Jesus’ Mother the first to see our Resurrected Lord ?
John Paul II thought so.
John Paul II in his general audience of Wednesday,
21 May 1997 offered several reasons for concluding that the first person to
see the resurrected Lord was His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although
this is not what we would call a defide teaching - Catholics are free to
believe it or not - there is much spiritual fruit to be had by meditating on
Enemies of the Church will sometimes say that once a
person becomes a Catholic he has to check his brain at the door and just let
the Pope do the thinking for him. This could not be further from the
truth. Pope John Paul II indirectly points this out by pointing to the vast
area of theology that is not yet defined where we are free to explore deeper
insights into God’s love.
Those that deny that truth can be known are implying
that their own attempts at thinking are fruitless. Truth is to the mind
what food is to the mouth and body. At some point we are intended to chomp
down on it. The mind was made to embrace objective truth. Just as
comprehension of scientific laws enables us to go further into science,
truth in other fields such as theology enables us to think more deeply and
more profitably. A person who knows certain truths is more free, not less
We have at least six reasons for concluding that
Mary was the first to see our resurrected Lord. We have two biblical
reasons, one reason based on justice, one based on love, and there is the
historical testimony of our tradition and now John Paul II’s magisterial
Biblical Reason #1.
Where was Jesus at before Mary Magdalene saw Him ?
Jesus has a physical body. When Mary Magdalene went
to the tomb it was empty. She went to the Apostles and He was not there.
Later, she sees Him and He says that He has not yet ascended to the Father.
John 20:17 To where or to whom had Jesus gone ? With so many prominent
individuals eliminated it doesn’t seem hard to choose between Pontius Pilate
and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jn 21:25
Biblical Reason #2.
How do we explain Mary’s absence from the tomb on Easter morning ?
Mary, most likely a single mother at this point, was
very devoted to her only Son and she followed Him all the way to the cross,
even when most of the Apostles did not. She faithfully followed Jewish
custom. (Luke 2:21-24, 39 John 2:2-5) No doubt Mary was exhausted with
grief and probably slept a good part of the Sabbath, but after that what
else would she have been thinking about other than her only Son ? When Mary
Magdalene (Luke 24:10) went to finish anointing the body why did the Blessed
Virgin Mary not go as well ? It only makes sense if Mary had known that
Jesus was not there.
Jesus had appeared to Mary first.
Some will say that this conclusion is pure
speculation, but then all attempts to answer questions that are not
infallibly determined or defined involve speculation. One of the strengths
of by John Paul II’s position is that a person can speculate as much as they
wish and as long as they wish, but I don’t think they can arrive at another
answer that is equally plausible. No other answer really fits or solves the
If a person has one particular piece that fits
perfectly into a puzzle and no other piece can fit and one cannot even
imagine a piece that would truly fit, then it is reasonable to conclude that
this particular piece is the correct one.
An Argument of Justice.
John Paul II explains why Justice leads us to this
conclusion. Mary heard the hammer striking the nails as her Son was
fastened to the cross. She saw with her own eyes the lance as it pierced
His side and the water and blood that poured out onto the ground. Mary was
in perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross. So, from an
argument based on justice we have another reason to conclude that Mary would
have been the first to share in the joy of His Resurrection.
Love Opens the Door to Understanding and Knowledge.
Hopefully we all love our own mothers. Jesus, who
is the perfect Son, loved his mother even more. Being God He perfectly
fulfilled the 4th commandment. Jesus loves everyone, but Mary
was most open and therefore she is the most perfect vessel to receive that
love. If we would want to console our own mother’s sorrow, how much more so
reveals what the skeptic is slow to believe.
The tradition that Mary was the first to witness our
Lord’s Resurrection is not overly strong, but it is there. A fifth-century
author named Sedulius claimed it was so. And St. Ignatius of Loyola also
“The Resurrection of Christ Our Lord. His First
105. Christ's apparition to Mary is not found in Scripture, but it is an
opinion prominent in a long tradition of Christian writers. It is found
in ch. 70 of the Life of Christ by Ludolph, and Ignatius may have
accepted it from him. Ludolph cites testimony from Sts. Ambrose,
Anselm, and Ignatius of Antioch. Cusson lists some twenty writers
who held this opinion, including Sedulius, Paulinus of Nola, Albert the
Great, Bernardino da Siena, Maldonatus, and Pope Benedict XIV (BibThSpEx,
[Ignatius of Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises
By IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, George E Ganss, Paramanda Divakar, Edward J.
Malastesta, Page 417]
Christus Rex Web site has several pictures of the ruins of a Basilica in
Jerusalem that was destroyed by the Moslems in 1009 AD, and it reports how
the pilgrim Daniel visited “the chapel dedicated to Jesus’ apparition to his
Now, with the teaching of John Paul II on Wednesday,
21 May 1997 we have that to consider. He did not claim that it was
infallibly revealed, but he did say that it was reasonable to conclude that
the Blessed Mother was the first to witness Jesus’ Resurrection and
obviously he believed it as well. See Official Vatican Web Site to verify
John Paul II’s General Audience.
Possible Objection ??
Does Mark 16:9 “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene”
preclude the possibility of an earlier apparition to the Blessed Virgin
No. Many bible exegetes have affirmed that the
wording is not conclusive as to who received the very first apparition.
Rupert (De divinis officiis,
vii, 25; ML, CLXX, 207), with the approval of Salmeron, Maldonatus,
and a number of other exegetes, answers the difficulty drawn from
Mark (16:9), "apparuit primo Mariae Magdalenae." He thinks that the
custom of the Roman Church in placing the statio for Easter at St.
Mary Major confirms our opinion.
[Jesus Christ: His Life, His Teaching and His Work,
By Ferdinand Prat, page 415 notes. The opinion being confirmed is
that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the first to see the resurrected
The evangelist Mark was using the term “first” to
convey the order of events after the resurrection that he [Mark] relates.
First, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and then she went to and then she
told the good news to the Apostles. It does not necessarily preclude the
possibility of an earlier apparition.
“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to
Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told
those who …”
So, why do Sacred
Scriptures not record this event ?
John 20:30-31 clues us in as to why this event need
not be included in Scriptures, but looking further we can see a possible
reason why the Holy Spirit would have wanted to leave this visitation out of
the Bible. Perhaps He wanted to help us attain something more valuable than
just data for our intellect. Our minds were made to wonder and meditate
about things. On the one hand we can speculate about the sordid innuendos
and accusations that our fallen world constantly throws our way, or we can
speculate about the things of God. Perhaps God wanted us to open our hearts
by getting us wonder where was Jesus when the tomb was found empty. What
would have motivated His heart ? How much love did the perfect Son have for
the perfect Mother ? Why would Mary be absent from the tomb? Did she
already know something the others did not ?
As we contemplate about Jesus we can draw much fruit
as we think about how much we each love our own mother. Maybe God intended
the answers to some questions to remain hidden until we pondered those
questions with love in our hearts because only in the context of love could
the real answers be known. Love opens heart as well as the mind to a deeper
understanding of the things of God.