“From this silence, one must not deduce that Christ, after His Resurrection, did not appear to Mary… On the contrary, it is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.”
– Pope John Paul II
Sometimes we learn not so much from what is said, but from what is left unsaid; and what is left unsaid often gives us pause for thought.
In the Gospels, we follow the Mother of God as She walks with Her Son along the Way of the Cross, on to Golgotha and then to the tomb and then.. there is silence.
She is next mentioned at Pentecost, fifty days later. Considering that She has stood alongside Her Son throughout His Passion, why the silence in Her regard on the day of the Resurrection?
The Church, too, keeps silent on this, although a number of the Saints and Popes have commented on their belief that very early on the morning of the Resurrection, the Risen Lord appeared first to His Mother.
All four Gospels tell us that the women went to the Tomb around dawn on that first Easter Day; arriving there, they find the Tomb empty – the Body of Jesus is not there. This leaves a few questions. Clearly, He has already risen – He is no longer in the Tomb; so where is He? He is not appearing to the Disciples – this will come shortly; nor to Mary Magdalene, who will see Him not long from that moment. So again, where is He?
The Mother of the Lord is conspicuous here by Her absence and the lack of any mention of Her. She has laid Her Son in the Tomb, only to have the burial rites interrupted because of the lateness of the hour on the day of preparation for Passover. The intention is to return early the day after Passover (Easter Sunday) to anoint and prepare the Body. And yet, there is no mention of Her coming to the Tomb to do so, even though the other women come. Why is this?
Pope St John Paul II spoke about this at a General Audience in May 1997, and this short address makes for interesting reading. In it, he said –
“The Gospels mention various appearances of the risen Christ, but not a meeting between Jesus and his Mother. This silence must not lead to the conclusion that after the Resurrection Christ did not appear to Mary; rather it invites us to seek the reasons why the Evangelists made such a choice.. From this silence, one must not deduce that Christ, after His Resurrection, did not appear to Mary… On the contrary, it is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.”
And so we have a starting point – whilst certainly not an Article of Faith (and so we are free to believe as we wish), it is at least ‘legitimate’ to consider that the Blessed Virgin may have been the first to see the Risen Lord. The absence of an account of such a meeting does not mean necessarily that such a meeting did not take place.
The Holy Father then added this –
“The unique and special nature of the presence of the Virgin at Calvary and Her perfect union with the Son in His suffering on the Cross, seem to postulate a very particular participation on Her part in the mystery of the Resurrection. [She] was probably also a privileged witness to the Resurrection of Christ, in this way completing Her participation in all the essential moments of the Paschal Mystery. Embracing the risen Jesus, Mary is, in addition, a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to reach its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead.”
And I think this would be fitting; She who stood so closely united to the Lord in His Passion and Death, mourns Him now and Her Heart is pierced to the core by the sword of sorrow; how could Her Son, now risen, fail to come to Her to relieve that motherly grief?
And if He did so, then this offers an explanation for why She is not mentioned as being with the other women at the Tomb; either She is, at that moment, with Her Son, or She has recently been so; regardless, why would She come now to a tomb She knows to be empty, to anoint a Body which She knows is no longer dead?
Saint Ignatius of Loyola makes such a meeting between the Blessed Virgin and Her risen Son a focus in his Spiritual Exercises. Various other Saints have also espoused this belief, as have various theologians; but many other Saints and theologians have not believed such an encounter took place. The primary argument against such a meeting is that Mary had full faith in Her Son and knew He would rise as He had foretold. Personally, I don’t doubt this at all – but I don’t think it takes account of the humanity of Mary, and of Her motherhood at the human level; in the same way that She suffered intensely throughout the Passion, this was not somehow mitigated or ended at His Death by the belief that He would indeed rise. This Woman had just watched Her Son being brutally murdered; how could that grief and pain not require the consoling touch of the Risen Lord? Christ knew Lazarus would rise again – yet still He wept for him.
As I mentioned earlier, the Church says nothing on this at the formal level and so we are free to hold our own opinions on the matter, so long as they do not contradict the Teaching of the Church in her faith or tradition. But it does make for profitable meditation.