Easter Sunday 03-23-08
Prepared by Fr. Peter Girard, OP
First Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Second Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
Gospel John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10 or Luke 24:13-35 (evening)
1. Subject Matter
• Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb on Easter morning to discover the Heavenly Gardener
tending to the “garden” of redeemed humanity.
2. Exegetical Notes
• In Matthew’s account, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary see an angel roll back the stone
and announce to them: Do not be afraid; you are looking for the crucified One; He is not
here; for He is risen as he said.” After this, the two women announce this news to the
Apostles (cf. Mt.28:1-8).
• In Mark's account, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome encounter an
angel sitting within the empty tomb who tells them: “Do not be amazed: you seek Jesus of
Nazareth who was crucified; He has been raised up, he is not here.” After this, Mark records
that Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene who in turn announces the Resurrection to the
Apostles (cf. Mk.16:1-11).
• In Luke’s account, two dazzling angels appear to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of
James, Johanna and other women of their company and announce: “Why do you seek the
living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen as he told you.” Like the other accounts,
the women then announce this news to the Apostles (cf. Lk.24:1-11).
• John’s Gospel, however, is unique in that Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb alone at first
and in turn tells the Apostles. After the departure of Peter and John, Mary Magdalene
remains at the tomb weeping, only to soon encounter Jesus in the form of a caretaker or
gardener (cf. Jn.20:1-18). So John gives singular preeminence to Mary Magdalene: she is
the first to see the empty tomb, the first to announce the Resurrection and the first to
encounter the Risen Lord, who remains at first veiled from recognition.
• The noli me tangere of the Lord to Mary Magdalene is unique to John’s Gospel (cf. Jn.20:17).
• The title “Rabboni” that Mary Magdalene uses to address the Risen Lord was one of three
designations for a Jewish teacher of the law. The lowest was Rab meaning quot;Masterquot; and was
apparently a Babylonian title given to certain learned men who had received the laying-on of
hands within the rabbinic schools. Rabbi from the Aramaic, meaning quot;My Masterquot; was the
next highest designation, where a man was bestowed the title from the laying-on of hands by
the Sanhedrin. Once appointed by this body, the man was given a key and scroll and placed
on a chair raised above the assembly. The key symbolized power and authority to teach
others, while the scroll symbolized that he was familiar and devoted to his studies. A Rabbi
would wear the key as a token of greatness and it was buried with him. According to the
Aruch (the Talmudic lexicon) a Rabbi was one who had disciples, and whose disciples were
prepared to raise up new disciples. Rabboni meaning “My Great Masterquot; was the greatest
designation of all Jewish teachers and was rarely given. Once a Rabbi had seen two
generations of disciples and greatly revered for his teaching and wisdom, he was referred to
by the community as Rabboni, a title which implied that his teaching would prevail in
generations to come. The title Rabboni appears only twice in the New Testament: Mark
10:51 (the healing of the man born blind) and John 20:16 (Mary Magdalene encountering the
• quot;Magdalenequot; means quot;of Magdala,quot; a fishing village (modern-day Migdal) on the western
shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The place name means “tower,” perhaps referring to a
structure for drying and salting fish, a local industry.
3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
• 639 The mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were
historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56, St. Paul could
already write to the Corinthians: quot;I delivered to you as of first importance what I also
received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was
buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he
appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve . . .quot;491 Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of
the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.492
• 640 quot;Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.quot;493 The first
element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is
not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ's body from the tomb could be
explained otherwise.494 Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its
discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the
Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter.495 The
disciple quot;whom Jesus lovedquot; affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered
quot;the linen cloths lying there,quot; quot;he saw and believed.quot;496 This suggests that he realized from
the empty tomb's condition that the absence of Jesus' body could not have been of human
doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with
641 Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus,
which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday,
were the first to encounter the Risen One.498 Thus the women were the first messengers of
Christ's Resurrection for the apostles themselves.499 They were the next to whom Jesus
appears: first Peter, then the Twelve. Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his
brothers,500 and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that
the community exclaims: quot;The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!quot;501
• 645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact
with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above
all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been
tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion.509 Yet at the same time this
authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space
and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer
be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm.510 For this
reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the
guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their
• 647 O truly blessed Night, sings the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil, which alone deserved to
know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the realm of the dead!513 But no one was
an eyewitness to Christ's Resurrection and no evangelist describes it. No one can say how it
came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life,
perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be
verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the
risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that
transcends and surpasses history. This is why the risen Christ does not reveal himself to the
world, but to his disciples, quot;to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who
are now his witnesses to the people.quot;514
• 648 Christ's Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God
himself in creation and history. In it the three divine persons act together as one, and
manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father's power quot;raised upquot; Christ his Son and
by doing so perfectly introduced his Son's humanity, including his body, into the Trinity.
Jesus is conclusively revealed as quot;Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by
his Resurrection from the dead.quot;515 St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God's power516
through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus' dead humanity and called it to the
glorious state of Lordship.
491. 1 Cor 15:3-4.
492. Cf. Acts 9:3-18.
493. Lk 24:5-6.
494. Cf. Jn 20:13; Mt 28:11-15.
495. Cf. Lk 24:3, 12, 22-23.
496. Jn 20:2, 6, 8.
497. Cf. Jn 11:44; 20:5-7.
498. Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1; Jn 19:31, 42.
499. Cf. Lk 24:9-10; Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:11-18.
500. Cf. 1 Cor 15:5; Lk 22:31-32.
501. Lk 24:34, 36.
509. Cf. Lk 24:30, 39-40, 41-43; Jn 20:20, 27; 21:9, 13-15.
510. Cf. Mt 28:9, 16-17; Lk 24:15, 36; Jn 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4.
511. Cf. Mk 16:12; Jn 20:14-16; 21:4, 7.
513. quot;O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis
514. Acts 13:31; cf. Jn 14:22.
515. Rom 1:3-4; cf. Acts 2:24.
516. Cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 13:4; Phil 3:10; Eph 1:19-22; Heb 7:16.
4. Patristic Commentary and Other Authorities
• St. Hippolytus (170-236) was the first Father to name St. Mary Magdalene an apostola
apostolorum in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, followed by St. Ambrose (339-397),
St. Augustine (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
• St. John Chrysostom (347-407): “Let all Pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the
splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those
who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since
the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be
grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be
afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He
gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the
first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous
to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort. Come you all: enter into the joy of
your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor,
dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast
and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The
calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you
receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal
kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the
grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it
by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by
allowing it to taste of his flesh” (Cf. St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Holy Pascha, circa
5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars
• Pope John Paul II (1920-2005): “From the beginning of Christ's mission, women show to him
and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity. It must also
be said that this is especially confirmed in the Paschal Mystery, not only at the Cross but also
at the dawn of the Resurrection…. The Gospel of John (cf. also Mk 16:9) emphasizes the
special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. At first she thinks
he is the gardener; she recognizes him only when he calls her by name: quot;Jesus said to her,
'Mary'…. Hence she came to be called quot;the apostle of the Apostlesquot;. Mary Magdalene was
the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear
witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said
previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men. One can say that
this fulfilled the words of the Prophet: quot;I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your
daughters shall prophesyquot; (Jl 3:1) (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, n.16).
• Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM.Cap. (1934- ) (Preacher of the Papal Household): “The
angel who appeared to the women Easter morning said to them: ‘Why do you seek the living
among the dead?’ (Lk.24:5). I must confess that at the end of these reflections I feel that this
rebuke is also directed at me. It is as if the angel were to say to me: quot;Why do you waste time
seeking among dead human and historical arguments, the one who is alive and at work in
the Church and in the world? Go instead and tell his brothers that he is risenquot; (Cf.
Cantalamessa, Raniero, quot;The Lord Is Risen and Was Seen Alive,quot; April 7, 2007.
6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI
• “The Gospels then tell us that the women, unlike the Twelve, did not abandon Jesus in the
hour of his Passion (cf. Mt 27:56, 61; Mk 15:40). Among them, Mary Magdalene stands out in
particular. Not only was she present at the Passion, but she was also the first witness and
herald of the Risen One (cf. Jn 20:1, 11-18)…. It was precisely to Mary Magdalene that St.
Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title, ‘Apostle of the Apostles’ (apostolorum apostola),
dedicating to her this beautiful comment: ‘Just as a woman had announced the words of
death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words
of life’ [Super Ioannem, ed. Cai, § 2519]” (cf. Women in the Early Church, General Audience,
February 14, 2007).
7. Other Considerations
• For an interesting portrayal of the Risen Christ as the Heavenly Gardener, investigate
Blessed Fra Angelico’s (1400-1455) Gesu Appare Alla Maddelena painted at San Marco
between 1425-30. As the Lord appears to Mary Magdalene at the noli me tangere, paints our
Dominican friar, He is clearly carrying a gardener’s hoe. Here Jesus does not carry a
gravedigger’s shovel, lest He be mistaken for one who works among the dead, but rather a
gardener’s hoe, or one who tends to the growth and care of the living. Here Mary Magdalene,
upon her first glance of the Risen Lord, sees Jesus for who He truly is: the Divine Gardener!
• Given her proclamation of the Risen Christ upon leaving the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene
was adopted as a special patroness of the Order of Preachers from its earliest days (along
with St. Catherine of Alexandria). This no doubt influenced St. Thomas to name the
Magdalene an “apostola apostolorum.”
• The Orthodox Church refers to St. Mary Magdalene as “isapostolos” or “equal to an apostle.”
• In many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic homes on Easter morning, family members present
each other with a red colored egg with the greeting: quot;Christ is risen,quot; to which the proper
response is: quot;Truly He is risen!quot; This wonderful tradition began with a story surrounding St.
Mary Magdalene, namely, that after witnessing the Heavenly Gardener, she traveled to
Rome to announce the Resurrection. After gaining an audience with Tiberius Caesar, she
exclaimed upon meeting him: quot;Christ is risen!quot; The tradition says that Caesar laughed,
stating that that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as a nearby egg turning red. Mary
Magdalene then picked up the egg and it turned a bright red, symbolizing the graces of the
Resurrection communicated through the Precious Blood of Christ! Many Christians,
therefore, continue this tradition within their homes on Easter morning.
• Many icons portray St. Mary Magdalene holding a red egg, recalling her role as apostola
• The Greeks modified the Magdalene-egg tradition by making a special braided Easter bread
(Tsoureki) with red eggs baked inside. The practice of coloring eggs for Easter spread from
the Eastern Europe to England during the Middle Ages, involving many highly decorated
varieties and hues. In 1290, Edward I of England purchased four hundred and fifty eggs to be
gold-leafed and colored as Easter gifts.
• Perhaps the most famous decorated Easter eggs were those made by the well-known
goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge, for the Russian Czar in 1883. Fifty-seven now priceless eggs
were crafted as Easter gifts.
• Even chocolate eggs, first appearing in Germany and France in the early 1800’s owe their
beginnings to the Magdalene-egg tradition linked to the proclamation “Christ is risen!”
Bedouelle, OP, Guy, “Mary Magdalene: The Apostle of the Apostles and The Order of
Preachers,” Dominican Ashram, Vol.18, no.4, 1999, pp.157-171.
Benedict XVI. Women in the Early Church, General Audience, Vatican City, February 14, 2007.
Cantalamessa, Raniero, quot;The Lord Is Risen and Was Seen Alive,quot; (Homily for Easter Sunday),
Vatican City, April 7, 2007.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Holy Pascha (also known as the Hieratikon or the
Catechetical Homily and is read aloud in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches on Easter
John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, Vatican City, August 15, 1988.