It is thus that Saint Peter spoke of the resurrection of Christ, and of the mission of announcing it to all men which he and his fellow disciples had received. God chose His witnesses for this striking event upon which the new faith is founded, and in order that the truth might be widely established, He took them from all ranks of the Church. Devoted and loving women, who had followed the Master, and had not forsaken Him even in death; disciples, who formed the body of the Christian brotherhood; apostles, who were to have charge of the work of extending and governing it. And these shepherds of souls were specially chosen to be not only witnesses but preachers also of the risen Christ.
But Mary had no part in this. She was too closely connected with Jesus, her dignity was too exalted for her to be ranked among witnesses. Her sex, and even more emphatically, her dignity, excluded her from the rank of preachers and apostles ; and the order of the hypostatic union, to which she had been elevated by her divine motherhood, was incomparably higher than either the apostolic order or the order of the gospel ministry. Neither do we find her mentioned in the list of apostles and holy women to whom, according to the sacred narrative, were granted the first appearances of Jesus.
But it by no means follows that she had to wait longer than these others to gaze on Him who had risen from the dead. Her claims were different, and they were in all respects superior to those of the others; and everything indicates that Mary, being of a higher rank, and also of a rank apart, took part in the joys of the Resurrection both before the others and in a greater degree. Scripture, which "assumes that we have intelligence," 2 has left to the knowledge of the learned and the piety of the faithful, the easy task of divining the beautiful secret of Jesus and His mother; and it is believed by all of them that Mary was the first to be illumined with the risen light of Christ. Had she not, more than all others, sorrowed with His sorrows? "In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul." 3 But above all, was she not His mother? And does not the thought present itself, as a kind of spiritual evidence, that the loving Jesus, so perfectly affectionate and attentive in consoling each one of His own, should first consider His mother ? Filial affection and the law of nature demanded it; for so close was the bond between Mary and Jesus from the hour of the Incarnation, that even in the mystery of the resurrection of Christ, Mary has her part.
Because the Father gave eternal life to the Word, He said to Him from the beginning: " Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee." And since the human nature of Christ exists in the Word and participates in His Sonship, the Father says the same words to the Word incarnate, in the eternal present, and He says them especially at those moments when the Word begins or renews His human life. " Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee," are the words of the Father on the day of the Incarnation, on the day of the Nativity, and also on the day of the Resurrection. Mary, who alone with the Father could say: " Thou art my Son," could not add on that Easter morning, "This day have I begotten Thee," for her act is not, like God's, permanent and always in force. But she could say, full of joy and in all truth : " Thou art my Son, even in the splendour of Thy glory; the humanity which to-day is new-born from the tomb, is He who formerly was born of me; and if, three days ago, a part of myself did suffer, to-day, a part of myself is glorified." And she could say further: "Thou art my Son, for the triumph of to-day did I conceive Thee." For yet again, when Mary, different from other women, voluntarily became a mother knowing and assenting to her Son's mission, she acquiesced in His glory as well as in His sufferings. She said " Yes " to the angel, not merely to become the mother of the Saviour, but also to become the mother of the Judge and the Conqueror; she gave to the world not only the Redeemer destined to die on the cross, but the King whose dominion shall have no end. And if the consent then given brought her the nearest to the cross, it also gave her the right to be the first to hear the words, " I am risen from the dead, and behold, I am with you again."
Perhaps, if we carried this reasoning further, we might even be led to ask whether Mary had not a vision of the Resurrection itself; whether she may not have been permitted to contemplate the Father calling His Son from the tomb; to behold the divinity of the Word reuniting the body and soul from which it was inseparable, and infusing into them a new and inalienable life; to watch Christ leaving the rock without breaking the seals of the stone; and, at His entry into glory, to witness Him receive the adoration of the angels. Without insisting on a conjecture which has not often been clearly formulated, and which is perhaps open to some objections, we must at least admit that Jesus may have shown Himself to His mother very soon after the Resurrection. And that moment of new birth was, like the birth at Bethlehem, one of those moments when the Holy Trinity appears to have been revealed to her soul as clearly as was possible, even the vision of the Heavenly Presence, if such a vision is compatible with the state of this earthly life.
But this manifestation of the fulness of divine glory into which her Son entered, could scarcely be borne without some preparation. How was it possible that Mary should pass without any transition from the extreme of sadness to such excess of joy ? During those three days of tears and bitter suffering she had been cast into such deep physical dejection, that it was necessary she should be strengthened and fortified at the approach of this new state of happiness. Did God, who directed her thoughts and affections, change their course as the light of dawn appeared in the sky on that first day of the week ? Did He then bring to her recollection the promise of Jesus, with that charm of hope sure in itself, just at the time when it was about to be fulfilled ? Or did Jesus send an angel before Him, to carry to Mary the first " alleluia" ? Or did He reveal Himself to her by degrees like those absent ones returning, whose voices we hear in the distance before actually seeing them ? Or did His sovereign hand, so tender and yet so powerful, sustain His mother, and accustom her gradually to her excessive happiness ?
Whatever may have been the means employed by divine wisdom, He who had given Mary strength to endure more than any ordinary woman and mother could have endured, gave her strength also to sustain a joy which far surpassed all other earthly joys. 4 How that humble room in John's house was illuminated and magnified ! Jesus was there in the glory of the Father, surrounded by angels and accompanied by the souls of all the righteous whose prison gates He had opened. And neither this glory nor the brilliant retinue in any way impeded their intimate intercourse. Amidst all His splendour as the Son of God, He was still the Son of Mary, devoting Himself to His mother, consoling her, and talking with her of past sorrows which would never return, and of the joy and glory which would be eternal. " It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive," said the aged Jacob when he found again his lost son; and Mary could repeat the words in her heart, " It is enough for me, my Son is yet alive." All those consoling words which were soon to bring joy to the first among the faithful, resounded beforehand in her soul, " Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more ; death hath no more dominion over Him. If then Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we also are risen with Him. Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me." Mary read these, and other thoughts beside, in the divine glory of Jesus; she tasted their consoling sweetness ; she treasured them in her heart, as a living source, from whence Christian generations would soon draw the waters of Paschal joy.
Nevertheless, we do not read that, like Mary Magdalene and the other holy women, Mary was constrained to speak, announcing the resurrection of her Son, and calling upon all to believe it. That part was not hers. We picture her reserved and silent, but fully consoled, and saying, not so much by her words as by her attitude, " The Lord is risen indeed," and in the midst of all the hesitation and the discussion by the friends of Jesus, disseminating through her sweet influence her peace and joy.
During forty days Jesus in many ways showed Himself living to His disciples, appearing to them and talking with them. He must also have visited His mother privately and intimately. The great confidences which they then exchanged, treated perhaps of the blessed life, of the delights of heaven, and of all that glory in view of which God wills or permits the trials and the sufferings of this present life. Jesus spoke to all of " the kingdom of God," and He doubtless spoke fully of this kingdom as it would be in this world; with His mother He may perhaps have dwelt on its consummation. While awaiting His entry into heaven and His triumphant enthronement on the right hand of the Father, He inaugurated magnificently for mankind the order of the blessed life, by the glorifying of His body and His soul, and also by the glorifying of all the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world, whom He took with Him into the joy and the vision of God. Perhaps He spoke to His mother of that multitude of the elect who had preceded Him, of those who would follow Him, and of all those children of God, of whom He was, transcendentally, the first-born. And Mary contemplated beforehand the upward journeying of the bride, the Church militant, towards the Bridegroom, through the ages up to the final triumph, when time would be ended and the New Jerusalem would close its doors behind the last of its entrants. Oh, how she then saw epitomised in her Son, all the history of the world ; how she comprehended through Him that divine law which placed salvation in the Cross, which through humiliation and suffering led the way to glory, which gave to time a brief and fleeting sorrow, and which, for joy and rest, reserved all eternity !
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY
1 Acts x. 40-42.
2 Saint Ignatius : Spiritual Exercises (Mysteries of the Life of Our Lord : the Resurrection of Christ and His first appearance).
3 Psalm xciv. 19.
4 It will be readily seen that what is here said, as well as what will be said a little further on, concerning the intercourse between Jesus and Mary, is only conjecture and probability.