After His Resurrection, Jesus Appeared First to His Mother Mary, Say the Saints
“Mary’s role in the Resurrection of Christ,” said Pope St. John Paul II, “was the completion of her mission at the Annunciation in Nazareth.”
The Gospels mention nothing about Jesus appearing to his mother Mary after his Resurrection. Do we ever wonder whether he did see her? After all, she was his mother, the first to see him at the Nativity, his birth. She was the first Christian from the moment of the Annunciation and Incarnation. Wouldn’t he want to see his mother first?
Pope St. John Paul II
“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,” St. John Paul II, the great Marian saint, told everyone at a general audience May 21, 1997.
At an audience a year earlier, he reminded that Mary witnessed the entire paschal mystery and “alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection.”
If the evangelists didn’t write about Mary’s encounter with her risen Son Jesus, “this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that such a witness would have been considered too biased by those who denied the Lord’s Resurrection, and therefore not worthy of belief,” John Paul II continued in 1997.
The great saint offered another reason too. The Gospels list only a few appearances by the risen Lord, “certainly not a complete summary of all that happened during the 40 days after Easter.” For instance, St. Paul highlights that Jesus appeared “to more than 500 brethren at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6). How is it, John Paul II asked, “that an exceptional event known to so many is not mentioned by the Evangelists?” Obviously, the Evangelists didn’t record all Jesus’ appearances.
“How could the Blessed Virgin, present in the first community of disciples (Acts 1:14), be excluded from those who met her divine Son after he had risen from the dead?” asked John Paul II. “Indeed, it is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.”
Posing another question, he asked rhetorically if Mary’s not joining the women going to the tomb at dawn can “indicate that she had already met Jesus? Those women had been faithful and had been at the Cross. Of course, Our Lady had been the most faithful of all.”
John Paul II offered yet another reason for believing Jesus appeared first to his mother:
“The unique and special character of the Blessed Virgin’s presence at Calvary and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross seem to postulate a very particular sharing on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection.”
Thus, this appearance would be part of “completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery.”
So it’s “reasonable to think that Mary, as the image and model of the Church which waits for the Risen One and meets him in the group of disciples during his Easter appearances, had had a personal contact with her risen Son, so that she too could delight in the fullness of paschal joy.”
St. Vincent Ferrer
In a powerful Easter sermon, the Dominican St. Vincent Ferrer said that many theologians determined that after his Resurrection Jesus appeared first to Mary his mother. “The first apparition he gave was to the Blessed Virgin Mary, although the gospel does not tell us about this.”
He himself gave three convincing reasons why we should believe Jesus appeared first to his mother.
“First, by divine precept, because she suffered above all others in the Passion of her son,” said St. Vincent. “Christ, by special privilege was born of his mother, so that she gave birth without pain … but all the pains of birth and death came over her in the Passion of her son. Since, Scripture says, ‘Honor your father, and forget not the groaning (birth pangs) of your mother,’ (Sirach 7:29), Christ most perfectly kept the law of honoring parents. It follows that he appeared to his mother first, who was stressed [tribulata] more than all the others.”
In another Easter sermon, the saint elaborated on this reason, painting a vivid picture. He said:
“If indeed someone were overseas, and his mother had understood that he had died, and he nevertheless healthy returned and would visit first other friends, and only last come to his mother, this would not be a good son, nor would he seem to have honored his mother.”
But Jesus, being the perfect son, would never have done that.
Like John Paul II, St. Vincent cited as another reason “the merit of her faith.” He said the text shows the Apostles lost faith at the Passion:
“Only the Virgin Mary on that Holy Saturday invariably believed. Because of this, on every Saturday the office of the day in the Church of God is celebrated in her honor. When therefore Scripture says, ‘The Lord shows himself to them who have faith in him,’ (Wisdom 1:2), it seems that as a reward of merit for her faith that he would appear to her first.”
The third reason, he says, is “because of the intensity of her love.”
“There never was a mother who loved her son more that Mary loved Christ.” Then he quoted Jesus in John 14:21: “And he that loves me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
“From these three reasons it is clear that he appeared to the Virgin Mother first,” concluded St. Vincent, “although the holy Evangelists are expressly silent about it.”
He even presented a picture of how this might have taken place, because through God’s grace “the devout soul can piously contemplate, as then to perceive the sweetness of this vision in their hearts.”
“The Virgin Mary was most certain that her son would rise on the third day, as he had predicted, but perhaps she did not know the hour of his Resurrection, because it is not written that Christ had revealed the hour of his Resurrection,” he said. “So the Virgin Mary on this very night, which was so long for her, awaited the Resurrection of her son and she began to think at which hour he would rise, but she did not know.” And then after preparing and reading Psalms, “she looked out of the window, and she saw the dawn breaking, and she rejoiced, saying, ‘Now my son is rising.’”
Among other details, St. Vincent suggests that Jesus “greeted his mother saying: ‘Peace be with you.’ The Virgin fell to her knees and weeping abundantly for joy adored him, kissing his hands and feet, saying: ‘O blessed wounds, which have given me such pain on Good Friday.’ Christ kissing his mother said: ‘My mother, rejoice, because from now on, you will have nothing but joy and celebration.’”
St. Bridget of Sweden
In her Revelations, St. Bridget of Sweden, known for visions during her life, had this to say:
“When the third day came, it brought bewilderment and anxiety to the Disciples. The women going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus sought him and could not find him. The Apostles were gathered together in their fear, guarding the doors. Then, surely, though we are not told of this in the Gospels, Mary spoke of the Resurrection of her Son, that he had truly risen from death, that he was alive again in all his humanity, no more subject to death, risen to an eternal glory. We read that Mary Magdalen and the Apostles were first to see the risen Christ. But we may believe that Mary his Mother knew of his rising before all others, and that she was the first to see him. It was Mary in her lowliness who first gave praise and adoration to the risen Christ.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius of Loyola believed the same. In his Spiritual Exercises, at the start of the meditations on the Resurrection of Christ our Lord, he wrote:
“First, he appeared to the Virgin Mary. This, although it is not said in Scripture, is included in saying that He appeared to so many others, because Scripture supposes that we have understanding, as it is written: ‘Are you also without understanding?’”
Servant of God John Hardon
In the 20th century, Servant of God John Hardon, who at Pope St. Paul VI’s request wrote The Catholic Catechism (1975), was of the same belief. “It is not only a pious opinion that the Risen Savior first appeared to His Mother Mary on Easter Sunday. No less than six Doctors of the Church, including Sts. Ambrose, Anselm and Albert the Great held that Our Lady was the first witness of the Resurrection.”
Father Hardon described several reasons — a main one, according to the Church’s spiritual masters, being that the Resurrection is the fulfillment of the Annunciation.
“At the Annunciation, Mary submitted her will by faith to the word of God. At the Resurrection, her faith was rewarded by actually seeing and speaking with her glorified Son,” explained Father Hardon. “At the Annunciation, Mary represented the human race still needing to be redeemed. At the Resurrection, she represented the human race already redeemed.”
This connection continues. “At the Annunciation, Mary became Mother of the Redeemer by giving Him the human nature with which He offered Himself on the cross. At the Resurrection, she received Him in her arms, after having received from Him on Calvary the Motherhood of the Church.”
Moreover, “At the Annunciation, Mary accepted her vocation to suffer with her Son in His mission of redeeming the world from sin. On Easter Sunday, she shared with Him in the joy of His glorious Resurrection.”
The connection between the Annunciation and Resurrection goes even deeper. Father Hardon explained:
“At the Annunciation, Mary became the link between Christ’s humanity and our own. She provided Him with the body He needed to sacrifice to His Father for our salvation. At the Resurrection, Mary completed this link by cooperating with Him as the mediatrix of the graces He began to dispense to a human family restored to merciful friendship with God.
“Thus, in Jerusalem Mary’s role in the Resurrection of Christ was the completion of her mission at the Annunciation in Nazareth. The Mother of Sorrows became the Cause of Our Joy twice over — once because the joy she experienced on being reunited with her Risen Son is the promise of the joy we should experience on earth in knowing that we have done the will of God.
“Once again because the joy she experienced on Easter Sunday is the prelude to the perfect joy we shall experience on seeing Christ, in soul when He calls us into eternity, and in body and soul after the final resurrection on the last day.”
Father Hardon reminded us that “all of this depends on our faith. We will be blessed, provided like Mary we too have believed that the things promised us by the Lord will be fulfilled.”
Thinking about this first appearance of Jesus to his mother Mary should make us emphasize the Regina Caeli when we pray it in place of the Angelus during Easter season — which, by the way, again connects the Annunciation with the Resurrection.
As St. John Paul II told that general audience, “In the Easter season, the Christian community addresses the Mother of the Lord and invites her to rejoice: ‘Regina Caeli, laetare. Alleluia!’ (‘Queen of heaven, rejoice. Alleluia!’) Thus it recalls Mary's joy at Jesus’ Resurrection, prolonging in time the ‘rejoice’ that the Angel addressed to her at the Annunciation, so that she might become a cause of ‘great joy’ for all people.”