On the first Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He made Himself known on six occasions. The great Benedictine Abbot Dom Gueranger refers to the six incidents as “apparitions” and he supplies extremely valuable commentaries in his voluminous work entitled The Liturgical Year.
Apparition #1 After rising from the dead in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, Jesus Christ went first to His Mother. There is no account of this meeting of Mother and Son in Holy Scripture, but it is inconceivable that He did not go to her once free of the shrouds and away from the sepulcher. In one of her revelations granted centuries later, St. Teresa of Avila reported that Christ found His Blessed Mother so overwhelmed by grief that she would soon have died had He not appeared. That any account of this important event cannot be found in Holy Scripture is consistent with the very few mentions of Mary throughout the holy book and is in a way a testimony to the humility by which she should be remembered.
The five additional apparitions following the meeting of Son and Mother supplied proofs of His resurrection. The one with His mother occurred because of the exquisite love shared by each for the other. Many other saints starting with St. Ambrose maintained that Jesus went to His Blessed Mother first.
Apparition #2 Before dawn on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleophas (mother of James the Less and Jude) and Salome (mother of James the Greater and John) went to the tomb with perfumes with which to cover the body of the slain Jesus. (Magdalen’s companions should be remembered for having given four apostles to the Church). The women immediately noted that the heavy stone had been rolled back and an angel sat on it. He told the three women that Jesus was not there, that “He is risen.” One of the angels said, “Go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee.” They promptly returned to Jerusalem and met with Peter and the others. The angel’s mention of Peter by name is significant as it confirms in an important way that he is the leader of the Church and the leader of the apostles who had been appointed by Jesus Himself. Peter and John immediately went to the tomb and, like the holy women, found it empty.
But Magdalen returned later with her two companions and found two angels seated on the bier where Christ’s body had been placed. One angel asks why she is weeping. She explains that she is in tears because “they have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid Him.” Then she notices behind her a man whom she perceives to be a gardener. He, too, asks why she is weeping. Confronting this man because she believes that he may have had a hand in removing the sacred body, she says, “Sir if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou has laid him and I will take him away.” (Apparently, even though the angel had told her that Christ had risen, she was in doubt about it.) And the man she thought was a gardener said simply, “Mary” in a way that was most familiar to her. She immediately recognized that this man was, in fact, the risen Jesus.
When she indicates a desire to kiss the feet of her Lord as she had done before His death, Jesus tells her not to touch Him and directs her: “Go to my brethren and say to them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” How significant it is that Mary Magdalene was the first given the joyous assignment of confirming to others that Christ had truly risen. She was not told to bring the wondrous news to the Blessed Mother. There was no need to do so because Jesus had already appeared to His mother. Mary Magdalene and the other holy women who had accompanied her were the first, beside His mother, to see the risen Jesus. She and they were given the task of becoming, in effect, apostles to the apostles, the first to proclaim to them the wondrous news. Why Mary Magdalen? Because she, who formerly was one of the greatest of sinners, was both the epitome of repentance and the most intense lover of Christ. Also, in granting her this most unique privilege, Christ was both demonstrating His great love for all women while confirming that all sins can be forgiven.
Apparition #3 As the three holy women were making their way back to Jerusalem on that stupendous morning, Jesus appeared to them. They immediately fell down adoring him and embracing His feet. Why they were allowed to touch His feet and not Magdalen is another subject explained by the patristic exegetes. Still not appearing before the apostles, Christ was thus honoring the faithful women. It was they who, unlike the apostles who fled when He was apprehended, had followed along the entire path to His death on Calvary. Of the apostles, only John, who had initially fled along with the others in the garden,, returned to be with the Blessed Mother and the holy women while they watched Jesus die. It was John to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, and John who as a representative of all of mankind was told that Mary was the mother of all.
Apparition #4 It is now Easter Sunday afternoon. Peter is given the special privilege of a visit by the risen Jesus who comes to console him, not to berate him, for his three denials. Jesus forgives and instructs Peter. The special privilege of being the first of the apostles to see Christ confirms that he is the leader of the Church and the leader of the apostles. Peter informs the other apostles of his having seen the risen Christ.
Apparition #5 In the evening, two men are walking from Jerusalem toward Emmaus. Disciples of Jesus, they are in sadness and have begun to wonder if Jesus was truly the promised Messiah. Suddenly, a man joins them on their way and He reminds them of the scriptural prophecies about a Messiah who must first suffer before entering into His glory. They are thrilled to hear His words but still do not recognize that He is Jesus. When He indicates a desire to leave them, they beg Him to join them in the inn for a meal. Christ consents. At the meal, Jesus took bread as He did at the Last Supper and, when He shared it with them, they immediately recognized who is before them. But He disappears. Some fathers affirm that He vanished from sight and became present Eucharistically in the Bread. The lesson is that we should realize that Christ is always instructing us but we, oftentimes, fail to recognize Him and heed His message.
The two men from Emmaus (one named Cleophas and the other not named in Holy Scripture) drop everything and rush back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles that Christ had indeed risen and that they had seen Him. They find the eleven already aware of the resurrection but they have not yet seen Him. That is, except for Peter. They are sequestered behind locked doors still fearful of being discovered by the Jews. Thomas, not yet fully willing to concede that Christ had risen, had left the gathering to go into the city for an unnamed purpose.
Apparition #6 The ten apostles and the two men from Emmaus are gathered in fear behind those closed doors when Jesus appears before them even though the doors remained locked. Jesus says, “Peace be to you.” They are stunned but He asks them to view the places of the wounds in His hands and His side. So as to confirm that He is really there and not simply an apparition, he asks for something to eat. It is then that He confirms their assignment, “As the Father hath sent me I also send you.” And He added: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Thus, the sacrament of Penance was instituted. Thomas is present on a future occasion where his doubts are overcome and he utters, “My Lord and my God.”