In my last reflection on “House of Gold”, I clearly stated that the titles “House of Gold” and “Ark of the Covenant” were closely related and that the significance of “House of Gold” would attain a better comprehension in the next title after it: “Ark of the Covenant.” Today, being the thirty-first day (last day) of our May devotion, we shall be contemplating on this beautiful and popular title in the Litany of Loreto: “Ark of the Covenant” (Latin, Foederis Arca). What does this Marian title mean? It must be noted that the symbolic density of this invocation does not fit in a few lines.
To begin with, we know how important the Ark of the Covenant was to the Jews in the ancient biblical times. In the Old Testament, God made a covenant with the Israelites on Mt. Sinai through Moses. This is known as “The Law” contained in two Tablets of Stones. This was usually kept in an Ark prepared for it (cf. Exd. 25:10-22), made of pure gold. The Ark also contained the rod of Aaron and the manna that fed the people (cf. Heb. 9:4), Put differently, the Ark is the dwelling place of the Covenant; that is, its golden house/tent. In other words, the Ark of the Covenant was a very important object for the Hebrew people. God was present on the “mercy seat” (Ex 25:22). However, the ark disappeared at the time of the ruin of Jerusalem and was never seen or rebuilt (Jer. 3:16).
It was quite necessary that the Ark of the Old Covenant disappeared so that a new Ark (human Ark) would surface. Hence, in the New Testament, we see in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the (new) Ark of the New Covenant, for she was privileged to provide a fitting dwelling place for our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Covenant) in her womb. Jesus Christ is the New Covenant at its core. He embodies everything the New Covenant is. At the Last Supper, we hear Christ saying: “This is the Cup of my blood, the blood of the NEW and EVERLASTING COVENANT…” (Cf. Mt. 26:27-28).
The Blessed Virgin Mary – the Ark of the New Covenant has many similarities with the Old Testament Ark that contains the Law written on Tablets of Stones. When the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will “overshadow” you (cover you with its shadow) cf. Luke 1:35. The verb “to cover” or “to overshadow” and the metaphor of a cloud are used in the Bible to represent the presence and glory of God. Similarly, when the Ark of the Old Covenant was completed, the cloud of the Lord (the Shekinah Glory) covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35; Nm 9:18, 22). When David received the Ark of the Old Covenant, he DANCED for joy in the presence of the Ark; he said: “How can the Ark of God come to me?” He also left it in the hill country of Judaea for 3 months (cf. 1Sam 6:1-2; 2Sam 6:9-14). Similarly, in the Gospel Reading of today (Luke 1:39-56), when Elizabeth received Mary (the Ark of the New Covenant), She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the baby in her womb danced/leapt for joy; She exclaimed: “Blessed are thou among women…Why is it granted to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (This is similar to the statement of David as stated above); and Mary stayed with her for 3 months (in the hill country of Judaea) – the same case with the Old Testament Ark as stated above. It seems clear that Luke has used typology to reveal something about the place of Mary in salvation history. In the Ark of the Old Covenant, God came to his people with a spiritual presence, but in Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, God comes to dwell with his people not only spiritually but physically, in the womb of a specially prepared Jewish girl.
Therefore, invoking Mary as the “Ark of the Covenant” evokes this long biblical tradition. It is a recognition of the gospel truth that the New Covenant became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the human Ark. Interestingly, the Ark of the Covenant reappears in the Temple of God in heaven, as well as the Woman, who as a great sign, was revealed in the same firmament. It is very likely that John was thinking of Mary since previously, his vision was that of the Ark of the Covenant. (see Rev 11:9). In the very next two verses, John says, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she laboured to give birth” (Rev 12:1-2). John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote about this passage in Revelation: “What I would maintain is this, that the Holy Apostle would not have spoken of the Church under this particular image unless there had existed a Blessed Virgin Mary, who was exalted on high and the object of veneration to all the faithful. No one doubts that the “man-child” spoken of is an allusion to our Lord; why then is not ‘the Woman” an allusion to his mother?’ (On the Blessed Virgin Mary). Later in the same chapter, we read that the devil went out to persecute the woman’s other offspring—Christians—which certainly seems to indicate that Mary is the mother of the Church (cf. Rev. 12:17).
Dear friends in Christ, Mary, the new Ark, had God in her womb (Mt 1:23), the New Covenant (cf. Heb. 12:24), the true high priest (cf. Heb. 4:14) and the very bread that came down from heaven for food of converts (Jn. 6:55-56). Unlike the Ark that disappeared, Tradition reveals to us that Mary was taken to heaven (CIC 966), because of the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour and from there, she intercedes for us with her maternal affection. Above all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes the words from the earliest centuries: “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men’” (CCC #2676).
Let us pray:
O Blessed Virgin Mary, the Ark of the Living God, you provided a worthy tent for the King of kings by the special privilege granted by the Almighty God. May we, your children, find solace in you and come to enjoy the perpetual blessings of the New Covenant through our humble and pious devotion to you. Amen
Oh “Ark of the Covenant” (Foederis Arca), pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?