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Ark of the Covenant, The

by John O'Connell

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  • Descriptive Title:
    The Ark of the Covenant
    An ancient title of Mary is Ark of the Covenant. The Church Fathers saw the parallels between the Old Testament wooden chest containing the divine presence and the Virgin about to give birth to Christ.
  • Larger Work:
    The Catholic Faith
  • Publisher & Date:
    Ignatius Press, January 2, 1997

It is recorded in the Old Testament that Moses and the Israelites built the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets of the Decalogue (Ex. 25:8-16). The Lord instructed His People to also place manna that He had given them in the desert on the Ark (Ex.16:32-35). Centuries later, when King Solomon built the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple and placed it inside the Holy of Holies (3 Kgs. 8:3-7) (cf. Heb. 9:1-5).

The Fathers of the Church, who were steeped in the Bible, after prayerfully reflecting on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history, acclaimed her as the Ark of the Covenant. They saw the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament as a type of the Blessed Mother. The first Ark contained the Law of the Old Covenant, while Our Lady conceived, carried in her womb for nine months, and gave birth to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who established in His Person the New Covenant.

Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus, speaking of the Fathers, wrote:

... some have employed the words of the Psalmist: "Arise, O Lord, and go into Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy might" and have looked upon the Ark of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and places in the Lord's temple, as a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempted from all corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven.

Just as the New Covenant surpasses the Old, so the new Ark of the Covenant (Our Lady) is superior to the old. The old Ark contained the word of God inscribed on stone tablets, but the new Ark contained the Incarnate Word of God. The old Ark held the Law that could not justify, but the new Ark held Jesus Christ Who Himself is the eternal New Covenant with God; He Who justifies and saves. Moses placed the manna from the desert before the Tablets in the old Ark of the Covenant, but the new Ark was the repository of the true Manna, the Bread come down from heaven, Jesus Christ the Son of God. The old Ark was made of inanimate materials, but the new Ark is the greatest human person whoever has or ever will live - she whose soul has been adorned by God with a superabundance of the choicest graces.

The Israelites had a great reverential fear for the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. Only the priests were allowed to touch it. The Lord struck down Oza for touching the Ark when the Israelites were moving it to Jerusalem (2 Kings 6:6-7). And the Ark of the Covenant proved to be a blessing for Obededom and all his household when it stayed in his house for three months (2 Kings 6:10-11). How much more then is loving respect and honor due to the new Ark of the Covenant - the Magnificent Mother of God. For it is through Mary's fiat that we have received such a glorious Savior Who redeemed us by His Holy Cross and nourishes us with His Body and Blood.

In a Coptic sermon, attributed to St. Anthanasius, the Holy Virgin is thus addressed:

O Ark of the new covenant, clad on all sides with purity in place of gold; the one in whom is found the golden vase with its true manna, that is the flesh in which lies the God-head.

John O'Connell is the Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.

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