and are angry at the thought that there can be an intimacy between God and any soul of which they are not worthy, this class of people prove that there is a great deal of darkness mixed up with their faith. We regret extremely that we have not space for a fuller development of the character and life of our Saint.
We therefore proceed at once to the Lessons given in her Office. Even they are too short, and give us but an imperfect idea of this admirable Spouse of Christ.
Mary Magdalene was born at Florence, and was of the illustrious family of the Pazzi. It might be said of her, that she entered the way of perfection when a babe. When ten years of age, she took a vow of perpetual virginity; and having taken the habit in the Carmelite Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels, she became a model of every virtue. Such was her purity, that she utterly ignored everything that is opposed to that virtue. She received a command from God, which she fulfilled, of fasting on bread and water for five years, Sundays alone excepted, on which she might partake of Lenten diet. She mortified her body by a hairshirt, discipline, cold, abstinence, watching, want, and every kind of suffering.
Such was the ardour of divine love that burned within her, that not being able to bear the heat, she was obliged to temper it by applying cold water to her breast. She was frequently in a state of rapture, and the wonderful ecstasies she had were almost daily. In these states, she was permitted to penetrate into heavenly mysteries, and was favoured by God with extraordinary graces. Thus strengthened, she had to endure a long combat with the princes of darkness, as also aridity and desolation of spirit, abandonment by all creatures, and divers temptations: God so willed it, that she might become a model of invincible patience and profound humility.
She was remarkable for her charity towards others. She would frequently sit up the whole night, either in doing the work of the Sisters, or in waiting upon the sick, whose sores she sometimes healed by sucking the wounds. She wept bitterly over the perdition of infidels and sinners, and offered to suffer every sort of torment, so that they might be saved. Several years before her death, she heroically besought our Lord to take from her the heavenly delights wherewith He favoured her; and was frequently heard saying these words: “To suffer; not to die.” At length, worn out by a long and most painful illness, she passed hence to her Spouse, on the twenty-fifth of May, in the year 1607, having completed the forty-first year of her age. Many miracles having been wrought by her merits, both before and after death, she was canonized by Pope Clement the Ninth. Her body is, even to this day, preserved from corruption. (2)
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, a shining example of virtue and holiness, was born at Florence, in 1566, of illustrious parents. She received the name of Catherine in baptism, but on entering the Convent, she changed it to Mary Magdalen. The lessons of her office in the Roman Breviary testify that her life was perfect from her earliest youth. Her only enjoyment, when yet a small child, was to be taken to church, or to listen to the histories of the lives of the saints. She prayed for hours before she was able to read. Being asked what she was doing, she replied: “I pray God for grace to learn what I should do to please Him.” When she was sent to school, they gave her, as is the custom of the country, a little basket of refreshments. She, however, gave it to some prisoners whom she passed on her way, and thus fasted until noon. At another time she abstained from food or drink until she had been to church. When scarcely seven years of age, she began to mortify herself in divers ways. She denied herself her favorite fruit; took only two meals, one at noon and one at evening; refused to be present at the theatre; read with great avidity spiritual books, especially those which treated of the life and sufferings of our Saviour, and which implanted in her heart that ardent love of Christ of which her life gives so bright a record. In her eighth and ninth years, she had so intense a longing to receive holy Communion, that she could not, without tears, look at those who had the grace to partake of this food of angels. She was therefore permitted to receive her first communion, at the age of ten years. How this holy act filled her heart with joy and happiness is more easily conceived than described. She herself declared it was the happiest day of her life. Soon after, she consecrated herself entirely to God by taking the vow of perpetual chastity. Having reached her twelfth year, she had increased her mortifications to such an extent, that she wore a penitential robe, of hair-cloth, slept upon the floor and wore, during the night, a crown of thorns upon her head.” She mortified her tender body in these and many other ways, in order to become more like her beloved Jesus. When 15 years old, several rich and noble young men asked her hand in marriage; but she assured her parents that she had already chosen a much richer and more noble bridegroom, to whom she would always remain faithful, namely, Jesus.
In her 17th year, after having overcome many obstacles, she entered the convent of the Carmelites at Florence, on the same day on which St. Teresa left this world and went to Heaven. As she had taken the name of the woman so devoted to our Lord, she endeavored also to imitate her in her love of Christ and in all her other virtues. On the feast of the Holy Trinity she took her vows with such piety and fervor, that after the ceremony she remained for two hours in raptures. The same happened for 40 days in succession, after she had received holy Communion. At other times, also, she fell into raptures, and had most extraordinary visions as well as revelations, in which she received many wise instructions from the Almighty, and the gift of prophecy. The fire of heavenly love in her was sometimes so ardent, that she had frequently to cool her hands and her breast with cold water. She would often seize the crucifix and exclaim: “O Love! O love! I shall never cease to love Thee!” On the Festival of the Invention, or finding of the holy Cross, she ran through all the corridors of the convent crying: ” O love! how little Thou art known! how little Thou art appreciated! Ah! come, come, all ye souls, and love your God! ” She often wished to possess so loud a voice that it might be heard through the whole world, when she would cry to all mankind: “Love God! love God!”
Nothing caused her more pain than to hear that the All mighty had been offended by others. She daily offered certain prayers and penances to God for the conversion of pagans and sinners, and exhorted her sisters in the convent to do the same. For the salvation of souls she offered herself to the Almighty to be afflicted with all possible diseases and pains; she was even willing to bear the torment of hell, provided that she were not forced to blaspheme God there. One day she said: “Were the Almighty to ask me what reward I desire for the little good I have done with His grace, my answer would be: nothing but the salvation of souls.” The time of Carnival was for her a time of prayers and severe penances, which she performed in order to appease the wrath of Almighty God, whom she knew so many offended at that time. She tortured her body by wearing hair-shirts, by flagellation, watching, enduring cold and heat, and by most austere fasting. During 22 years all the nourishment she took was bread and water, except on Sundays, when she partook of lenten diet.
Meanwhile it pleased the Most High to prove His faithful handmaiden by great affliction. Five long years she was I tormented day and night with impure and blasphemous thoughts; but she always struggled with them valiantly, not allowing herself to become downcast or despondent. She often took the image of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin, and embracing it, prayed to God for aid. For the last three years of her life she had to endure divers painful maladies, and suffered so greatly from decay of the gums, that she lost one tooth after another. To this was added a burning fever and violent headache. To increase her suffering, God deprived her of all the spiritual comfort she had heretofore enjoyed. She had constantly to keep her bed, except at the time of Mass and Communion, and it was wonderful to behold how, during the first of these three years, she was strengthened by the Almighty to be present at the divine sacrifice and to receive the Blessed Eucharist, while directly afterwards she had to return to her room, where she I remained so totally exhausted that it was to be supposed she was dying. They tried to dissuade her from so frequently receiving holy communion; but she said that without it she would not be able to endure her suffering, as it endued her with strength. Therefore it was daily given to her when she was no longer able to leave her room. The patience with which she bore her sufferings is not to be described. Her continual saying was: “To suffer, not to die.” She desired to suffer as long as possible out of love to Christ. One day when her confessor, in order to comfort her, said that her sufferings would come to an end at last, she replied: “No, my father, I desire no such comfort, but hope that I may be permitted to suffer unto my life’s end.” At another time, she said: “I hope to die like my Saviour, on the cross,” by which she meant, in agonies and pain.
When her sufferings had continued for three years, the physicians pronounced her end near. Magdalen requested Extreme Unction after holy Communion; and having begged her sisters to forgive her all her faults, she exhorted them specially to love God and hate themselves. After this, she continued during twelve days in the most edifying exercises, and then ended her holy and wonderful life, not so much consumed by the violence of her bodily suffering as by her fervent love to God, in the year 1607, on a Friday, and almost at the same hour at which our Saviour died for us on the Cross. A few days before her death she said: “I die without even being able to comprehend how it is possible for any one to commit a mortal sin.” Soon after her death, God made her entering into the abode of the Blessed known to the world, not only by many miracles, but also by the change that took place in her holy body. From being emaciated and pale by severe penances and a painful sickness, it suddenly became resplendent with beauty and moved all who beheld it to glorify the Almighty. The most delicious fragrance emanated from it. In 1663 when, by order of the Government, the body of the Saint was examined, it was found entirely uncorrupted and exhaling the same fragrance. It is rightly believed that God thus rewarded the virginal purity which the Saint had preserved unspotted by means of penances and prayers, fervent partaking of the holy Sacrament and filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin. She had always evinced the greatest horror of the vice of impurity, and could not remain in the presence of persons addicted to it, without a feeling of abhorrence. This was manifested even after her death. A youth of loose morals approached the bier, on which the body of the Saint was lying, to gaze at her remains. When he, however, imprudently cast his eyes upon her face, the corpse averted it from him, which made so deep an impression on him, that he confessed his fault and promised with tears to reform his life. (2)
Caterina was clothed in 1583, when she took the name of Maria Maddalena; and on 29 May, 1584, being then so ill that they feared she would not recover, she was professed. After her profession, she was subject to an extraordinary daily ecstasy for forty consecutive days, at the end of which time she appeared at the point of death. She recovered, however, miraculously; and henceforth, in spite of constant bad health, was able to fill with energy the various offices to which she was appointed. She became, in turn, mistress of externs–i.e. of girls coming to the convent on trial–teacher and mistress of the juniors, novice mistress (which post she held for six years), and finally, in 1604, superior. For five years (1585-90) God allowed her to be tried by terrible inward desolation and temptations, and by external diabolic attacks; but the courageous severity and deep humility of the means that she took for overcoming these only served to make her virtues shine more brilliantly in the eyes of her community.
From the time of her clothing with the religious habit till her death the saint’s life was one series of raptures and ecstasies, of which only the most notable characteristics can be named in a short notice.
- First, these raptures sometimes seized upon her whole being with such force as to compel her to rapid motion (e.g. towards some sacred object).
- Secondly, she was frequently able, whilst in ecstasy, to carry on work belonging to her office–e.g., embroidery, painting, etc.–with perfect composure and efficiency.
- Thirdly–and this is the point of chief importance–it was whilst in her states of rapture that St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi gave utterance to those wonderful maxims of Divine Love, and those counsels of perfection for souls, especially in the religious state, which a modern editor of a selection of them declares to be “more frequently quoted by spiritual writers than those even of St. Teresa”. These utterances have been preserved to us by the saint’s companions, who (unknown to her) took them down from her lips as she poured them forth. She spoke sometimes as of herself, and sometimes as the mouthpiece of one or other of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. These maxims of the saint are sometimes described as her “Works”, although she wrote down none of them herself.
This ecstatic life in no wise interfered with the saint’s usefulness in her community. She was noted for her strong common-sense, as well as for the high standard and strictness of her government, and was most dearly loved to the end of her life by all for the spirit of intense charity that accompanied her somewhat severe code of discipline. As novice-mistress she was renowned for a miraculous gift of reading her subjects’ hearts–which gift, indeed, was not entirely confined to her community. Many miracles, both of this and of other kinds, she performed for the benefit either of her own convent or of outsiders. She often saw things far off, and is said once to have supernaturally beheld St. Catherine de’ Ricci in her convent at Prato, reading a letter that she had sent her and writing the answer; but the two saints never met in a natural manner. To St. Mary Magdalen’s numerous penances, and to the ardent love of suffering that made her genuinely wish to live long in order to suffer with Christ, we can here merely refer; but it must not be forgotten that she was one of the strongest upholders of the value of suffering for the love of God and the salvation of our fellow-creatures, that ever lived. Her death was fully in accordance with her life in this respect, for she died after an illness of nearly three years’ duration and of indescribable painfulness, borne with heroic joy to the end. Innumerable miracles followed the saint’s death, and the process for her beatification was begun in 1610 under Paul V, and finished under Urban VIII in 1626. She was not, however, canonized till sixty-two years after her death, when Clement IX raised her to the altars in 28 April, 1669. Her feast is kept on 27 May. (4)
Image: Vision de Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzi, by Pedro de Moya, between circa 1640 and circa 1674