Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary, the New Ark

Readings for Monday, August 15/ Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10
Psalm 45:10-12, 16
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56

“God’s temple in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

In the Bible, as we have it today, the first line quoted above is in chapter 11 and the following verses comprise chapter twelve, as if they were different things that John was seeing. The truth, however, is that they Ark of the Covenant and the woman clothed with the sun are one and the same. The ark is the woman and the woman is our Blessed Mother.

To understand the depth of this we need to understand the meaning of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. The Ark was a large wooden box plated in gold that contained three significant items: the tablets that held the Ten Commandments, a container of the Manna from the desert, and the rod of Aaron, which sprouted and showed God’s selection of the High Priest. More importantly, the Ark was known to be the very dwelling place of God and so for the people of Israel to be in the presence of the Ark was an honor because they were in the presence of God Himself. In the midst of a war, the Israelites carried the Ark away from Jerusalem and buried it so that it would not be taken by foreign nations. It was never seen again after that and for hundreds of years the people of Israel longed to see it’s return.

It eventually did come back to them, but not in the form they anticipated. Rather than a gold-plated box, the Ark came to Jerusalem in the form of a teenaged virgin who bore in her womb the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Like the Ark of days past, she too held within her great treasure. Rather than a simple tablet Commandments, she bore the giver of the entire Law. Rather than the jar of Manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert, she held the True Bread from Heaven, the One who gives us Himself in the Eucharist. And rather than a staff symbolizing the selection and power of the High Priest, in her womb was the High Priest that all other priests bow down before. But like that Ark before her, she was indeed the dwelling place of God.

This is not just some connection that we have conjured up. Rather, it has scriptural backing and that backing is found in those details we pass over so quickly. For instance, the phrasing used to tell of how Mary went out to visit her cousin Elizabeth is the same as that used to describe how King David went out to meet the Ark of the Covenant as it came into Jerusalem. When David drew near to the Ark he is said to have leapt for joy in the presence of the Lord. The same description is applied to John the Baptist, who leapt in His mother’s womb at Mary’s arrival. As David enters into the presence of the Ark and the Lord Himself, he is dumbfounded and in absolute awe. And what do we hear on the lips of Elizabeth? “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Furthermore, we know that the people sang hymns and chants before the Ark of the Covenant. The word to describe that singing is used only four times in the Old Testament and all of them are in reference to the Ark. That same word is used only once in the New Testament and it is found here on the lips of Elizabeth as she cries out in a loud voice “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And finally, David went out and stayed in the presence of the Ark for three months before it came into Jerusalem. And what is the conclusion of this gospel passage? “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”

The richness of all of this is to simply show that Mary was absolutely right when she said “all generations will call me blessed” because she bore within herself the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, the Savior of the Human Race. And as we celebrate this blessed feast of her Assumption today we once again honor our Blessed Mother and rejoice at the great gifts bestowed upon her. As the Ark was pure and incorruptible, so too was Our Lady free from sin and because of her blessedness did not suffer the fate that we shall, that return to the dirt from which we came. Rather, she was taken up into Heaven to reign forever as Queen of Heaven and to give us here on Earth encouragement as we recall that this life is not the end. We are all called to be saints in Heaven. With our Blessed Mother’s prayers, may we hasten toward that wonderful homeland where we might reign with her and all the saints forever. 

And just for fun...