Saturday, April 7, 2012

When did Mary begin to understand that Jesus would die and rise?

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!


James Joseph said...

I have been of the understanding that She had an inkling of that which was yet to come gradually coming to the fuller-understanding She was to have the generation later. This is what I picked-up from gazing upon the icon of Perpetual Help.

Anonymous said...

1. God does not deceive. & God can not be deceived.
2. It's theologically reasonable to believe that Mary (AKA Blessed Mother) knew of God's plan >before she said, "Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word."


Howard said...

There was also that bit about "a sword will pierce your own heart" much earlier. One way or the other, Jesus had been quite explicit about what was going to happen when speaking to his Apostles, and it appears that the Blessed Virgin was with them when that happened. It's not surprising that she knew what was going to happen; even the chief priests and the Pharisees remembered what Jesus had said (Matthew 27:62,63). It's more surprising that the Apostles show know sign of even remembering His words. It appears (to me at least) that the shock and trauma of the arrest and crucifixion drove those words entirely out of their minds.

Dave Florian said...

This is a great reflection into the fifth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Thanks for the post. Happy Easter Fr. Ryan!

Rainer said...


I wrote on a similar topic for a senior philosophy thesis earlier this year and my conclusions were similar. I took it from the angel that Mary, being conceived immaculately, may still have recourse to the preternatural gifts which Adam and Eve lost in the Garden. Thus, the contemplation in her heart would have been of greater value and surer logic than our own. Thank you for point out the connections between this event and the Passion.

Jack said...

\\perhaps this is why she did not go with the other women to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning,\\

I don't know where you got this idea.

She is shown in Byzantine iconography to be among the Myrrh-bearing Women who beheld the empty tomb.

If you don't believe me, go to, and look at the latest issue of SOPHIA, the official periodical of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton.

Anonymous said...

There is also the tradition, perhaps St. Alphonsus mentions it, that Mary was witness to the Resurrection and that it was she who folded the shroud and the sudarium.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

This seems an apt time to direct attention to the great Dom Prosper Gueranger and what he had to write about Mary for the Feast of the Seven Dolours and how Mary consented to the Crucifixion:

Now, in all this, there is another mystery besides that of Mary's sufferings. Her dolours at the foot of the cross include and imply a truth, which we must not pass by, or we shall not understand the full beauty of today's feast. Why would God have her assist in person at such a scene as this of Calvary? Why was not she, as well as Joseph, taken out of this world before this terrible day of Jesus' death? Because God had assigned her a great office for that day, and it was to be under the tree of the cross that she, the second Eve, was to discharge her office. As the heavenly Father had waited for her consent before He sent His Son into the world: so, likewise, He called for her obedience and devotedness, when the hour came for that Son to be offered up in sacrifice for the world's redemption. Was not Jesus hers? her Child? her own and dearest treasure? And yet, God gave Him not to her, until she had consented to become His Mother; in like manner, He would not take Him from her, unless she gave Him back.

But see what this involved, see what a struggle it entailed upon this most loving heart! It is the injustice, the cruelty, of men that rob her of her Son; how can she, His Mother, ratify, by her consent, the death of Him, whom she loved with a twofold love, as her Son, and as her God? But, on the other hand, if Jesus be not put to death, the human race is left a prey to satan, sin is not atoned for, and all the honours and joys of her being Mother of God are of no use or blessing to us. This Virgin of Nazareth, this noblest heart, this purest creature, whose affections were never blunted with the selfishness which so easily makes its way into souls that have been wounded by original sin, what will she do? Her devotedness to mankind, her conformity with the will of her Son who so vehemently desires the world's salvation, lead her, a second time, to pronounce the solemn FIAT: she consents to the immolation of her Son. It is not God's justice that takes Him from her; it is she herself that gives Him up. But, in return, she is raised to a degree of greatness, which her humility could never have suspected was to be hers: an ineffable union is made to exist between the two offerings, that of the Incarnate Word, and that of Mary; the Blood of the divine Victim, and the tears of the Mother, flow together for the redemption of mankind.

After the Resurrection, Jesus went to His Mother first - that is why she was not at the tomb

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I don't know what would possess you to use such an aggressive tone ...

You ask where I get this idea from ... Our Lady is not mentioned among the women in Scripture, and many saints and theologians say that she was not present.

To give just one authority: "Indeed, it is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not Mary's ABSENCE from the group of women who went t the tomb at dawn (cf. Mk 16:1; Mt 28:1) indicate that she had already met Jesus?"
- John Paul II, 31 Jan 1985 (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

and, btw, your link didn't take me to any image of the resurrection ... nor was the most recent issue of Sophia easily located on the site.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

The fresco over the high altar in our church has Our Lady standing at the foot of the Cross with her hands and arms outstretched to Our Lord, and they are gazing at each other. Is it possible that Our Lady was then fully aware of Her role as the intercessor, and that she mystically received all our sins, fears, and failings, and gave them to Her Son on the Cross so that He might transform them into the most precious of all elements (His Suffering for our salvation) for the greater honor and glory of His Father? Thank you for this wonderful exposition! Happy Easter, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

1st - Please use a pseudonym ... it is a simple matter of respect.

2nd - I can assure you that our Blessed Lady DID NOT fold the Sudarium ... the idea is directly contrary to Sacred Scripture which states that the piece of head covering was already folded and set to the side when the women first came to the entrance of the open tomb.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
It is certainly a venerable tradition to believe that Jesus appeared first of all to Mary ... but it is good to realize that not a single Church Father thought this (and many explicitly stated otherwise) [the citations from St. Ambrose which many appeal to are taken totally out of context, by the way].
Also, St. Thomas explicitly claimed that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord.
And the Catechism states the same.
And, most importantly, Sacred Scripture.

You recall my article from last year (I am sure). There, you can find all the relevant citations --

Still, many many many saints (in fact, nearly every saint) since the 14th century has believed that Jesus did appear first to his Mother ... and this has been affirmed also by Bl John Paul II.
So I do not wholly rule out the possibility.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, I am sure that our Lady understood her role as mediatrix and co-redemptrix at the foot of the Cross.
Thank you for bringing this to mind! +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Thank for the link back to your previous post about the question of whether or not Jesus first appeared to Mary. I had forgotten how well you had written that particular post, but, that is just typical of how you write every one of your posts which is one reason you have garnered so many faithful fans in such a short time.

Phil said...

Thank you for this. I have often wondered why Mary did not go to the tomb with the others. She must have understood through the mystery of the finding in the temple, that her Son would not be there.

Instead, she waited in patience for Him to make Himself known to her at his timing.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ I am not Spartacus,
Thank you for the kind words ... and I should say that I don't mean to be too anti the idea of Jesus appearing first to his Mother -- even though it is not an ancient belief, since the idea was promoted nearly every saint and Catholic theologian has held it ... so that counts for quite a lot! +

Anonymous said...

Our Lord appearing first to his mother, makes so much sense to me. After all, her face is the first He saw when He entered this cruel world!

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