Tradition holds that Blessed Mary alone remained steadfast in faith, even in the midst of her grief, on the Saturday of our Savior’s rest in the tomb. She knew, by her perfect faith, that Jesus would indeed rise from the dead on the third day – perhaps this is why she did not go with the other women to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, she knew that she must not seek the living among the dead.
How is it that Mary knew that Jesus would rise from the dead? What event, if any, can be singled out as the moment when she first began to understand that her beloved Son would die and rise again?
Many years earlier, when Jesus was only twelve, he began to instruct his Mother in the paschal mystery.
Mary lost her Jesus once before
And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch, And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. (Luke 2:41-45)
Notice that a) The event occurs in Jerusalem, b) at the time of the Passover. The Holy Family had travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the yearly paschal feast.
Now, we know that Mary committed no sin and, of course, neither could Jesus have committed any sin whatsoever. Thus, it should be clear that there was no sin involved (nor even any true imperfection) in the loss of the Christ Child.
Mary did nothing wrong. Jesus did nothing wrong. And even Joseph did nothing wrong. Yet there is sorrow and confusion – for although Mary never erred, she (unlike the Christ) did not know all things. Mary, together with Joseph, yet had to be instructed in the great mysteries of the faith, and it was to this purpose that Christ remained behind in the Temple.
The Lord allowed himself to be lost for a moment, so that Joseph and his Mother might understand the plan of salvation which was to be accomplished in him.
After three days, she found her Child
And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. (Luke 2:46-50)
Mary and Joseph search for Jesus, and find him on the third day. This is no mere coincidence or useless detail – the Divine Providence provided for that the Child Jesus should only be found on the third day, and that he should be found in his Father’s house and accomplishing his Father’s work.
After three days, this phrase should immediately draw our hearts and minds to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. For three days, Christ would be lost to the whole world. For three days, the Savior would be dead. But, after three days, he would rise and be found.
St. Ambrose (quoted in the Catena Aurea) speaks to this mystery saying, “After three days He is found in the temple, that it might be for a sign, that after three days of victorious suffering, He who was believed to be dead should rise again and manifest Himself to our faith, seated in heaven with divine glory.”
This is what Jesus was teaching to Mary and also to Joseph – that he would die and rise again on the third day. It was a difficult and painful teaching. And so, there is anguish and sorrow in Mary’s heart as she questions her divine Son: Son, [she speaks in all tenderness] why hast thou done so to us?
Our Blessed Lady does not doubt, and she certainly does not accuse. Rather, she questions, she asks – “teach me, my Son; reveal to me the mystery.” And he begins to teach her.
Mary grew in her understanding of these mysteries
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. (Luke 2:51)
We can be certain that our Lady had long before already come to something of an understanding that the Christ would suffer and die, and so rise again. She had read of the Suffering Servant and the Lamentations. She knew that Isaac had been offered by Abraham, and had been received back alive. And so, she certainly knew something of the paschal mysteries.
However, this knowledge was not always clear – for faith is believing in that which is not seen. And even that which is seen is as through a glass in a dark manner (1 Corinthians 13:12). And so, Mary came, step by step, to an understanding of that which she believed.
St. Theophylus tells us (in the Catena Aurea), “The Virgin, whether she understood or whether she could not yet understand, equally laid up all things in her heart for reflection and diligent examination. Hence it follows, And, his mother laid up all these things, etc. Mark the wisest of mothers, Mary the mother of true wisdom, becomes the scholar or disciple of the Child. For she yielded to Him not as to a boy, nor as to a man, but as unto God. Further, she pondered upon both His divine words and works, so that nothing that was said or done by Him was lost upon her, but as the Word itself was before in her womb, so now she conceived the ways and words of the same, and in a manner nursed them in her heart. And while indeed she thought upon one thing at the time, another she wanted to be more clearly revealed to her; and this was her constant rule and law through her whole life.”
Pondering on these things in her Immaculate Heart, the Blessed Mother came to understand that, even when it seemed as though her Son was ultimately lost to her through his death, he would indeed be returned to her and to all on the third day through his resurrection from the dead.
She had lost her Child once before, in Jerusalem, at the feast of Passover; but she had come to understand that he was doing his Father’s will, and she saw that he was returned to her safely. It was the memory of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple which stayed Mary’s faith through the sorrows of the first Holy Saturday.
Mary, model of all believers, Pray for us who have recourse to thee!