“Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
“And behold Jesus met them, saying: All hail. But they came up and took hold of his feet, and adored him” (Matthew 28:9).
Why did Our Resurrected Lord forbid Mary Magdalene to touch Him, but, a moment later, He allowed the holy women to take hold of His feet and thus worship Him?
It is not easy to explain these two passages. Even the Fathers of the Church varied in their interpretations.
Some, as Saints Augustine and Jerome, maintain that Mary Magdalene was too attached to her Master’s humanity. Rabboni (my Master, my Rabbi), she calls Him when He revealed Himself to her at the tomb.
Cornelius a Lapide quotes Augustine: “Touch Me not, for as yet thou art not worthy to touch Me; for in thy thoughts regarding Me, I have not as yet ascended to My Father, for as yet thou dost not perfectly believe that I am the Son of God, and that I ascend to My Father.”
He cites Saint Leontius (which Leontius I do not know, for there are several) similarly: “I do not wish you to approach Me bodily, or recognise Me with thy bodily senses. I reserve thee for higher things. I am preparing for thee greater things. When I shall have ascended to My Father, then wilt thou touch Me more perfectly and truly, for thou wilt comprehend that which thou touchest not, and believe that which thou seest not.” (Serm. ii. de Ascens.), In this way, Our Savior admonished the Apostle Thomas for refusing to believe unless he could see the Risen Christ with his own eyes and touch the wounds of His hands and side. “Blessed are they who do not see and believe,” Jesus said. Jesuit Father Francisco Toletus, Tridentine scholar, notes: “Touch Me not: for I am shortly about to ascend to heaven, and I wish to withdraw you gradually from My accustomed presence.”
Our trusty exegete a Lapide prefers to these just cited the explanation of Francisco Suarez, S.J.: “Do not waste any more time in thus touching Me. Go and bear the glad tidings of My Resurrection to My disciples at once. I do not just yet ascend into heaven. You will have ample time before then to touch and converse with Me.” (See Suarez, par. iii. Disput. xlix. § 3, Ribera (in loc.), and others.)
“Quickly, Mary, for you are the one to speak to my Apostles. Do not delay.” Ah, but then Magdalene catches up with the other holy women who have seen the empty tomb and are on their way to inform Peter and the others that He has risen, as the angel commanded them. And, lo and behold Jesus appears to them all. And this time He permits them to embrace His feet. They would be Mary of Cleophas, Salome, the mother of James and John, Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, and “other women” as Luke records. We can assume that this time Mary Magdalene did also embrace His feet.
It was necessary for the women as a group to touch Him so that they could testify all together that it was indeed the Body of the Lord which they had seen. As a group, they embraced His feet, whereas; with any one of them alone, Jesus permitted it not. This was an act of latria, an act of faith in His divinity. They worshipped Him.
Finally, I wish to highlight the fact that Jesus rewarded the faith and devotion of these women by coming to them first (after His mother), or as Matthew puts it, “He met them” on the way saying “All hail.” Greetings of peace. The women merited this before the men. The women were greeted by the angels, filling their souls with joy and fear and preparing them for the manifestation of Christ, lest they be over-stupified by His sudden appearance without the celestial heralding of the angels.