LADY’S NIGHT - The Encounter
Happy Easter, everyone! I apologize for my tardiness in posting this Lady’s Night that was originally intended for Easter Sunday. I know that I missed my target date (and the entire Octave!), but at least we’re still in the Easter Season.
Recall from my previous posts that in many Catholic countries, Holy Week is marked by processions (as in Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera, Spain) where the faithful bear life-size statues posed in vignettes of Christ’s final moments through the streets of town as a public expression of faith. It is a sorrowful occasion where Nazarenos dress in the traditional garb of a penitent and the haunting strains of the mournful saeta float through the air.
These statues, these processions are signs that speak to the human heart in ways that words cannot. They remind the community that we have sinned and have lost the friendship of God; yet, they also give a most eloquent testimony that He would rather die that spend eternity without us.
As God’s little children, to whom did we turn as we walked the Via Crucis of our own lives, as we walked it in community about a month ago? We mourned with and were comforted by the Blessed Mother whose Immaculate Heart—as prophesied by Simeon (cf. Luke 2:35)—was pierced by sorrow as with a sword.
However, Our Lady of Sorrows who stood at the foot of the cross and witness the death of her Child would also witness the empty tomb. On Good Friday, our Mother embraced the cross and crown, the nails and reed to share in the suffering of her dying Son and, in union with Him, surrender all to the Father’s will. She truly taught us how to kiss the cross in bearing an agony so incredibly intense and profound. Likewise, who can ever imagine the ecstatic joy that she experienced on Easter Sunday when Life triumphed over death, Light defeated darkness, and when Love conquered all? The Glorious follows the Sorrowful as dawn proceeds the night.
Joy is one of the marks of a Christian, for we are indeed Easter people. Who better to give us an example of a joyful life of a Christian than the very first disciple of Christ, Our Lady. At that first Easter encounter, the words of her Magnificat seem to be fulfilled: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
In the Regina Caeli, which replaces the Angelus in the Easter Season, we recall the glorious Resurrection of Jesus and seek to share His Mother’s joy:
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
There is an ancient tradition, popular especially among Franciscans, which holds that, although it is not recorded in the Gospels, Jesus first appeared to His Mother after the Resurrection. In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, there is even a Chapel of the Apparition to commemorate this event.
Bl. John Paul the Great spoke of this pious tradition in his address at the General Audience on May 21, 2997.
The expectation felt on Holy Saturday is one of the loftiest moments of faith for the Mother of the Lord: in the darkness that envelops the world, she entrusts herself fully to the God of life, and thinking back to the words of her Son, she hopes in the fulfilment of the divine promises.
The Gospels mention various appearances of the risen Christ, but not a meeting between Jesus and his Mother. This silence must not lead to the conclusion that after the Resurrection Christ did not appear to Mary; rather it invites us to seek the reasons why the Evangelists made such a choice.
On the supposition of an “omission”, this silence could be attributed to the fact that what is necessary for our saving knowledge was entrusted to the word of those “chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:41), that is, the Apostles, who gave their testimony of the Lord Jesus’ Resurrection “with great power” (cf. Acts 4:33). Before appearing to them, the Risen One had appeared to several faithful women because of their ecclesial function: “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Mt 28:10).
If the authors of the New Testament do not speak of the Mother’s encounter with her risen Son, this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that such a witness would have been considered too biased by those who denied the Lord’s Resurrection, and therefore not worthy of belief…
It seems reasonable to think that Mary, as the image and model of the Church which waits for the Risen One and meets him in the group of disciples during his Easter appearances, had had a personal contact with her risen Son, so that she too could delight in the fullness of paschal joy.
Present at Calvary on Good Friday (cf. Jn 19:25) and in the Upper Room on Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14), the Blessed Virgin too was probably a privileged witness of Christ’s Resurrection, completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Welcoming the risen Jesus, Mary is also a sign and an anticipation of humanity, which hopes to achieve its [fulfillment] through the resurrection of the dead.
Thus, it is fitting that there should be one more procession following the somber pasos of Holy Week. This time, instead of recalling to mind the 4th Station of the Cross, the people announce the Risen Christ by enacting this first Easter encounter between Mother and Son. In fact, you might remember this video and this teaser pic.
On Easter morning, two processions the leave church and follow different routes: one carries an image of our Risen Savior, the other bears a statue of Our Lady, still wearing the black mantle of sorrow. At a designated time and location (usually the main street or plaza), the two processions meet. Sometimes an image of St. John or St. Peter is carried back and forth between the two processions as they make their way towards each other, expressing our anticipation for this reunion after the tomb.
Then in some communities, especially in Italy, as Our Lady rounds the corner and first spots her living Son, she does as any mother would do: she runs to Him, casting off her cloak of sadness. Depending on the local custom, Jesus may also run towards His Mother as well.
The streets that only days before witnessed the faithful carry an image of their crucified Savior in a slow and mournful procession as in a funeral march, now tremble beneath the running feet of those overflowing with Pascal joy in encountering the Risen Lord.
There are some who treat such examples of popular piety as mere quaint, folksy customs for old women and simple people, but I think there is some deep spiritual significance in these outward expressions of faith.
Such beautiful processions depicting the Easter encounter of Mary and Jesus communicate more than just a natural, familial response between a mother and her son. They signify the relationship of the Church and her Risen Bridegroom. Such processions speak of our desire to encounter and embrace our God and to continue living with Him forever even after the grave has swallowed our mortal bodies.
Like our Blessed Mother, the Resurrection has filled us with great joy. For as the psalmist joyfully sings, “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psalm 30:12). What else could be our response but to imitate her reaction in seeing her glorified Son? Easter is a time to cast off our sluggish spirits and sinful habits which weigh our feet down. Now, is the time to fly towards Jesus with wings of faith, as St. Paul says, like runners in a marathon who run, not aimlessly, but so as to win the race (cf 1 Cor 9:24, 26).
Although as I’ve said before, this post-Resurrection meeting between Jesus and His Mother is not mentioned in scripture, the Gospels do record other people’s reaction to the news of the empty tomb.
In his homily for Easter Sunday, His Excellency, Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles, points out that everyone in John’s Resurrection narrative seems to be running. When Mary Magdalene discovers the stone of the tomb rolled away and Jesus’ body gone, she runs to tell the other disciples (cf. John 20:2). At this astonishing news, St. John and St. Peter literally race to the tomb to see for themselves (cf. John 20:4).
Why do they run?
First, their sprinting feet communicate their excitement and astonishment, as Archbishop Gomez states in his homily. As St. Mary Magdalene’s wondrous news reaches the ears of St. John and St. Peter, I like to imagine that their hearts literally lift them to their feet and draw them to the tomb that they may see and believe (cf John 20:8).
They run because they have the first glimpses of the reality of the Resurrection. They run because they can taste the victory won by Christ and are eager to experience first hand the glory of His triumph over sin and even over death itself. They run because they are filled with hope that their Friend, their Lord and Savior, is truly alive again.
Psalm 42 very poetically speaks of our desire for God and the disciple’s desire to encounter the Risen Christ: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:2). Water is a basic necessity for life; without it, we die. If you were in a desert without water, and you saw an oasis in the distance, what would be your response? Probably you would muster all the energy you had left and run to the life-giving spring. Psalm 18 also says that God has given us “feet like a deer’s” (Psalm 18:34); that is, He gives us the means and motivation to run to Him who is the Living Water, our Refreshment, our Salvation, and our Hope.
Therefore, like St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. John, and Our Lady, let us run to encounter the Risen Lord. Apathy and complacency may attempt to slow us down, and Satan will try to steal our joy, but keep running; set your gaze on the empty tomb and the glorious cross, and run with all your strength. However, if by chance you should stumble or fall, know that our Victorious Savior is running towards us as the father of the Prodigal Son ran towards his repentant child the moment he caught sight of him walking towards home (cf. Luke 15:20).
[Photos: not mine]