The Ark of the New Covenant, a chest slightly more than a meter long, was built to inspire Canadian Catholics for the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.

CNS PHOTO | COURTESY 2008 INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS

The Ark of the New Covenant, a chest slightly more than a meter long, was built to inspire Canadian Catholics for the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.

May 12, 2014
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

When I first heard the Virgin Mary called the Ark of the Covenant many years ago, I was surprised. At that time, the Ark was getting more publicity from Indiana Jones movies than in Catholic circles.

But when I thought about it, it made sense. Just as the original Ark, which contained the tablets of the Old Law, represented the fullest presence of God in the world, even more so did Mary contain the full presence of the Lord during the nine months she carried Jesus in her womb.

The connection between Mary and the Ark is much stronger than that, however.

For the Ark of the Covenant contained not only the stones on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, but also some of the manna which had kept the Israelites alive in the desert and the staff of Aaron that had miraculously blossomed and borne ripe almonds as a sign that his tribe, the tribe of Levi, would be the priestly tribe (Numbers 17).

In similar fashion, the son whom Mary bore was the New Law incarnate, the bread of life and the fulfillment of the high priesthood. The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was a symbol or type of an even greater Ark that would be found in the New Testament.

The Old Ark disappeared and has never been found since the prophet Jeremiah hid it in a cave to protect it from the invading Babylonians in 587 BC. The prophet Zephaniah, however, later proclaimed that the Lord would gather the nations and joyously, triumphantly appear in their midst.

One may see that prophecy fulfilled when the Ark makes a spectacular reappearance in the Book of Revelation after the seventh angel blows his trumpet and the 24 elders fall from their thrones and onto their faces to worship God. "Then God's temple in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and heavy hail" (11.19).

Just then appears the woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet, the woman that Catholic tradition identifies as the Blessed Mother. This is the guise in which Mary appears, centuries later, as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Here we have, for those open to the Catholic story, another correspondence or coincidence of Mary and the Ark.

Mary is not a passenger in the redemption story, but an integral part of it. She is God's chosen instrument for bringing the fullness of his presence into the world. The Son of God was mysteriously present in her body for months and in her home for years before he began to be known to the world.

GOD'S TENT

In homily a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI described Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, as God's dwelling place here on earth. "Mary becomes his tent. What all the cultures desire – that God dwell among us – is brought about here," he said.

We see yet another similarity between the Ark and Mary when we look at the story of David bringing up the Ark after he was anointed king of Israel. Then, David danced for joy before the Ark, and then the Ark was left at the home of Obededom the Gittite for three months (2 Samuel 6).

One cannot help but noticing the parallel between this story and that of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, a feast we mark May 31. There, when Mary, the New Ark, came into Elizabeth's presence, the child in her womb also danced for joy. Mary too remained with Elizabeth for three months before returning to her home.

POWERFUL FORCE

For the Israelites, the Ark was a powerful, miraculous force. The Ark was carried before the people and across the Jordan as they finally made their way into the Promised Land.

Then, following orders from "the commander of the army of the Lord," Joshua ordered the people to carry the Ark around the city of Jericho blowing trumpets for six days till, on the seventh day, after all gave a mighty shout, the walls of the city collapsed (Joshua 6).

Can we have such trust in Mary and her son? If asked, wouldn't Mary intercede for us so that the walls of the bastions of today's evils also come tumbling down by the power of God?

God entrusted Mary with the presence of his Son. Shouldn't we also trust her to do God's work in our world? She is, after all, the Ark of the Covenant.