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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, the Evangelist describes some circumstances connected with our Lord’s resurrection; the pious sedulity of the holy women, who, after having, probably, set out in the dark, arrived only about daybreak on Easter morning at the holy sepulchre, in order to anoint the body of our Lord with the spices purchased for the purpose. The apparition of Angels, whom they saw sitting in the monument, after the stone which caused them such uncasiness had been rolled back, and from whom they received the joyous announcement that our Lord had risen, with instructions to return and announce the joyous tidings to the Apostles, and Peter particularly. With this injunction of the angel, they at once comply, leaving the monument with fear and trembling (1–8). He next describes our Lord’s apparition to Magdalen (9–11); to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus (12–13); His apparition to the eleven and others when at table in Jerusalem (14). His apparition to them on a mountain of Galilee, when He commanded them to preach the Gospel to the end of time, to the entire world. Finally, His ascension into heaven.

1–8. (See Matt. 28:1–8).

5. On entering into the sepulchre and not finding the body, the pious women were seized with astonishment (Luke 24:4), and immediately after, they were favoured with a vision of Angels, which caused them the greatest terror, so much so, that they were forced to “bow their countenances towards the ground” (Luke 24:5). Then, the Angel addressing them in comforting words, calculated to remove the awe with which they were seized said:

6. “Be not affrighted; YE seek Jesus of Nazareth.” Unlike the Jews, who have unjustly compassed His death, and the soldiers appointed to prevent His resurrection, YE come to display your devotionate affection. “Behold the place where they laid Him,” as if to say, if you do not believe my words, come forward and believe the empty sepulchre (St. Jerome).

It is to be observed, that the Jewish sepulchres were so constructed, that besides the place where the bodies were immediately deposited, they had also attached to them an outer vaulted enclosure, capable of containing several persons. Hence, the women are said to have “entered into the sepulchre.”

The resurrection of our Blessed Lord is suggestive of the most consoling thoughts, and is pregnant with matter for the most serious reflection.—1st. It contains the most convincing proof of our Lord’s Divinity. It conveys the most solid proof of His omnipotence, when He raised from the dead, not any one else, but Himself, after having been consigned to the tomb for three days, and after the reality of His death had been placed beyond all dispute, being testified to by His very executioners, when questioned by Pilate; and not only did He raise Himself, but He did so, after having repeatedly predicted beforehand all its circumstances in detail, in consequence of which prediction, universally known at the time, His enemies set a guard to watch His body till after the expiration of the time. This resurrection, then, is the most solid ground-work of our faith. Without it, “our faith would be vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Therefore, it is, the Apostle says, “having died for our sins, He rose again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

2ndly. The resurrection of our Lord, “the first-fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), is a sure pledge, and earnest, that we shall all rise again with the same bodies we had in this life. “For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21). In truth the greater part of the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (See Commentary on) is devoted to the proof of the fundamental doctrine, that we shall all rise again; and as the basis of this, the Apostle proves the resurrection of Christ, with which the general resurrection of all is so intimately connected, that if we suppose the dead not to arise, it follows, neither has Christ arisen. The resurrection of all is, then, one of the fundamental articles of our faith. Why then dwell on the proof of it? It is, because of the practical and solemn reflection of which this great truth is suggestive. We shall rise again, but in what condition shall we rise? Whether shall our bodies rise in a state of glory described by the Apostle (1 Cor. 15:42–45), or in a state of dishonour; foul, hideous carcasses, only fit for eternal flames? “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again; but we shall not all be changed” (v. 51). Our condition at the resurrection will depend on whether we make the resurrection of Christ from the tomb, the model of our spiritual resurrection from the tomb of sin. Christ’s resurrection was perfect, complete; so must ours be Christ’s resurrection was unchangeable and persevering; so must also be our resurrection from the grave of sin. Without this quality of perseverance, everything else is vain It is a point of Catholic faith, that without “the great gift of final perseverance, we cannot be saved” (Council of Trent, SS. vi., Canons xvi., xxi.); and we have but one means of obtaining this great grace, viz., persevering prayer; “suppliciter emereri potest” (St. Augustine). We should, therefore, never cease to pray for this great gift.

7. “His disciples and Peter.” Peter was the head of the Apostolic College, and whenever the Apostles are all or in part mentioned with Peter, he is always placed first. There is particular allusion to him here. (See Matt. 28)

9. St. Jerome (Epist. 150, ad Hedibiam 2, 3), and St. Gregory of Nyssa (Orat. 2, de Resurrect.), observe, that the apparition of our Lord to Magdalen, recorded in vv. 9, 10–11, is wanting in some of the best Greek copies; and others reject the remainder of the chapter from verse 9 to the end. The reason assigned was, the apparent discrepancy between this passage and St. Matthew, and also the addition of certain words now no longer found there, which savoured of Manicheeism, quoted by St. Jerome (Lib. 2, contra Pelagianos). But, no Catholic can now doubt its Canonicity, after the decree of the Council of Trent de Canonicis (SS. 4). (See Commentary on the Epistles, vol. ii., p. 423.) It is quoted from by St. Irenæus (Lib. iii., adv. Heres.); by Tertullian (Lib. de Præscript); by St. Ambrose (Lib. 1, de Fide); St. Augustine (de Consen. Evangel.); Athanasius (in Synopsi); St. Jerome (Lib. 2, contra Pelag.); by St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the very Oration (2da, de Resurrection), in which he speaks of the closing part of this chapter being wanting in some Greek copies. Theophylact has written a Commentary on it. The apparent discrepancies between St. Mark here and St. Matthew are easily reconciled. Moreover, the discrepancy between St. Matthew and the two other Evangelists, is greater than that between Matthew and Mark in this passage. On intrinsic grounds, it would appear that the last words of verse 8, “for they were afraid,” could not be the conclusion of St. Mark’s Gospel. Such an abrupt termination would be quite unmeaning.

But He rising early the first day … appeared first to Mary Magdalen,” &c. St. John (20:11–18), more fully describes this apparition to Magdalen and its circumstances. Although Mary Magdalen is the “first” to whom our Lord is said, according to the Gospel account, to have appeared, still, it is piously believed, that He appeared to His Virgin Mother first of all after His resurrection, although the Scriptures are silent on this point. This is the opinion of St. Ambrose (Lib. de Virgin.); St. Anselm (Lib. 6, de Excell. Virgin.); St. Bonaventure (in vita Christi); Maldonatus, Suarez, &c. Others, however, are of a contrary opinion, on the ground that our Lord appeared to others for the purpose of strengthening their faith, which the Blessed Virgin did not need. Hence, she did not accompany the other pious women to the sepulchre, nor join in purchasing spices to embalm Him, which she knew to be useless.

Out of whom He cast seven devils.” Some understand these words, of her being freed from gross vices and passions. It is, however, more likely, that there is question of the expulsion of “seven,” i.e., many “devils,” who had bodily possession of her, probably in punishment of her former sinful life. To her, as is clear from the Gospels, reference is made (Luke 8:2), and from the whole context of St. Luke, there can be no doubt, that there is question of demoniacal possession, of which our Redeemer was mercifully pleased to cure her. Her ardent love and gratitude merited for her, to be the first favoured with our Lord’s apparition, so that “where sin abounded, grace superabounded.”

Some expositors (St. Jerome, Theophylact, Euthymius), would place a comma after “rising,” and connect the following words, “early the first day of the week,” with, “appeared to Mary Magdalen.” For, they hold, that if it were connected with “early the first day,” &c., it would place, beyond all dispute, the precise hour of our Lord’s rising, which is uncertain.

But, as Jansenius Gand. (c. 145), observes, this would not necessarily follow, as the Greek for “rising” (αναστας), signifies, “after He had risen,” which would leave the precise time uncertain. It seems, however, most probable, that the words, “rising early,” should be connected with the words, “the first day of the week.” The other construction, besides being somewhat harsh, would render it uncertain whether He might not have appeared to others before Magdalen, in the interval between His rising and the early part of Sunday, when He appeared to her.

10, 11. This announcement is mentioned (John 20:18). She came and told His disciples, sorrowing over the death of their Lord; and as they disbelieved her and others about the vision of Angels, so are they also incredulous regarding our Lord’s apparition, which served ultimately to confirm our faith. They tacitly charge her with taking a phantom for a reality. “Hoc enim eorum incredulitas, non tam eorum infirmitas quam nostra futura firmitas fuit” (St. Gregory, Hom. 29 in Evangel.)

12. This apparition is the same as that mentioned by St. Luke, which was made to the two disciples as they were proceeding, on Easter day, to the town of Emmaus, which was about sixty furlongs from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13, &c.) This was the fourth time our Lord appeared on Easter day—1st. To Magdalen, at the tomb. 2nd. To her and the women, on their return to Jerusalem (Matt. 28:9). 3rd. To Peter (Luke 24:34). 4th. Here, “in another shape,” which seemed to them different from His usual appearance.

13. “Neither did they believe them.” The words, “Neither did they believe,” could not be understood, strictly, of all present, viz., “the eleven and those that were with them” (Luke 24:33). For, the assembled eleven, and the other disciples who were with them, were speaking of our Lord’s apparition to Peter, on the entrance of the two (Luke 24:34). They could not, then, be incredulous in regard to what the two disciples came back to tell them, in corroboration of our Lord’s resurrection. The words mean, the Apostles and disciples were so overjoyed at the tidings, that they could hardly bring themselves to believe such joyous news. If they did not believe, they could not have rejoiced; it was their belief, and the excess of their joy, that produced unbelief, in the sense explained; or, if the words be taken strictly, then they are true only of some who were present (Maldonatus, A. Lapide).

14. This is our Lord’s fifth, apparition on Easter day. St. Thomas was not there, but they are called “eleven,” this being the number that, since the perfidy and sad end of Judas, constituted the Apostolic College (see 1 Cor. 15:5, Commentary on).

At length,” only means, that this was the last apparition on Easter day. For this apparition is clearly the same as that mentioned in Luke 24:36; John 20:19, &c. He afterwards appeared before His ascension. St. Mark is the only one of the Evangelists who says the Apostles were at table when our Lord appeared. Very likely, they were assembled in some place, probably the supper hall, where our Lord instituted the Eucharist. They had shut themselves in, with the doors closed, for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).

And He upbraided them with their incredulity, because they did not believe them who had seen Him,” &c., viz., Magdalen, Peter, and the two disciples of Emmaus. This must have reference only to some of those present. On His entrance, He saluted them with the words, “Peace be to you; it is I, fear not” (Luke 24:36). He then showed His hands and His feet, called for food, giving every proof of the reality of His person; and after that reproached them, or some of them, with their incredulity in not believing those who saw Him after He was risen again. This, however, He did to impress them more and more with the truth of His resurrection.

15. “And He said to them: Go ye into the whole world,” &c. These words were spoken by our Lord, not on the occasion referred to in the preceding verse, but when He met them afterwards on a mountain in Galilee (see Matt. 28; p. 593 Commentary). Our Lord now commissions His Apostles, and arms them with full authority to go forth and “preach the Gospel to every creature” under heaven, without let or hindrance from any earthly power; to go forth as His immediate representatives, deriving their power directly and immediately from Him, and from no one else, who is the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the universe, to whom belongs the earth and its fulness, by whom kings reign and lawgivers decree justice. He is to be ever with them. Whosoever opposes them opposes Him and His Divine ordinances. Woe to those who oppose Him in them. “For, whosoever shall fall on this stone, shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder” (Matt. 21:44).

16. “He that believeth.” What? Surely, the Gospel they are empowered to preach, and believeth with a lively faith, joined with good works, “observing all things He commands” (Matt. 28:20). “And is baptized, shall be saved.” This, like every affirmative proposition, means, provided there be no other obstacle (see p. 594). “But he that believeth not,” the Gospel preached by the Apostles and their legitimate successors, “shall be condemned,” it matters not whether he be rich or poor, learned or unlearned, young or old, king or subject. Infallible truth is pledged to it. The Judge of the living and the dead has decreed it. The Saviour of all mankind has made it an indispensable condition for all, in order to be partakers of the fruits of His Redemption, that they must have faith—faith conceived only from the preaching of those legitimately sent. If the preaching of others would suffice to engender faith, why should the preaching of the Apostles be necessary to reach every creature? On this account it is, the Apostle tells us, that while faith comes from hearing, it is from hearing those only who are legitimately sent. To those alone who have a legitimate mission from the Apostles, and their successors in God’s Church, can the words apply: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace; of them that bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10:15, see Commentary on). Our Lord does not add here the second member, “and is not baptized;” because, baptism may, in some extraordinary circumstances, be dispensed with, as in the case of martyrdom for the faith; or in the case of perfect contrition, when there is question of a catechumen ardently desiring for baptism, that cannot be administered; or, in the case of an infant in the womb of a mother, martyred for the faith. In such cases, baptism of water may be dispensed with. But faith, when there is question of rational adults, never.

17. “And these signs shall follow,” &c. He calls miracles, signs, or proofs of the doctrine which they wrought to establish. This He adds, to remove any feeling of diffidence which illiterate fishermen might have, in preaching, to a world sunk in sin, the self-denying doctrines of the Cross; to a world elated with the fame of science and philosophy, the incomprehensible mysteries of faith. “Shall follow,” as if to say, the operation of these miracles shall be the work of God. “Those who believe,” as far as God may deem it expedient, and as it may be useful or necessary for the purposes intended, namely, the propagation of the Gospel, and strengthening men in the faith. This does not imply that this miraculous power was to be ordinarily conferred on each individual among the faithful; but, as it was a power given for the public good of the faithful, it was only to be given to some persons, and in such measure, as God would be pleased to bestow it. It is promised indefinitely to the believers, because given to some, for the benefit of all, and hence, may be said to be given to all. In the beginning of the Church, it was very commonly given to the faithful (Justin Martyr, Dial, contra Typhon; Tertullian, in Apol. Lactantius; also Acts 10; 19:6). Then it was more necessary in order to propagate and confirm the faith. For, as irrigation is necessary for young plants, and afterwards is given over; so was it with the usual exercise of the gifts of miracles after the first ages (St. Gregory, Homil. in hunc locum; St. Augustine, Lib. de Vera Relig. chap. 25). But after the Apostolic age, and the age of Martyrs, who had to cope with tyrants, such powers were confined to only a few, who from time to time have always exercised, in defence of truth, a power permanently residing in God’s Church, where it is occasionally manifested, in proof of the unsullied purity of her doctrine, and the sanctity of her children.

In My name,” by invoking the power and authority of Christ. “Cast out devils,” frequently exercised by our Lord Himself, who came to overcome the devil. “Shall speak with new tongues,” which they never learned (Acts 2).

18. “Take up serpents,” hold in their hands venomous animals, without suffering injury therefrom, as happened St. Paul (Acts 28:3–6).

Drink any deadly thing,” accidentally, or forced by tyrants and wicked men to do so. Our Lord only mentions some of the miraculous powers left with His Church, because, these had reference to what were of common occurrence. The Apostles exercised ampler powers still, even in the raising of the dead (Acts 9:40). Some of these miraculous powers were to be exercised by certain persons, some by others (1 Cor. 12:4–30).

19. “After He had spoken to them,” for forty days after His resurrection, treating of the kingdom of God.

Was taken up into heaven,” by the power of His Father, which was also His own. Acts of power, though common to the Trinity, are, by appropriation, attributed to God the Father, just as it is said, “God raised Him up” (Acts 2:24) St. Luke (24:50; Acts 1:9–12), describes His ascension as having taken place near Bethania, on Mount Olivet.

Sitteth at the right hand of God,” a metaphorical phrase, conveying, that He, as man, occupies in heaven the place next to God in glory and majesty. He sits. The angels stand in His presence. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, does not imply superiority to the Father, as, with us, in modern times, the superior is placed at the right hand. For, in ancient times, those who sat at the left occupied a more honourable place than those placed at the right, contrary to ideas that prevail at present.

20. “Preached everywhere,” or, in the chief places, best known throughout the globe, among Jews and Gentiles, without distinction. This they did, not immediately, but after the coming down of the Holy Ghost.

The Lord working withal,” by the abundant infusion of His interior grace. “And confirming,” externally, “the Word,” which, armed with a legitimate mission, they preached to every creature. “With signs which followed,” with miracles, the seal of their authority, and of the truth of what they preached, a seal, still retained in God’s Church, occasionally exhibited when He deems it necessary for the confirmation of truth, or the proof of the sanctity of His servants. A seal, however, which is confined to God’s Church, to the legitimate successors of the Apostles, to which no heretical or schismatical Church could ever have any pretenson; and which they therefore, deride, and make the subject of infidel jeers and bitter taunts, when exhibited in the Church of the living God.

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