On May 25, the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, an Italian noblewoman of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries who became a Carmelite nun distinguished for her intense prayer life and devotion to frequent Holy Communion.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI marked the 400th anniversary of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi’s death in a letter to the Archbishop of Florence, her birthplace. He described her as “a symbolic figure of a living love that recalls the essential mystical dimension of every Christian life.”
“May the great mystic,” the Pope wrote, “still make her voice heard in all the Church, spreading to every human creature the proclamation to love God.”
Born on April 2, 1566, the future “Mary Magdalene” was given the name of Caterina at the time of her birth. She was the only daughter of her parents, who both came from prominent families. Caterina was drawn to the Holy Eucharist from a young age, and she resolved to serve God as a consecrated virgin shortly after receiving her First Communion at age 10.
Late in the year 1582 she entered a strictly traditional Carmelite monastery, where Holy Communion was – unusually for the time period – administered daily. Receiving her religious habit the next year, she took the name of Mary Magdalene.
From March to May of 1584, Mary became seriously ill and was thought to be in danger of death. On May 27 of that year she made her religious vows while lying sick upon a pallet. Her recovery marked the start of an extended mystical experience, which lasted 40 days and involved extraordinary experiences taken down by her religious sisters in a set of manuscripts.
Mary served the monastery in a series of teaching and supervisory positions, while also contributing to her community through manual work. Her fellow Carmelites respected her strict sense of discipline, which was accompanied by profound charity and practical wisdom. Her experiences of suffering and temptation helped her to guide and inspire others.
Extraordinary spiritual occurrences were a frequent feature of this Carmelite nun’s life, to a much greater degree than is typical in the tradition of Catholic mysticism. Many of her experiences of God were documented by others in her community, although Mary herself disliked the attention and would seemingly have preferred for these events to remain private.
She did wish, however, to call attention to God’s love, which she saw as tragically underappreciated and unreciprocated by mankind. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is remembered for making dramatic gestures – running through the halls of her monastery, or ringing its bells at night – while proclaiming the urgent need for all people to awaken to God’s love, and respond in kind.
Her earthly life came to an end on May 25, 1607, after an excruciating illness lasting nearly three years. Pope Clement IX canonized St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi in 1669.