The first person recorded to have seen Christ risen from the dead is Mary Magdalene. Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is intended to strengthen faith in the Risen Lord, first in the Magdalene’s heart, then in the hearts of those to whom she announced the Resurrection, and finally in the hearts of all those who read the Gospel – – that all may know and believe. Believe what? That Christ Jesus is the one who was sent by the Father to redeem the world. There is no greater work that testifies to Jesus’ Divine identity and mission than his resurrection from the dead. There is solid evidence for the Resurrection. The witness of women were deemed to be totally unreliable – – but in a paradoxical way, the fact that Mary Magdalene saw him goes to prove that he did rise. If the Gospel writers wanted to strengthen their case, if the Gospels were made up, they wouldn’t have had a woman see the resurrected Christ and have her testify that she saw him. God works through those who are counted as nothing to show forth the might of his power and glory. Although the Gospels record that it was Mary Magdalene who first encountered the Risen Jesus, tradition long holds that there was someone else, another woman, who saw Jesus first, while it is not recorded in the Gospels.
It should come as no surprise that the very very first person whom the Resurrected Jesus appeared to was his mother Mary. How could it be otherwise? As the best of all sons, wouldn’t Jesus first appear to his mother? And after all, mother Mary was at the foot of the cross the whole time, witnessing the terrible agony and suffering of Christ her Son – – should she not receive the reward of being the very first to see him alive in all his resurrected glory? She was, in effect, the first to see his face marred beyond all human semblance; it is fitting that she be the first to see his face shining with radiant splendor. It is not mentioned that Mary was present with the other women when they went to anoint his body with oil and spices. To their surprise the tomb was empty. Our Lady did not go with them because she expected him to rise that very morning – – she knew with absolute certainty that there was nobody there in the tomb to anoint! She saw him alive just as she expected. On the morning of Easter Sunday, before everything else, Jesus appeared to his mother and greeted her with the words, “shalom, mother,” as we might imagine. Many Saints and mystics also attest to this special Easter appearance that Jesus first made to his mother. If St. Paul mentioned that Our Lord appeared to more than 500 at once – – a resurrection appearance that is not mentioned in the Gospels, we can reason that not all resurrection appearances were were recorded, and among the first of these appearances was the one on Easter morning in which Jesus appeared to Our Lady.
Again, this was a reward. It was a reward to her faith “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her.” (Luke 1:45). Like the patriarch Abraham, her father is faith and ours, she consented to the immolation of her Son upon the mount. She knew that God’s promises with be fulfilled – – that her Son would be given the throne of David and that he would be given dominion and that his kingdom would be everlasting. She, all like Abraham, was given a promise, and, like Abraham, she knew that his promise had to be fulfilled. Somehow she would get him back – – she anticipated the resurrection and greeted it from afar. In this way, Our Lady is a type of Abraham. Furthermore, she participated in the sacrifice of Calvary like no other. She, as the new Eve, participated in the redemption of the world in correspondence with the new Adam who brought it about. Theirs was a joint obedience atoning for the disobedience of Adam and Eve. If then Our Lady participated in the passion and death of her Divine Son in a singular manner, it follows that she likewise participated in a singular manner in his Resurrection as well. Besides this, we can appeal to argument from the emotional standpoint: of course he appeared to his mother first, because she is his mother! The question we are left with is what did Jesus and Mary converse about on Easter morning? In some way beyond understanding, I believe that they talked about each and every one of us, especially in regards to Our Lady’s vocation as our mother. She is ours and we are hers, as sure as Christ has risen from the dead.
If we are to experience the fullness of joy In the Resurrection of Christ, we must rejoice in and with Our Lady, whose soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord. A great way of doing just that is by praying one of my favorite Marian antiphons, the Regina Caeli, throughout the Easter season:
Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia!
For He whom thou didst merit to bear, alleluia!
Has risen, as He said, alleluia!
Pray for us to God, alleluia!
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia!
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia!
Let us pray. O God, who through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, didst vouchsafe to give joy to the world; grant, we beseech Thee, that through His Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Even more beautiful sung in Latin:)
Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia!
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia!
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia!
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!
Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia!
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!
Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.