Was Jesus’ Mother the first to see our Resurrected Lord ?
Pope 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 this point.
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 so.
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 teaching.
Biblical Reason #1.
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.
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 above questions.
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.
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.
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 would Jesus.
Love 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 claimed it.
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 mother.”
Also see Lay Witness
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 that. See John Paul II’s General Audience.
Does Mark 16:9 “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene” preclude the possibility of an earlier apparition to the Blessed Virgin Mary?
No. Many bible exegetes have affirmed that the wording is not conclusive as to who received the very first apparition.
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.
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.