Gospel of the Easter Sunday of
the Resurrection of the Lord
1 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.4 They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; 5 he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. 6 When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 7 and the cloth that had covered His head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. 8 Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. 9 For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead (Jn 20:1-9).
I – Scrutinizing the Secret of Mary
The joy of the Lord’s Resurrection is an inscrutable mystery for ordinary men. How can we measure the height, the extent and the depth of the almost infinite joy that pervaded the Heart of Jesus in recovering His Body and raising it to the glorious state, triumphing definitively over sin and death? This is a reality so sublime that it greatly surpasses our feeble intelligence. Although He is truly Man, Our Lord sets the roots of His personality in the Person of the Word by the grace of hypostatic union. Thus, His identity is fully divine and, as a result, His feelings and emotions reach such a height of perfection that they become somehow unattainable for us.
Thus, to know as closely as possible the jubilation experienced by Jesus in the Easter triumph, Divine Wisdom gave us the Virgin Mary, Mother and closest companion of the Redeemer. Our Lady was a most faithful echo chamber of her Son’s ineffable delight, for She was closely linked to Him throughout the entire epic of salvation.
The perfect congruity of Mary’s Co-redemption
The Blessed Virgin is, in the highest sense of the term, the Co-redemptrix of sinners. Although her cooperation in the Passion of Christ was not per se necessary, it was made so by the will of the Father of Lights, who in His divine designs determined to give the New Adam a faithful companion, in opposition to the first prevaricating woman who dragged Adam into the abyss of sin. For this reason, the most ancient Fathers of the Church designate Mary as the New Eve, entirely holy, immaculate and obedient. Her cooperation made reparation, in the most beautiful way, for the fault of the first couple, guilty of rebellion and the cause of humanity’s misfortunes.
St. John, in his Gospel (cf. Jn 19:25-27), is keen to emphasize the compassionate role of the Virgin Mother in the shadow of the Cross. She stood fast during the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and, in a priestly spirit, and offered Him up to the Heavenly Father in an act of supreme submission. The harrowing sorrows of the Son were shared by the Mother, who immolated herself at His side with an ardent desire to snatch from Satan’s filthy clutches the souls bound by sin and enslaved by death.
United in sorrow, inseparable in victory
Consequently, the suffering Hearts of Jesus and Mary, united as they were by the same afflictions and the same charity, were rightly to experience in unison the consolations of the Resurrection. This is why many Saints claim that it was Our Lady who was the first to meet Our Lord on that dawn abounding with the blessings of the true Easter.
But our filial piety takes us further. Because of the close supernatural bond between them and the gift of the permanence of the Eucharistic Species, the Blessed Virgin certainly accompanied, step by step, all the episodes of her Son’s Passion and Resurrection. Following this, She must have received a visit from Jesus full of life and joy, which filled her maternal spirit with the most sublime joys.
It is in contemplating the jubilant Heart of Mary, sweetly embraced by her triumphant Son, that we can ascend to the height of the great event we recall today.
II – The First Signs of a Foretold Victory
The Gospel for this Easter Sunday succinctly describes the first signs of the Resurrection, which were difficult for the disciples and the Holy Women to perceive. In fact, their hearts were too earth-bound and as yet imperfect, not yet ready to open themselves to the radiance of the greatest event in history.
This hardness of heart becomes clear in St. Mark’s account of the episode of the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2-13). After His manifestation on the mountain, Jesus had imposed secrecy on the three witnesses chosen until He had risen from the dead.
The Apostles obeyed the Master, without, however, understanding what this reference to the resurrection of the dead meant. Later on, in the same Gospel (cf. Mk 9:31-32), the Lord reveals His future Death and Resurrection to all the disciples. They do not understand what is announced to them and are afraid to ask.
It is, in all certainty, thanks to their association with the Co-redemptrix that St. Peter and St. John, like the other disciples, will open their eyes, clouded by sadness, to the divine wonder that has just taken place. However, their limitation will serve us as a stepping-stone to the perfection of joy that moved the depths of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with irresistible impetus.
A fiery but imperfect love
1 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
St. Mary Magdalene is a personage of extraordinary richness. A repentant sinner after sad relapses (cf. Lk 8:2), she shows ardent humility and love in bathing the feet of Jesus with sincere tears and sweet perfume (cf. Lk 7:37-38). In Bethany, she was the protagonist of the episode recounted by St. Luke in which Our Lord rebukes the agitation of Martha, her sister, preoccupied with serving the guests, and praises Mary for having chosen the better part (cf. Lk 10:38-42).
And crowning her many unforgettable moments with the Redeemer, she witnesses the resurrection of her brother Lazarus, who, dead for four days, emerges from the tomb walking by himself before numerous witnesses, awe-struck at the power of the divine miracle-worker.
It is she who, still covered by the cloak of night, goes with haste to the sepulchre, impelled by her fiery and chaste love for Jesus. And while this attitude is admirable, we are amazed that Mary Magdalene did not even suspect that the Master could not remain in the claws of death, having defeated it many times over. The flame of charity was burning in her soul, but in an imperfect way, because her faith was but a flicker.
This virtue, on the contrary, shone with serene and vigorous splendour in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As the Liturgy recounts, Our Lady remained faithful at the “altar of the Cross,”1 sustained by the hope of the Resurrection. Her faith in this circumstance, the most dramatic that the centuries have known, can be called dauntless.2 It was a faith multiplied by faith, a culmination of certainty in good success in the midst of the deep and dark valley of apparent failure. It can well be said that the darkness of Good Friday was defeated by the Marian light that shone within Her, confirming Her in the absolute conviction of a coming, resounding and complete triumph.
This daring faith made Our Lady the most courageous Lady in history. The providential women of the Old Testament – such as Judith, Esther or Deborah – and even the most fearless martyrs, who have illuminated the firmament of the Church with their bravery, owe their splendid gift of fortitude to the intercession of the Virgin of Virgins, who with Jesus vanquished the prince of this world and his henchmen.
Even the boldness of St. Joan of Arc, the virgin-warrior of Domrémy, surrounded by shining rays of blue and silver, is but a share in the fearlessness of Her who is “fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array” (Ct 6:10).
Thus the sight of the stone removed from the entrance to the Sepulchre, which so stunned Mary Magdalene, would in no way shock the crystalline and luminous spirit of Our Lady. Comforted by the visit of Jesus, who consoled Her by showing himself more radiant and filial than ever, her soul exulted with a joy incomparably greater than the bitter sorrows of the Passion.
Without the light of faith, all is darkness
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him.”
It is surprising that Mary Magdalene went to look for St. Peter and St. John, and not for Our Lady. For some mysterious reason, the Blessed Virgin lived the events connected with the Resurrection in relative isolation. Perhaps the disciples’ incredulity prevented them from seeking her presence and asking her advice.
The Magdalene’s lack of faith meant that everything was darkness for her soul. The fact that the Sepulchre was open, instead of being a sign of Christ’s victory, seemed to her the proof of a sacrilegious theft: they must have taken away the Body of Our Lord and left it in an unknown place. The feverish agitation with which she ran to communicate the news to the Apostles is a consequence of this state of mind.
At this moment Our Lady remained in an ineffable peace, illumined by a sacred and elevated joy. Perhaps She was conferring in her Heart the prophecies about the Death and Resurrection of her Son, which had been admirably fulfilled, and which now formed in her spirit a marvellous stained-glass window pierced by the rays of the authentic undefeated Sun.
When the radiance of hope does not illuminate souls, everything is darkened and no earthly power is able to dissipate the gloomy sadness of hearts. Let this be a lesson for us, immersed in a world taken with the ephemeral comforts and securities offered by so many scientific and technological advances – a world that has turned its back on any prospect of eternity.
To live without faith is to reduce humanity to a new stone age, in which artificial forms of light deceive a multitude of individuals ensnared by the myth of progress. However, the increasing levels of psychological illness resulting from anxiety, depression and delirium show how much the human will aspires to an infinite love that only God can bestow.
Before and after Mary
3 So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.4 They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first…
The two disciples set off in haste toward the Holy Sepulchre, without the slightest reflection. They were in some sense to blame for the blindness of the others, since St. Peter had been made Prince of the Apostles, and St. John had inherited the care of the Virgin. Both of them were only capable of seeing the concrete reality; the optics of faith did not shine in their hearts. They, who should have been standard-bearers of hope, allowed the fever of their informer to spread to them, and they set out running, to see with the eyes of the flesh what their interior gaze could not contemplate.
Here the providential role of Our Lady as the torch-bearer of certainty at the moment of the terrible trial stands out. When the pillars of the Church were shaken by the cruel contradiction of the Cross, one flame was burning with admirable intensity: it was the Blessed Virgin who, with adamantine fidelity, guarded intact in her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart the admirable deposit of Faith. She was the venerable ark which, in the midst of the deluge of Blood on Calvary, sheltered the sacred fire of truth, which on Pentecost became an irresistible blaze, spreading to the four corners of the earth.
Thus we see to what degree we must consider a before and after Mary in the history of the Church. It is only through Her that the Son willed to pour out His best graces upon the Apostles and upon the whole Church.
5…he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
St. John knew how to honour the venerable age of St. Peter and, above all, his condition as head of the Church. The fact that he did not wish to enter the Sepulchre before him indicates a respectful attitude, which underlines the hierarchical character of Christian charity which, contrary to egalitarian demagogy, excels in observing the order instituted by God in all created realities and, in a special way, in the Mystical Body of Christ.
Without doubt, this attitude won for the Beloved Disciple preliminary graces of faith in the Resurrection. In it, we can perceive the influence of Mary Most Holy, who in her profound humility delighted in honouring every type of superiority, forgetting herself and her sovereign prerogatives.
The first sign of the Resurrection
6 When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 7 and the cloth that had covered His head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Finally, St. Peter caught up with St. John and, without hesitation, entered the tomb, an action forbidden to Jews. He sees the linen cloth that wrapped the Body – a “large cloth”, according to more recent translations of the Greek originals, which makes it possible to identify it with the Shroud of Turin – and observes that the cloth that had been placed over Jesus’ face is laid in a separate place.
Now, if thieves had stolen the Body, they would not have taken the care to remove the linen cloth or to fold the burial cloth. What did all this mean? Peter considered these details, but did not find in them the first indication of the Resurrection. If at that moment he had examined the Shroud, on seeing the discreet but unmistakable marks of the Divine Master he would have fallen to his knees and from his lips would have sprung the most beautiful confession of faith. However, his soul was paralyzed by the fear that this confusing situation caused him.
Our Lady’s attitude would have been entirely different. Prompt to adore any trace of her Divine Son, She would have venerated those relics with torrents of enthusiasm and, before her eyes, the extraordinary secret that the Shroud contained would be revealed. Only those minds that allow themselves to be carried on the wings of the conviction of victory can fly!
The flame of faith is kindled by the influence of Mary
8 Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. 9 For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead.
The disciples did not understand why they lacked the main tool for analysing the Scriptures: the virtue of faith. What hardness of heart this lacking indicates. Jesus had clearly revealed how His life on this earth would end, emphasizing that He would conquer the devil and death forever. However, the desire to consider the Divine Master in accordance with the murky influences of the prevailing Public Opinion deafened them to the prophecies of the Son of God. Lack of faith generates superficiality of spirit – a vice to which pusillanimity is inevitably added.
John, the Marian Apostle par excellence, was the first to believe. Those signs served as a divine spark to rekindle the flame of faith in his soul. He saw and believed, doubtless because of the beneficial influence of Our Lady’s spiritual motherhood, which exercised itself in a special way over the Beloved Disciple since he had received Her as his inheritance on Calvary.
III – Easter in the Light of Mary
Our Lady was always a sea of deep, transparent and virginal recollection. She treasured and pondered in her Heart every gesture and word of her Divine Son, with an infinite thirst to understand and love the meaning of the most varied nuances regarding Him that were revealed to Her. In this way her spirit became persevering, strong and resilient. She remained standing by the Cross, accompanied only by the Holy Women and St. John, who bore a filial affection for Her. The other disciples remained distant and fearful.
Only Mary could in the truest sense suffer with the Immaculate Lamb and unite herself to Him in the sacrifice that He made of himself. Our Lady was in some way a victim with the Supreme Victim and a priest with the Divine Priest. It was not a question of a sacramental priesthood, like that of bishops and priests, but of a direct participation in the very priesthood of Jesus, Supreme Pontiff of the New and Eternal Covenant, which, in this very special case, gave Her the prerogative whereby, consenting to every step in the Passion of her Son, She herself in a certain sense offered Him up to the Father. This made the Blessed Virgin a Co-redemptrix with the Redeemer, a glory surpassed perhaps only by the Divine Maternity.
And if the struggle was arduous, the prize was sublime and the joy unspeakable. Contemplating this Marian joy that was enkindled at the precise moment when the Lord of glory reassumed His Body, we can ascend to the boundless happiness that flooded the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus forever on the most beautiful Sunday in history.
A Marian Church
In view of this Gospel and the discreet reference to the faith of the Blessed Virgin discerned between its lines, a question of capital importance emerges regarding the future of the Church.
If the role of Mary, Mother of God and ours, was crucial at the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, in the sense of manifesting with unique splendour the virtue of hope, so dimmed in the spirit of the disciples, what will her mission be in the current situation, in which revealed truth is forgotten, ridiculed and even trampled underfoot by wolves disguised as shepherds?
Moreover, if Jesus wanted the precious gift of faith to be preserved by His Mother when all others were vacillating, has He not entrusted to Her the task of safeguarding with maternal care the integrity of faith of the Apostles of the Latter Times, heralded by prophets of the stature of a St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort? And how will this virtue be in men and women called to hope against all hope? In view of the considerations made above, it is possible to foresee a faith which is entirely Marian, and therefore a bold, invincible and glorious faith; an ardent faith which will set the world on fire and renew the face of the earth, inundating it with exultation.
From this faith will be born a Marian Church, capable of irresistibly attracting all souls who will be converted before the imposing manifestations of the mercy and justice of God; a Church which, like Our Lady, will be an indomitable warrior and, with the strength that will come to her from the Holy Spirit, will cast Satan and his followers into the bowels of hell; a Church radiant with holy joy, animated with divine enthusiasm, which with the smile of the Virgin-Mother will irresistibly illuminate the whole universe. ◊
1 THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS (I). Prayer Over the Offerings.
In: CONFERÊNCIA EPISCOPAL PORTUGUESA. Coletânea de Missas da Virgem Santa Maria. Missal. Fátima: Secretariado Nacional de Liturgia, 2014, p.74.
2 Cf. BENEDICT XVI. Act of Veneration to the Immaculate at the Spanish Steps, 8/12/2007.