Noli me tangere!


 After she had described the cause of her overwhelming grief to the angels at the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene turned around. Though He was standing right in front of her, Mary did not immediately recognize the Risen Lord. Drowned in her sorrow and sense of loss, she mistook Christ for the gardener, requesting that the man reveal the location of her Lord’s body. As she turned away, she was answered, “Mary!” Christ cried. Mary turned around yet again and exclaimed, “Rabboni! Teacher!”; for she had found the Risen Lord.[1] Ah, how deeply Mary desired to fall at the Lord’s feet and embrace them, just as she had when she anointed Him, just as she had when she stood at the foot of His Cross! [2] Mary wanted to touch Christ, but He responded, “Noli me tangere (Do not touch me), for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” [3]

These words are surprising, and perhaps, even shocking, to us: the Risen Lord told the one who had clasped His sacred feet, anointed Him, stood at His cross, not to touch Him. By examining other facts about Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection in other Scriptural passages, the three main reasons for Christ’s gentle command to Mary can be seen clearly.

Before the Resurrection, Jesus was accessible to His followers in a very tangible way, accessible to the sense of physical touch. Indeed, Mary Magdalene embraced the very feet of Jesus and anointed Him. [4] Jesus even worked what is considered to be His greatest miracle, the healing of the man born blind, by touch. [5] The use of physical touch, then, was a main access to Christ Himself, because He took on a human body; this is the essence of the Incarnation, that God can now be seen and touched in human flesh. However, after the Resurrection, the relationship between Christ and His followers was seen by those very followers in a different light. Surely, these followers were still in companionship with Christ through the Spirit, but they certainly saw their relationship with Christ differently. Christ had risen! In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes about this change, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh; even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” [6] Mary, with her attempted embrace, was still regarding Christ “according to the flesh.” Thus, Christ’s gentle command revealed to Mary that she must no longer regard Him as such. Christ forbids Mary from touching Him to make known to her this change in companionship that must be honored; she had already known and regarded Christ as the Son of Man, but then (after the Resurrection) she had to know and regard Him all the more as the Son of God who was ascending to the Father and could no longer be known "according to the flesh."

Continuing on this same note, Christ made known to Mary this change in His companionship with her for the good of her own soul, for the salvation of her own soul. If the Risen Lord was standing right in front of us, would we be able to touch Him? Would we be able to embrace His feet? Most likely, we would answer this question with a ‘No,’ we certainly would be too afraid or overawed. Mary, however, was fully ready to physically embrace the sacred feet of the Risen Lord, and was, perhaps, lacking another type of fear: fear of the Lord, awe, holy reverence.

Christ’s gentle command to Mary echoes His Father’s command to Moses from the burning bush, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing on is holy ground.” [7] Without hesitation, Christ gives and reveals Himself to those who seek and follow Him, but He is still the Savior of the World, the Creator of the Universe, God Most High. Thus, Christ’s command was meant to inspire within Mary this fear of the Lord, this holy reverence, this wonderful awe that provides the soul that is in perfect union with Christ an ever-present sense of His supremacy, His transcendence, His intangibility.

In addition to fear of the Lord, Christ inspired within Mary a deepening of faith through His gentle command. Physically touching the Lord surely served as a great comfort Mary Magdalene. In the midst of our Lord’s Passion, Mary remained close to Him, right beside the Cross. In the midst of her great grief, the body of our Lord is that which Mary sought.[ 8] Yet, Mary’s faith was great; hence, she was the first witness of the Resurrection, the first one to see the Risen Lord. With the removal of this comfort from physical touch, with this abandonment of self, Mary would have to grow in faith. Her faith in Christ, rather than physical touching of Christ, would have to be her comfort and consolation. This deepening of faith in Mary Magdalene certainly would have been preparatory for the time between Christ’s Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. It is as though by saying “For I have not yet ascended to the Father” Christ is also revealing to Mary that His salvation of mankind is not yet finished; He still must ascend to Heaven and send His Spirit. With the sending of the Holy Spirit, there is a more complete restoration of the union, the “touch,” between Christ and man. Mary was being told to wait, rely on her faith, wait for the Spirit, and grow keen to the spiritual Presence of our Lord.

With His command to Mary, Christ prepared Mary for the Descent of the Holy Spirit through an inspiration for a deepening in faith and keenness to Christ’s spiritual presence on earth. “Whom do you seek?” We must answer this question. Often, we forget whom we are seeking. We too, like Mary Magdalene, forget and disregard how the Risen Lord appears, what the Risen Lord “looks like,” so to speak, and how we should act in His presence. A certain comfort and feeling of normalcy can cause us to be lacking in fear of the Lord, wonderful awe, and holy reverence. Every time we attend Mass, the Risen Lord becomes physically present to us in the Eucharist. Yet, how often do we respond to this presence with a mumbled “Amen,” a sleepy yawn, and feel that what is playing out before our eyes is somehow “normal?” It is a pattern repeated throughout salvation history that the human heart grows in thankfulness when things are taken away. Christ tells us, “Noli me tangere,” that we, as Mary Magdelene, may come to regard in action Christ as the Son of God, grow in fear of the Lord, gain a deepening in faith, and become more aware of His spiritual, Divine presence…may we remember whom we are touching, whom we are seeking.

By C.C., a student


[1] John 20:11-16
[2] ibid., 12:3, 19:25
[3] John 20:17 as it appears in the Latin Vulgate, and is translated in the Douay-Rheims
[4] John 12: 3
[5] John 9:6
[6] 2 Corinthians 5:16
[7] Exodus 3:5
[8] John 20:13