(h/t to Fr Zuhlsdorf’s WDTPRS), from St. Augustine’s Tractate on the Gospel on John
3. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. for Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed.
What then is meant by “Touch me not”? and just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” What does this mean? if, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? for certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;” or when He said to Thomas the disciple, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” and who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension?
But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly, for we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, “All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshiped Him.” This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew.
It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father,” had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. for He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, “Touch me not;” that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. for how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? “For I am not yet ascended,” He says, “to my Father:” there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. “But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.” He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. “and my God, and your God.” Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.