The Resurrection was not witnessed by anyone. Jesus did not gloat at his detractors by showing the glory of his Resurrection with blinding rays of light. Instead, as silent as he was born from a womb in the obscure town of Bethlehem, so was he “born” silently from a tomb as to humbly not make a big deal out of it.
Despite no one witnessing the actual Resurrection, we know he came back from the dead because of his appearances to his disciples as he passed through closed doors. He ate with them. Saint Thomas put his finger in the wound on Christ’s side. The other “evidence” of his Resurrection is an empty tomb, which the good theologian, Frank J. Sheed, reminds us was not opened for him to exit it, but to show that it was empty. (If his glorious body can pass through closed doors, he certainly can pass through the walls of the tomb.)
The one peculiar thing is that Scripture never told us if Christ appeared to his mother. Although an old manuscript entitled Meditationes de Vita Christi (supposedly written by St. Bonaventure) mentions the appearance of the Resurrected Christ to his mother, we can find nothing of it in Scripture. Some people have problems with non-scriptural ideas, but theologians point out that just because Scripture is silent about something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Scripture is not a biographical account of all that Jesus did and said. On the contrary, different writers had different intentions to write so they crafted their writing and left out things that were not needed to be mentioned.
Dom Gueranger writes, in The Liturgical Year, “The Gospel does not relate the apparition thus made by Jesus to his Mother, whereas all the others are fully described. It is not difficult to assign the reason. The other apparitions were intended as proofs of the Resurrection; this to Mary was dictated by the tender love borne to her by her Son. Both nature and grace required that His first visit should be to such a Mother, and Christian hearts dwell with delight on the meditation of the mystery. There was no need of its being mentioned in the Gospel; the Tradition of the Holy Fathers, beginning with St. Ambrose, bears sufficient testimony to it; and even had they been silent, our hearts would have told it us.”
So how did we get the notion that Christ appeared to his mother? The scholars like to point out that the Gospels indicate Christ was no longer in the tomb when Mary Magdalen went there during the first hours of Sunday. The nagging question is where did he go so early in the morning? Considering the situation, the scholars’ answer, is that Christ appeared to his grieving mother to console her as soon as he could: “And why was it that our Saviour rose from the Tomb so early on the Day He had fixed for His Resurrection? It was, because His filial love was impatient to satisfy the vehement longings of his dearest and most afflicted Mother. Such is the teaching of many pious and learned Writers; and who that knows aught of Jesus and Mary could refuse to accept it? “(Dom Gueranger, the Liturgical Year, vol. 7, “Easter Sunday: Morning”)
It also answers another nagging question: why didn’t the Blessed Mother go to the tomb that morning? She was with him in the Passion all the way to his death and entombment, but the important anointing for his burial was interrupted because it was Preparation Day for the Sabbath and they had to put him inside the tomb right away. The natural thing to do was to go to the tomb the next available day – Sunday – to attend to the body. So why didn’t she go and attend to her son’s body? Scripture is oddly silent about the Virgin Mary’s whereabouts. She wasn’t with Mary Magdalene or the other women for sure because an important person like her would be mentioned if she was with them. After the apostles found out the tomb was empty, she wasn’t with the apostles and disciples rushing to the tomb to check if Mary Magdalen’s news was true. Why not? The answer to all these questions, if we consider that Jesus had already visited her, is that she already knew he had risen so there was no need to further anoint a body that wasn’t in the tomb.
Saint John Paul II exerts, “Could not the absence of Mary from the group of women who approached the tomb at dawn constitute an indication that she had already met Jesus?” (21 May 1997)
As we can see, Christ appearing to his mother is a small-T tradition that can be found all the way from the Church Fathers down the centuries to Pope John Paul II. It has also found itself ingrained into the art (e.g. painting by Juan de Flandes, 1496) and religious culture of some churches. For example, in the early dawn of Easter Sunday, a re-enactment of the Risen Jesus meeting his mother is still performed today in the Philippines. It is called the salubong (video), which means "welcome encounter." There are at least three figures in this reenactment: Christ, Mary, and an angel. Other women mentioned in the Gospels are included depending on which province it is performed. Except for the angel that must be human, all characters are usually statues carried about by people. Mary is dressed in black with a (black) veil covering her eyes. Two processions start from different places: one with Christ, and the other with Mary (and the other women). The separate parades come closer together until they meet. The angel, usually suspended by a harness, is then lowered and removes the veil of Mary, symbolizing the end of her grief when she finally sees her resurrected son. To further emphasize this joy, the black dress of Mary is usually turned inside-out to reveal a resplendent shimmering gold gown.
Different towns in Spain (video), Brazil, Mexico, and Peru (video) also have their version, which they call Encuentro – or Encounter. The “plot” is the same: Mary starts from one end of the procession, while the risen Christ on the other. They come closer and meet in the middle. One town has a truly unique version of this: they hold a race! The risen Christ is on one end, while different groups carry a statue of Mary running up the street to meet Jesus – a way of showing how Mary, in haste, was so happy to see her son.
Although the Church has no absolute teaching about Christ’s apparition to his mother after the Resurrection, it is found within her customs and culture. We are not forced to believe it, and neither are we committing some sort of heresy if we do not – after all, it is only just a consensus among some theologians. But I, for one, tend to agree with these theologians because I ask myself: how could Christ not appear to the mother he loves only to leave her grieving?