St. Mary Magdalene has a special place among Jesus’ disciples.
It was Magdalene’s great love for Christ that kept her standing at the foot of the Cross, weeping and grief-stricken, until her Savior died. It was her heartbreaking pain of loss that drove her to His tomb at the first light of day in order to anoint His sacred body.
As a reward for her great love and faithfulness, she is a privileged person to whom Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday morning; she was the first witness of the Resurrection.
It was Mary Magdalene, a woman, who went and told the Apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead; for this she is called “Apostle to the Apostles.”
After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, Mary Magdalene continued her mission as an evangelizer, contemplative, and mystic in the heart of the Church.
Mary Magdalene and the Easter Egg
According to tradition, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Magdalene—a wealthy woman of some importance—boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message.
Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!”
The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then heeded her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death, and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure.
Why would Mary Magdalene bring an egg to talk about Jesus with the Roman Emperor?
In another tradition, it is said that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of white boiled eggs with her on Easter morning to the tomb of Jesus—perhaps as a meal for herself and the others as they waited for someone to roll the stone away. When she arrived at the site of the Resurrection, finding the stone already rolled away, she also found that the eggs in her basket had turned into bright shades of color.
Perhaps this is why she brought an egg to the Emperor—did she expect that Jesus would perform a similar miracle for her egg as He had done on that first Easter morning?
While we do not know if these stories are true with absolute certainty, we do know that the tradition of handing out red eggs at Easter is one that originated among Christians in Apostolic times. And we often find Mary Magdalene depicted in icons holding a red egg. Moreover, the story fits into the various cultural traditions already surrounding the symbol of the egg.
The Easter Egg Tradition
For many cultures, even before the time of Christianity, the egg was a symbol of creation, spring, and rebirth. After the resurrection of Christ, the egg took on a new meaning for Christians and became a symbol of new life breaking forth while leaving the empty tomb behind. Perhaps this became even more pronounced due the account of Mary Magdalene.
Eggs were what helped people to understand a new theological truth—the resurrection of the dead, and a new religion—Christianity—built around the first Resurrection.
As a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, the Easter egg then became a symbol for the rebirth of all mankind at the resurrection on the Last Day due to the merits of Jesus Christ. “Easter eggs” were shared with one another as a joyful symbol of Christian hope.
Decorating Easter Eggs
Painting boiled Easter eggs is a beloved ancient tradition for Eastern Catholic churches as well as Orthodox. The eggs are often dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross.
The Easter eggs are then carried to the church in baskets to be blessed by the priest (often with other foods to be eaten for the Easter feast) at the end of the Easter vigil before being distributed to the faithful. Historically, Christians would abstain from eating eggs during a strict Lent, so Easter was the first chance to eat eggs again after a long period of abstinence. The egg represented the sealed Tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell represented Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
In some cultures it is also common to paint wooden Easter eggs and hand them out as gifts to friends and family. You can read more interesting traditions about Christianity and the Easter egg here and here.
Thus the connection of eggs with Easter and the Resurrection is a historic one in the heart of the Church, and as is always the case with ancient Christian customs, an excellent way to catechize the faithful and celebrate a shared Christian culture with family and friends.
If you have family traditions with the Easter egg, please share with us in the comments below!