And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that He sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; and standing behind at His feet, she began to wash His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment. St. Luke vii. 37,38

“Who is this woman? Without doubt it is the Church,” answers St. Peter Chrysologus, “the Church, weighed down and stained with sins committed in the city of this world. At the news that Christ has appeared in Judea, that He is to be seen at the banquet of the Pasch, where He bestows His mysteries and reveals the divine Sacrament, and makes known the secret of salvation, suddenly she darts forward; despising the endeavours of the Scribes to prevent her entrance, she confronts the princes of the Synagogue; burning with desire she penetrates into the sanctuary, where she finds Him whom she seeks, betrayed by Jewish perfidy even at the banquet of love; not the passion, nor the Cross, nor the tomb can check her faith, or prevent her from bringing her perfumes to Christ.”

Who but the Church knows the secret of this perfume? asks Paulinus of Nola with Ambrose of Milan; the Church, whose numberless flowers have all aromas; the Church, who exhales before God a thousand sweet odours aroused by the breath of the Holy Spirit– viz., the virtues of nations and the prayers of the saints. Mingling the perfume of her conversion with her tears of repentance, she anoints the feet of her Lord, honouring in them His humanity. Her faith, whereby she is justified, grows equally with her love: soon the Head of the Spouse– that is, His divinity– receives from her the homage of the full measure of pure and precious spikenard– to wit, consummate holiness, whose heroism goes so far as to break the vessel of mortal flesh by the martyrdom of love, if not by that of tortures.

Arrived at the height of the mystery, she forgets not even there those sacred feet, whose contact delivered her from the seven devils representing all vices; for to the heart of the Bride, as in the bosom of the Father, her Lord is still both God and Man. The Jew, who would not own Christ either for head or foundation, found no fragrant oil for His head, nor even water for His feet; she, on the contrary, pours her priceless perfume over both. And while the sweet odour of her perfect faith fills the earth, now become by the victory of that faith the house of the Lord, she continues to wipe her Master’s feet with her beautiful hair– i.e., her countless good works and her ceaseless prayer. The growth of this mystical hair requires all her care here on earth; and in heaven its abundance and beauty will call forth the praise of Him who jealously counts, without losing one, all the works of His Church. Then from her own head, as from that of her Spouse, will the fragrant unction of the Holy Spirit overflow even to the skirt of her garment.

…Venerable Bede, gathering up, according to his wont, the traditions of his predecessors, does not hesitate to assert that “what Magdalen once did, remains the type of what the whole Church does, and of what every perfect soul must ever do.”

–from The Liturgical Year