The Three Marys

By Anne McGuire

A few decades ago, the Easter Vigil liturgy which I coordinated was particularly memorable ritually, musically, and spiritually. This was especially true of the proclamation of the Easter Alleluia and Gospel. A lovely college student, who was a dancer and an ASL signer, was helping in many ministries. During the singing of the Easter Alleluia, she brought in the incense, swinging the thurible with beauty and grace, blessing the entire space into which the Gospel book was then processed.

Days later, I ran across a couple of parishioners who had been present for the entire Triduum. One lady mentioned this censing as a revelatory moment for her: “I will never again think of the account of the women going to the tomb in the same way.” That made me stop and re-think the Gospel passage as well. While it was not the gospel for that particular Easter Vigil, the observation has given me new and deeper perspectives for Easter morning. I now understand something more, something holy about preparing and being confronted by the stone at the tomb’s entrance.

Why did these three women, “the three Marys,” show up together to prepare the body of Our Lord? Did they each have different spices which they brought, what they had available at home? Did they wait for one another, hoping to roll away the stone once there were enough to accomplish that task? Was the entrance clear when they arrived? These questions seem more important to me this year.

The rhythms of the liturgical year have been disrupted this winter and spring. I remind ministers and students that the rhythms of our lives do not always agree with those of the liturgical seasons. Our joy at Christmas is communal, while a death or other loss can color our personal lives differently. Our communal focus on forgiveness and mercy in Lent might be overshadowed by positive highlights of a job offer, a marriage proposal, or a sudden windfall. This year, our liturgical seasons of Lent, Triduum, and Easter have lost their communal impact. Our communal shelter-in-place drives everyone’s lives. We have lost a true liturgical rhythm. We watch online, read the appropriate scripture passages, and perhaps sing – alone in our homes – with those we can follow online or on television. We are missing the communal rhythms of praying, though.

I missed processing and waving palms. I missed multi-generations participating in the footwashing. I missed the communal silence as the large, bare cross was solemnly processed through our own assembly. I missed a rousing, festive singing of the Glory to God, the Easter Alleluia, the baptismal acclamations.

On Easter Sunday morning, I went to church, put the Paschal Candle in place, and prayed in a dim space, in silence. And wept inside. It was not Easter. I needed two other women with me. I needed others to put flowers in place, to turn on every light, to sing and dance with joy together.

I am still waiting for an Easter Sunday morning, where the three Marys come together and are greeted by an open entrance to the tomb. The world is waiting for an Easter Sunday morning, when we begin to return to our liturgical rhythms. We will still pray the proper prayers, read the proper scripture, and sing appropriate songs. But our liturgical lives will resume when we have our Easter morning: meeting others at the open door of our churches, Three Marys bringing our spices, our joys and sorrows, rolling the stone away, and entering as one Body, celebrating the presence of the Risen Christ in the rhythms of life and liturgy.

Anne McGuire is a parish liturgist and music director at St. Pius X parish in Omaha, Nebraska, whose background includes university teaching, programming at a shrine, and frequent articles on pastoral liturgy. She has a Ph. D. in theology, with an emphasis in liturgical history, from the University of Notre Dame.


  1. The gospel reading for the Easter Vigil is always from one of the Synoptic Gospels, which has the women (however many there were) going to the tomb, doesn’t it? Or am I missing something here?

  2. Yes, the gospel passages for the Easter Vigil do include the women going to the tomb. However, my emphasis was that the accounts are about the morning, usually “early in the morning” or something similar. Sorry if that was unclear.

    1. The gospel for the Easter Vigil can be used on Easter Sunday AM Mass, if I remember correctly, or has that changed?

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