In the first reading of the Vigil Mass, we get a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the Ark that was featured in one of the best action movies of all time, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Maybe you remember it—a gold box, about 4 feet long, 2 feet high, with two golden angels perched on top. And in the movie—spoiler alert—as they pry open the Ark, a pillar of cloud billows up and the power of God zaps all the Nazis.
Well, there’s actually some truth to the movie’s depiction of the Holy Ark. You see, the Ark was built at the command of Moses, who received explicit instructions from God about how it was to be built. And this Ark was made for two key reasons:
- To hold certain items:
- The tablets of the 10 commandments (Word of God)
- The manna (bread from Heaven)
- The marvelous rod of Aaron (priesthood)
- To act as a sort of throne. The angels’ wings marked out a space above the altar where the cloud of God’s presence would hover over it.
In the Vigil Mass, we hear about King David bringing the Ark into a tent. Now, this is a detail that could easily go unnoticed. One might think, “OK, so maybe they wanted to get it out of the sun and the weather?” But this would be to miss the point. To understand the significance, we have to look both backwards in time and forwards in time.
In the days of Moses, as the Israelites fled from Egypt and wandered thru the desert, they would set up this special meeting tent. The tent, which can also be translated “tabernacle,” was where Moses would go in to meet and to speak with God. When Moses was in the tent, a pillar of cloud descended over the entrance to the tent, indicating to everyone else that God was present in the tabernacle/tent. Moses would go in and speak to God face-to-face. The tent was the dwelling place of God.
And so, in today’s reading, King David brings the ark into the tent, the tabernacle, and every Israelite would have known that the tent is the dwelling place of God.But that’s not the end of the story. We also must look forward to see the true meaning of this Ark.
In the first reading of the Mass during the day, we hear from the Book of Revelation, and it begins,
“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 with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
St. John sees the ark in his vision of Heaven, and then he immediately starts describing a woman. If you were a first-century Jew, you might have said, “Wait, hold on a second! Go back to that part about the Ark! The Ark is in Heaven?! Tell me more about the Ark!”
At this point you might be wondering, why bring up this Ark of the Covenant on this day of all days? Isn’t this day about Our Lady and her Assumption into Heaven? Doesn’t father Joe do anything besides watch movies all day? YES and YES! This feast of our Lady is precisely why we get these readings about the Ark today.
In this passage from Revelation, St. John reveals to us a very profound mystery. He knows that Mary is the Ark. The New Ark of the New Covenant. She is there, in heaven. Just like the first Ark was brought into the tent, the dwelling place of God, so too was Mary, the New Ark, assumed into Heaven, body and soul, into the dwelling place of God.
Mary is the new Ark! She was created for the same reasons as the first Ark!
- She was created to contain Jesus within her
- Jesus, who is the Divine Word like the 10 commandments,
- Jesus, the Bread of Life like the Manna from Heaven,
- Jesus, the Eternal High Priest like Aaron in the days of Moses.
- Her very womb was a throne for Jesus, the King of Kings.
Still not convinced? Consider:
- When King David found the Ark, he brought it from the Hill Country of Judah. When Mary, the New Ark, went to greet Elizabeth, she went out “in haste to the Hill Country of Judah.”
- When the Ark entered the city, David leaped for joy. When Mary entered Elizabeth’s house, John the Baptist leaped in her womb.
- When David saw the Ark, he said, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” When Elizabeth saw Mary, she said, “How can the Mother of my Lord come to me?”
- The Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom for three months; Mary remained in the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months.
Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. She bears within her the promise of a new friendship between God and man. A friendship so profound that it was manifested by the union of two natures in a single person, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man. Mary, the New Ark, bore our Incarnate Lord into the world. That is why it is most fitting for her to be assumed, body and soul, into Heaven. The New Ark enters the New Jerusalem.
That’s the mystery we commemorate today. The entrance of our Blessed Mother into Heaven. There she is, the virgin undefiled, interceding for us, praying for us, to God. She who was immaculately conceived, preserved from Original Sin, did not have to suffer the effects of the Fall of Man. Though she retained her free will, she was not hindered by concupiscence—she did not sin. When the angel declared unto her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, her will was in perfect conformity with the will of God. When her life on earth was complete, she did not have to endure the corruption of her body. And she did not have to wait for the second coming of Christ to enter into Heavenly glory. She is the highest honor of our race.
And so, it is in Mary that we have a glimpse of what we are truly meant to be. You and I, brothers and sisters, are made for Heaven, for union with God. Not just our souls, but our bodies as well. She shows us our destiny is to enter into that Heavenly tabernacle, where we may speak to God face-to-face.
Not only that, but she is an example to us even today as the model disciple.
It is Mary’s discipleship that connects us to her. She was the perfect disciple of Christ, and we too are disciples of Christ.
In the gospel, when the woman in the crowd called out to Jesus and said,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
“Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”
That is, blessed are the disciples. Those who observe the word of God. Those who use their free will to act in accord with God’s plan. This is how we, too, can share in that same glory that our Mother already enjoys.
If being a disciple doesn’t sound like anything extraordinary, listen to the words of St. Augustine:
Didn’t the Virgin Mary do the will of the Father? I mean, she believed by faith, she conceived by faith, she was chosen to be the one from whom salvation in the very midst of the human race would be born for us, she was created by Christ before Christ was created in her. Yes, of course, holy Mary did the will of the Father. And therefore, it means more for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been the mother of Christ. It means more for her, an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother. That is why Mary was blessed…
St. Augustine’s words should resonate with us. Because even though only she was chosen among women to be the Mother of Jesus, each one of us has the opportunity to become a disciple of Jesus. It’s a daily choice. We become disciples each and every day, each and every time we must make a decision to follow our Lord, to do the will of the Father.
We beg our Blessed Mother for her prayers today, asking her to turn her merciful eyes towards us. Asking for a softening of our hearts, to hear and respond to the Lord. Asking that our souls, too, might magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.
The Lord has done great things for us, and holy is his name.