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Easter and Mary

Easter and Mary

– Sister M. Jean Frisk, S.S.M.

Mary was intimately united with her divine Son, Jesus Christ, during his suffering and death. Scriptures tell of Mary standing under the cross (Jn 19:25-27). All About Mary has presented thoughts on Mary during Lent in the form of meditations, which were based on the special collection of Marian liturgies for the Lenten season. All About Mary has also provided a wealth of poetry and iconography depicting Mary in her association with Christ in his suffering.

The following reflections briefly review the history of Marian devotion during the Paschal Triduum and then explore the Catholic Church's tradition regarding Mary and her possible involvement in the Easter and post-Easter experience.

The Three Easter Days
Did Christ Visit Mary at or After the Resurrection? Early Writings
"Et Prima Vidit": The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother
Marian Masses During the Easter Season
A Marian Reflection and Prayer

The Three Easter Days

Easter, the greatest solemnity of the Christian liturgy, is celebrated step by step on three great days, a triduum, as they are called. These three great days, from Holy Thursday evening, through Good Friday, until vespers [later afternoon or evening prayer] on Easter Sunday, the Church commemorates the Paschal Mysteries, that is, the passion, death, and resurrection of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

At the second Vatican Council, the first document to include a statement on Mary, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, states:

In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be [SC103].

Not only was Mary present at the Crucifixion, the Church teaches that she was and continues to be "joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son." Mary herself is "the most excellent fruit of redemption."

The Constitution on the Church from Vatican II also describes Mary's place in the Easter mysteries:

He [Jesus Christ] declared blessed those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing. After this manner, the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth [LG 58].

Later in the Constitution, the Church teaches:

She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ; she presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back the supernatural to souls [LG 61].

During the great Triduum, the liturgies of the Church -- for example, the intercessions at vespers for Marian feasts -- refer to Mary as one who is filled with joy because of the resurrection of her divine Son. The Marian antiphon sung during the Easter season, Regina Coeli, also celebrates her joy: "O Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia! For he whom you did merit to bear, alleluia! Has risen as he said, alleluia!"

Regarding the Paschal days, however, popular devotion stresses Mary's sorrow more than her joy, as can be found in countless versions of the Stations of the Cross and numerous images of the sorrowful mother and Pietà. Mary's place is stressed during the first part of the triduum, with apparently less note of Mary in connection with the resurrection. This would seem to be in accord with the fact that there is no mention of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the gospel resurrection passages.

In keeping with this Marian note, according to Article 74 of the circular letter concerning the preparation and celebration of Easter [January 16, 1988], the Congregation for the Sacred Liturgy noted that Marian images such as the sorrowful mother, the Pietà, and other devotional images referring directly to the suffering of Christ and Mary's share in it, may be placed in churches on Holy Saturday.

The question arises, do we and may we incorporate our love for Mary in the great mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? In order to answer that question, we need to prepare for its answer by looking into the traditions of the past, which incorporate Mary in the Easter mysteries.


Did Christ Visit Mary at or After the Resurrection? Early Writings

As stated above, the Gospels do not record that Christ visited Mary after the Resurrection. The only post-resurrection account of Mary finds her in the Upper Room after the Ascension of Jesus. There she gathers with the early church in prayer. (Acts 1:14) There are two other bodies of literature from the first centuries of Christianity, however, which suggest in stories and sermons that Christ must have visited Mary.

The first body of literature are apocryphal writings. These writings are not accepted as divinely inspired sacred scripture, but they are nonetheless a testimony to the belief of at least some early Christians. Several of the early apocrypha include Mary in the group of holy women who went to the tomb on Easter morning. Coptic literature seems to be the earliest source. As James D. Breckenridge writes in his study of Marian iconography, [see source below], Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (ca. 315- ca. 386) wrote a, "so-called Discourse on Mary Theotokos,"... in which the Virgin is made to speak to the Apostles James, Peter, and John, ten years after the Resurrection:

"Ye saw the sufferings which the Jews inflicted upon Him when He was raised up on the Cross, and that they put Him to death, and that His Father raised Him up from the dead on the third day. And I went to the tomb, and He appeared unto me, and He spake unto me, saying, 'Go and inform My brethren what things ye have seen. Let those whom My Father hath loved come to Galilee' ".

"Such transfers of episodes or attributes from one individual to another are far from rare in the apocrypha; in this case, however, it becomes clear with the examination of multiple examples that they are neither accidental, nor ignorant, mistakes, but conscious attempts to increase the part played by the Virgin in the events of Christ's life."

Origen (3rd century) speaks of a text named, Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, which indicates that the following text existed already in the second century:

"She [the Virgin] opened her eyes, for they were lowered in order not to view the earth, scene of so many dreadful events. She said to Him with joy, 'Rabboni, my lord, my God, my son, thou art resurrected, indeed resurrected.' She wished to hold Him in order to kiss Him upon the mouth'. But He prevented her and pleaded with her, saying, 'My mother, do not touch me. Wait a little, for this is the garment which My Father has given me when He resurrected me. It is not possible for anything of flesh to touch me until I go into heaven'.

'This body is however the one in which I passed nine months in they loins...Know these things, O my mother. This flesh is that which I received in thee. This is that which has reposed in my tomb. This is also that which is resurrected today, that which now stands before thee. Fix your eyes upon my hands and upon my feet. O Mary, my mother, know that it is I, whom thou hast nourished. Doubt not, O my mother, that I am thy son. It is I who left thee in the care of John at the moment when I was raised on the cross.

Now therefore, O my mother, hasten to tell my brothers, and say to them...'According to the words which I have told to you, go into Galilee: You shall see me. Hasten, for it is not possible for me to go into heaven with my Father, no longer to see you more'.

A more known work, the Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle, known to St. Jerome, and probably from the 4th century or late 3rd century, contains a detailed account of Mary's search for the body of Jesus, and Jesus' subsequent appearance to her:

"And the Saviour appeared and in their presence mounted on the chariot of the Father of the Universe, and He cried out in the language of His Godhead, saying, 'Mari Khar Marih' whereof the interpretation is, 'Mary, the mother of the Son of God.' Then Mary, who knew the interpretation of the words said, 'Hramboune Kathiathaari Mirth'; whereof the interpretation is, 'The Son of the Almighty, and the Master, and Son.' And He said unto her, 'Hail, My mother. Hail My ark. Hail, thou who has sustained the life of the whole world'....Then our Saviour stretched out His right hand, which was full of blessing, and He blessed the womb of Mary His mother... The womb of Mary is blessed by God the Father and by the Holy Spirit as well..."

These apocryphal texts indicate the love and reverence for Mary by the early writers. Their romanced accounts attempt to put into words Christ's own gratitude to Mary. There is another body of literature, however, that deals with this theme from the perspective of speculative theology. These are the catechetical and homiletic sources of the early centuries. The Breckenridge study continues:

Concern over the lack of agreement among the gospels on the part played by the holy women and particularly the Virgin, in the events following the Crucifixion was not confined, however, to the vulgar apocrypha. It was also shown by clerical writers from an early date, and occurs frequently enough in their writings to indicate both an awareness of the problem and a tendency to solve it in a fashion closely parallel to that of the composers of the apocrypha... Already in the second century, Tatian... seems to have confused the Virgin Mary with the Magdalene in his account of the episode of the "Noli me tangere" [do not touch me; the title given to iconography of Christ's encounter with Mary Magdalene]; but he also raised the point that was to become the fundamental thesis of all the most orthodox writers touching the subject: that a meeting at which Christ announced his Resurrection to his mother was no less than a logical necessity in the completion of his ministry.

Breckenridge lists studies which indicate that the Eastern Fathers, John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, identify Mary as one of the women in the post-resurrection scene. In the West, St. Ambrose (4th c) notes that Mary deserved to see Christ after his Resurrection. In his own words: Vidit ergo Maria resurrectionem Domini: et prima vidit, et credidit. [Liber de Virginitate, I, iii, 14. Ftn 39 of the Breckenridge study: "Ambrose's discussion is particularly interesting in that he relates the symbolism of Christ's unused tomb to that of the Virgin womb; so he remarks that Christ's rising from the dead repeats the Virgin birth."]. Sedulius, the poet (5th c) takes up this theme and expands the imagery of the womb and the tomb.

In the East, the theme begins to be more prominent in the 9th century. The earliest known source is found in a homily of George, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, on the "Presence of the Virgin at the Sepulcher."

"George of Nicomedia avoided the pitfalls of Scriptural inconcordance by suggesting that the Virgin can be assumed to have been present at the sepulcher on Easter morning before the other women arrived; he intimated that the reason she was not mentioned is that the texts speak only of the women who came to the tomb; while she was already there. In other words, Christ's mother, the only one of his followers to have had perfect confidence in his ultimate triumph, remained at his tomb from the time of its sealing until that of the arrival of the other women on Easter morning. George described the long vigil by the silent tomb, and finally the prayer of Mary to her Son, in which she expressed complete faith in his glorification, requesting only that he vouchsafe her a glimpse of him when he did arise from the dead: "When you have come, and the joy of Resurrection is accomplished, first of all appear to announce this to your Mother." And so, although, as George readily acknowledged, the Scriptures say nothing of it... George proceeded to describe it, not at all in terms of the sort of encounter between two people given by the gospels in the case of Mary Magdalene or the other women, but as a mighty vision of glory, worthy only of an apocalypse... His solution is essentially the one employed by several later Byzantine writers such as Metaphrastes, Theophanes Krameus, and Gregory Palamas."

In the West, the theme became prominent in the 11th and 12th centuries. This coincides with the emergence of the theme in Western art. Eadmer (1064-1124) and Rupert of Deutz (12th c) take their position from Ambrose's way of thinking. They see it as a matter of course that Christ appeared to Mary after the resurrection. According to Breckenridge, Eadmer's sermon states:

"But if anyone should ask why the Evangelists do not describe the resurrected Lord appearing first and quickly to His sweet Mother, that He should mitigate her sorrow, we reply what we have heard inquiring into this matter ..., and what he concludes is that the very narrative character of the Gospels made it impossible for the Evangelists to describe the transports of joy which filled the Virgin when she saw her Son after the Resurrection: for if her joy was so great when He was alive, who can comprehend what it must have been when He arose from the dead?"

By the 13th century, an anonymous author, known as Pseudo-Bonaventure, wrote about Christ's appearance to his mother in Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. This work became the basis for the theme in future thought and art. The text of Pseudo-Bonaventure follows:

"And then about the same time, that is to say early in the morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Jacob, and Salome, taking their leave first of Our Lady, took their way toward the grave with precious ointments. Dwelling still at home Our Lady made her prayer in this manner: 'Almighty God, Father most merciful and most pitying, as You well know, my dear Son Jesus is dead and buried. For truly He was nailed to the cross and hanged between two thieves, And after He was dead, I helped to bury Him with my own hands, Whom I conceived without corruption, and bore Him without travail or sorrow; and He was all my good, all my desire, and all the life and comfort of my soul; but at last He passed away from me beaten, wounded, and torn. And all His enemies rose against Him, scorned Him, and damned Him; and His own disciples forsook Him and flew from Him; and I, His sorrowful Mother, might not help Him. And as You know well, Father of pity and of mercy, that have all power and might, You would not then deliver Him from cruel death; but now You must restore Him again to me alive, and that I beseech Your high majesty. Lord, where is He now, and why tarrieth He so long from me? God the Father, send Him, I pray You, to me; for my soul may not be in rest until the time that I see Him. And my sweet Son, what doest Thou now? And why abidest Thou so long ere Thou comest to me? Truly Thou saidst that Thou shouldst again arise the third day; and is this not the third day, my dear Son? Arise up therefore now, all my joy, and comfort me with Thy coming again, whom Thou discomfortest through Thy going away?' "

"And with that, she so praying, sweet tears shedding, lo suddenly Our Lord Jesus came and appeared to her, and in all white clothes with a glad and lovely cheer, greeting her in these words: 'Hail, holy Mother.' And anon she turning said: 'Art Thou Jesus, my blessed Son?' And therewith she kneeling down honored Him; and He also kneeling beside her said: 'My dear Mother, I am. I have risen, and lo, I am with thee.' And then both rising up kissed the other; and she with unspeakable joy clasped Him sadly, resting all upon Him, and He gladly bare her up and sustained her."

The writings which depict the meeting of Christ and his mother are found in private mystical writings as well, such as in the Revelationes of St. Birgitta of Sweden († 1374) and others.


"Et Prima Vidit": The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother

What was written in early Christianity could only be read by the educated few. What was depicted in iconography could be "read" and learned by many. Hence, two examples of the visit as far back as the 6th century. One is found in a miniature of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection in the Rabula Codex (Syria and Palestine, dated 586-587 A.D.). The scenes first show two holy women at the tomb and second at the feet of Christ. One of the women has a halo, which indicates that she is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The second example is, according to Breckenridge, "a panel of Palestinian provenance in Rome," which shows a woman figure in a black mantle decorated with white spots, which was used to depict the Virgin of the Ascension in Palestine.

"The Virgin continues to appear in occasional miniatures, usually showing traces of a Syrian-Palestinian archetype, of the middle Byzantine period. ... the scene finds its way to Western Europe in the twelfth century: the Virgin is distinguished from the other holy women in a mosaic over the crossing of San Marco in Venice; she is the only one with a halo in a twelfth century miniature of the Breviarum Franconicum at Cologne; and she is also singled out in an initial in the Codex Gisle of about 1300, in the Osnabrück Domgymnasium. ... It seems to survive in rare instances right through the Renaissance: one of Fra Angelico's assistants places Mary at the tomb of Christ in a fresco in San Marco in Florence; and as late as about 1614, Rubens placed the virgin in the center of the group of holy women hearing the words of the angels, in a painting formerly in the Czerin Gallery, Vienna. ...

[Other examples include] the Passionale Kunigundae, a manuscript [of] 1312 by the Canon Benesius for the daughter of King Ottokar of Bohemia; Kunigunde was the Abbess of the Monastery of St. George on the Hradschin, Prag, where the manuscript was preserved."

By the 1400s, the subject had become familiar from Italy to the Low Countries, with the exception of Spain, where the image seldom surfaces until much later. When the theme occurs in Spain it is not based on the description of the Pseudo-Bonaventure. The Spanish theme (more specifically, the Catalan art) shows Mary looking through a window or a door out into a garden where she sees the Resurrected. It seems that the Spanish interpretation goes back to the works of George of Nicomedia. In any event, these scenes do not resemble or cannot be confused with the "Noli me tangere" scenes with Mary Magdalene.

For this reflection of Mary and Easter, we have chosen just one of many representations. It is Roger van der Weyden's, Christ Appearing to the Virgin, now found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Roger van der Weyden's Christ Appearing to the Virgin

The following material is taken from the Breckenridge study:

The Weyden panel is the right wing of an altarpiece which was prepared for Juan II of Castile, ca. 1438. The left panel portrayed the Adoration of the Infant Christ and the central panel is devoted to Christ's Lamentation. "The resurrected Christ is seen at the moment that he confronts his mother; as he approaches from the spectator's left, clad in a red mantle, he draws back at the last instant with that same gesture of recoil which we have noted derives originally from the 'Noli me tangere.' Mary herself, who wears a blue robe with its hem embroidered (as in the other panels) with the words of the Magnificat, turns from her reading to behold him; she is still seated, surprised and, as yet, still sorrowing; her gesture is an instant past that of prayer seen in earlier representations...and suggests that surprise and joy of recognition are just dawning upon her.

The setting is a vaulted Gothic chamber, beyond the open doors of which is visible a landscape where the Resurrection itself is taking place: Christ rises from the tomb in the act of benediction, but is seen only by a single angel, while the three soldier-guardians sleep, and the three women, approaching in the distance, are yet too far removed to witness the momentous scene.

The voussoirs of the framing arch contain figured scenes, counterfeiting sculpture, which when linked with the principle subject, form a connected narrative of the Life of the Virgin. Below the arch, on colonnette pedestals, are the figures of SS. Mark and Paul with their attributes; while within the actual chamber where the Appearance is taking place, two of the four column capitals supporting the vaulted roof are decorated with Old Testament scenes which, according to the Speculum humanae Salvationis, prefigured the events of Christ's Resurrection. At the crown of the framing arch an angel holds a crown and a scroll which, as in the other panels of the triptych, makes explicit the importance of the Virgin's role in the Act of Redemption."

The Roger van der Weyden masterpiece, a theme rare up to the time of its creation, was now copied in abundance, especially by Flemish painters.

There is a third type of iconography which depicts the scene of Christ's appearance to his mother and resembles to a large extent the composition of Annunciation scenes. The purpose of this type is to show the parallel between the announcement of the Incarnation by the angel and Christ's proclamation to his mother that the Incarnation has been fulfilled in the resurrection. The images portray less a personal encounter between the beloved Son and sorrowing mother, and more a proclamation of victory.

Breckenridge concludes his article by stating:

"After the Council of Trent, the tendency to reemphasize the value of collective worship spelled the end for our subject, with its variants and offshoots, in favor of a more or less impersonal message about the Redemption. The Appearance of Christ with the Redeemed, although derived from the writings of the Spanish mystics, has a far less personal content than the ...scene described by the Pseudo-Bonaventure... This very impersonalization soon brought an end to the useful life of the theme."


Marian Masses During the Easter Season

From 1990-1992, three conventions of The Mariological Society of America were devoted to discussing Mary's place in the liturgy with special focus on the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary published in 1986. In 1990, the society chose as its theme:Mary in the Mysteries of Christ from Advent to the Baptism of the Lord. In 1991: Mary in the Mysteries of Christ: Lent and Easter Time, and in 1992: Mary in the Mysteries of Christ During Ordinary Time.The following material on this theme is taken from The Marian Library Newsletter of Winter 1991-92:

...Mary's association with Christ was not limited to his birth and childhood. She was the first to believe in Christ (Lk 1:42), called blessed for hearing and keeping the word of God (Mk 3:35; Lk 11:27-28). She advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and shared the sentiments of her Son as he suffered on the cross where, by divine intention, she stood (Jn 19:25). After the Resurrection, there is a tradition affirmed by Ambrose of Milan, Ignatius of Loyola, and, most recently, by Hans urs von Balthasar that Mary encountered the Risen Christ. Mary's motherhood of love continues until all come to know and respond to God's grace.
In the present liturgical calendar of the Western Church, there is no commemoration of Mary during Lent and Eastertide. (Until the 1961 reform of the calendar, there was a feast on Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent commemorating the compassion of Mary and another on September 15 in memory of all her sorrows. The latter has been retained.) Just as the solemnities dealing with the Incarnation (Annunciation, Nativity, Presentation) all have a Marian dimension, so do the seasons devoted to commemorating the Redemption (Lent, the Paschal Triduum, and the Easter time.) Mary suffered with her Son and associated herself with his sacrifice (LG 65).

One way of commemorating Mary's presence in Lent and the Easter season is found in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1986). The use of these Masses is optional; they are available for those who wish to portray the Virgin Mary in a way appropriate to the spirit of the liturgical season. (The prayers could also be used in the Liturgy of the Hours and in prayer services.) During Lent, the Blessed Virgin is the model of the disciple who faithfully listens to the word of God and follows the footsteps of Christ to Calvary, there to die with him (see 2 Tim 2:11). At the Paschal Triduum, the Blessed Virgin is the new Eve or the "new woman" who stands by the tree of life (see Jn 19:25), as the companion of Christ the "new man" and as the spiritual mother into whose maternal care the Lord entrusts all his followers (see Jn 19:26).

...During the Easter Season, the Collection has four Masses to commemorate Mary's participation in the Paschal Mystery (The Virgin Mary at the Resurrection; Mary as the Fountain of Light and Life; Our Lady of the Cenacle; Mary, Queen of the Apostles).

Regarding the Scriptural references to Mary appropriate to the Paschal and Easter season, Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM, [International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton] spoke of the "encouraging and empowering presence of Mary ... silent, steadfast, at the heart of the total Paschal Mystery. By the memory of the Mother of Jesus, we are enabled likewise to be courageous, prayerful, and faithful as we come to the end of our Lenten journey and bring to a close the Easter Season." ...

Fr. Johann Roten, SM, [International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton] speaks of the Marian characteristics of the Paschal Mystery: "The Church on its eschatological journey refers to Mary not only as model and ideal of faith, but also as mediative presence. This maternal mediation of Mary belongs to the heart of the Marian characteristics of the Paschal Mystery. At the very center of the Paschal Mystery, the foot of the Cross, Mary is given as mother to all humanity; her motherhood receives a new dimension, the consequence of her unwavering love coming to perfection." The article continues, "Through her participation in the Paschal Mystery, Mary becomes an image for what Christ's redeeming grace can accomplish. Understanding the fullness of Christ's redemption or of the mission of the Church requires some reference to Mary, who exemplifies for the Church the spiritual attitudes necessary for worship--listening, praising, praying, and offering."

Mass 15. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Resurrection of the Lord

The introduction to the Mass in the Sacramentary states that this Mass celebrates "the Lord's resurrection and the joy that flows from it:

--to the whole world, joy given by God the Father by the resurrection of (his) Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (OP); and so the day of the Lord's resurrection was a day of light and life when the night of death was ended and the whole world (was to exult)'

-- to the infant Church, which trembled with joy at seeing again its immortal Lord (Pref, see Luke 24:41; John 20:20).

--to the Virgin Mother, whose heart was filled with joy beyond all telling' at the resurrection of Christ (Pref)."

Mass 16: Holy Mary, Fountain of Light and Life

Part of the introduction to the Mass states:

"The Fathers of the Church...frequently teach us that the mysteries of Christ, which the Church, our virgin mother, celebrates in the sacraments of Christian initiation, were accomplished in Mary, the Virgin Mother (Pref): the Spirit who sanctifies the womb of the Church--that is, the font of baptism--to bring forth children of God, sanctified Mary's womb so that she might bring forth the firstborn of many brothers and sisters (see Hebrews 2:11-15) ..."

The texts of the Mass celebrate our lady as:

--the Virgin Mother, (OP, see Pref) who, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Com Ant), became the mother of Christ, the bread of life (see John 6:35), by whom the faithful are nourished in the Church.

--the mother of light (Ent Ant), because she brought forth Christ, the light of the world (see John 12:46; Gos A, John 12:44-50).

--the model of the Church (Ent Ant) because the Church is itself a virgin and brings to birth in the chaste waters of baptism a people of faith (Ent Ant), and in imitation of the mother of Christ' makes its eucharistic offering (POG); and because those things accomplished in sign through the sacraments of the Church' were accomplished already in the Blessed Virgin (Pref).

--the sanctuary of the mysteries of God (Com Ant), because she carried in her virginal womb' Christ, the sacrament of the Father: in Christ are hidden all the treasures of salvation and grace, and through him the face of the Father is revealed to us (see Luke 10:22; John 14:9).

[Note: Two additional Masses, Our Lady of the Cenacle and Mary, Queen of the Apostles, included in the Easter select of the Collection, are not treated here.]


A Marian Reflection and Prayer

During the Paschal days there are many prayers that unite our hearts to the suffering mother of Jesus. Mary Page has presented the great prayers, Stabat Mater, and a collection of Lenten poetry. There is also a section of poetry for the Easter season. These prayers and poems are quite different from the liturgical prayers. The prayers of the Church address Mary in a unique manner during the Easter season. It is as if the Church reaches out to Mary in consolation and celebrates with her the end of a great time of tribulation. The people tell Mary:

"Rejoice, Mother of Light: Jesus, the sun of justice, overcoming the darkness of the tomb, sheds his radiance over the whole world, alleluia." And: "Rejoice, Virgin Mother, for Christ has arisen from his grave, alleluia."
(Communion Antiphon for the Mass, Mary and the Resurrection of the Lord) It is almost as if we would say: O Mother, be happy as none other; we are happy with you!

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619), a Capuchin-Franciscan priest, once gave a Marian Lenten series. Below are extracts of his sermon:

The Mother's Joy

Since, dear brethren, we have recently considered the most bitter and severe sufferings of the Virgin Mother because of the passion and death of her Son, it is only right that we now turn our attention to her joys because of her son's Resurrection from the dead. She hoped for light after the darkness; she hoped for a pleasing spring after the horrible winter had passed; she must have kept in her heart the words of the Psalmist, "Sorrow is but a guest of the night and joy comes in the morning" (Ps 29:6), or "amid all the throning cares that fill my heart, my soul finds comfort in thy consolation" (Ps 93:19). "Insofar as the sufferings of Christ abound in us," wrote St. Paul "so will our consolations abound through Christ" (II Cor 1:5)....

And just as Jacob rejoiced at the news of his favorite son, who could ever try to imagine what happiness and bliss the Virgin enjoyed at the glorious and immortal Resurrection of her son, when He appeared to her in that same glory which He had shown to His chosen disciples?...

What then did the Virgin feel? What kind of rejoicing was hers? What happiness did she experience because of Christ's Resurrection? If the disciples rejoiced at the sight of the Lord, how much more did the mother rejoice at the sight of her most cherished Son? If she had been so happy at His conception, when she conceived a mortal person subject to many pains, as to say, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Lk 1:45), how much happier was she when He received immortality and blessedness?

Surely, she had the right to cry out with Anna, the mother of Samuel, "My heart thrills with joy in the Lord, and I lift up my head in my God. My mouth is bold against my enemies because I am happy in my salvation!" (I Kg 2:1). O immortal God, how great and how wonderful is the reason for this joy! "This is the day which the Lord has made," sings the chorus of saints, "let us rejoice and be happy during it" (Ps 117:15). Now the homes of the just echo with glad cries of victory" (Ps 117:15). Yet, what was the cry of happiness and victory in the heart of the most holy mother? If the Jews saw a new light dawning, bring rays of joy, honor, and a favorable sign to Mardochai and Esther after the execution of the wicked Aman...imagine what light the Virgin must have seen on this day in the great glory and exaltation of her Son, when, after He had conquered and triumphed over hell, overcome death, and, crushing Satan in battle, He appeared to her clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of stars.

... Mary rejoiced in the conception of Christ, she thrilled with joy at His birth, and when she heard "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace of men of good will" (Lk 2:13-14), the hymn echoed throughout the countryside by a chorus of angels. Mary was enraptured when the Magi came in adoration, and when she found Jesus in the temple; and she was even more joyous when she heard of and saw the great number and variety of miracles which He was working. Her joy grew more profound as she saw Him ascend into heaven, His seat of glory, accompanied by the angels. But on this day, she was filled with a happiness greater than all of these, greater than can ever be told. Just as the man who found the great treasure in his field, in a unimaginable manner Mary found an infinite glorious treasure in the Resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ....

We Pray with the Church

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
At the resurrection of your Anointed One
you filled the heart of the Blessed Virgin
with joy beyond all telling
and wonderfully exalted her faith.

For it was in faith
that she conceived your Son,
It was in faith
that she awaited his resurrection.

In the strength of faith
she waited for that day of light and life
when the night of death would be ended,
the whole world would exult,
and the infant Church tremble with joy
at seeing again its immortal Lord.

Through him the angels of heaven
offer their prayer of adoration
as they rejoice in your presence for ever...

[Preface of the Mass, The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Resurrection of the Lord]


Sources: James D. Breckenridge, "Et Prima Vidit: The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother," Art Bulletin, 39 (1957); "Saint Lawrence of Brindisi: The Mother's Joy: A Sermon For Easter," The Cord, Vol. 14 (March 1954): 93-96; Marian Studies: "Mary in the Mysteries of Christ -- Lent and Easter" Vol 42 (1991); Marienlexikon, "Ostern" [Vol V, 1993]; The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, [Daughters of St. Paul edition, 1962]; Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sacramentary and Lectionary, The Liturgical Press, 1992.

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