All the Gospel writers specifically describe Christ appearing first to Saint Mary Magdalene on the morning of His resurrection from the dead: “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).
There is however a [late] Christian tradition that Christ first appeared to His Mother Mary and then afterwards appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene as depicted in the Gospel accounts. This would explain why the Blessed Mother felt no need to go to the tomb of Christ. She already knew and believed that He had risen from the dead early Sunday morning.
It also explains why Christ is not at the tomb Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene arrives. He is somewhere else and then arrives to speak with her. Where was He at that moment? Well, some say Christ was visiting His mother on the third day – just as she also discovered Christ again “in His Father’s house” when she had lost Him at age twelve in the Temple after three days.
So did Christ appear first to His Mother Mary?
We find Saint Anselm as the first Catholic Doctor of the Church to teach that Christ secretly appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene. This is the opinion of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila.
The visionary Blessed Maria of Agreda also received a vision showing that Christ first appeared to the Blessed Mother before visiting Saint Mary Magdalene. Even Saint John Paul II affirmed the possibility that Christ secretly appeared to His Mother first of all:
“It is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.” (Saint John Paul II, May 21, 1997)
We already explored the idea that Mary was not at the tomb Sunday morning because Christ had already appeared to her and she was confirmed already in her belief in the resurrection. However, one might assert that the Mother of God’s faith was already so strong that she had not need to see the resurrected Christ. She already believed without proof.
My own opinion (which carries no weight) is that Mary’s soul was so united to that of Christ at His death and even to His soul’s descent to the dead that she was aware of His ministry to the dead (including her husband Saint Joseph and her kinfoll such as Saint John the Baptist, Saint Zechariah, and Saint Elizabeth, Saint Anna, et al.), that she knew the precise moment of His resurrection and saw it in her soul. Whether Christ appeared outwardly to her physical eyes or only in her heart – her perception of Christ by Faith was more than any saint will have when they “see” Jesus Christ.
Dr. Taylor Marshall