Today we give thanks to God for the grace and favor bestowed on Mary, Jesus’ Mother, this sinless Woman and Queen of all saints, for God gave her an assumption of body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. It was a fitting reward for her, this faithful servant of The Lord.
When I ponder Mary’s Assumption, I associate it much with her title as the new Ark of the Covenant. This title refers to Mary as the New Testament fulfillment of something of the Hebrew (or “Old”) Testament, named as the Ark of the Covenant. In the Hebrew story before Christ came and lived among us as Jesus, God’s Son, there had been an encounter with God in the Exodus event. It was so special an encounter that they saved artifacts from that meeting with God and Moses and his family, and they put it in a remarkable golden tabernacle container, that was to be treated with utmost care and reverence.
Three main things of the divine encounter were saved into this “ark” container for Jewish remembrance: 1. the two tablets of stone containing the ten commandments which had been written by the hand of God, and 2. manna bread which had been kept in memorial of the miracle supply in the wilderness to sustain God’s people in pilgrimage home, and 3. 3.Aaron’s rod that budded.
The “Ark” was an important Promised Land connection in the Hebrew Covenant. When the God of that Covenant came personally to earth, Mary became the new model and heavenly model of the Fulfillment of that promise. How so?
Many Christian people remember the Moses story of his leading people back home to Israel, their promised land. We know of the chiseled rocks with God’s law on them and this artifact would remain a greatly important object to them, as well as a sample of the manna bread that came from Heaven, along with Aaron’s rod that had budded as a divine sign of blessing to the house (or tribe) of Levi. These three precious things were kept in this “ark” container, and the Great Temple was build to host the “ark of the covenant.” When the Hebrews lost that promised land, due to their neglect and indifference of faith living, enemies conquered the land, and the Ark went into hiding, and it hasn’t been seen since.
The Jews mourned its lost presence, and even in the times of Jesus’ life on earth, it was a big topic of discussion. If the Messiah came, wouldn’t he rebuild or restore the Temple, and return the ark there, so that this House of God and people of faith would have the precious ark back, to remember the Exodus times?
The Messiah came, in Jesus Christ, and He spoke that the “temple” would be His body, and by His death and resurrection and following events, the faithful pilgrims who sought the Homeland (or kingdom) of Heaven would also have their new “ark of the covenant.”
So, rather than being just a container, the new ark would be a person. Rather than honoring just a container that held the laws of God in crumbling rock with a container, this new ark would honorably have held the LawGiver Himself in her womb.
Rather that just revere the remains of the manna wafers that fell in the wilderness in the Book of Exodus story, the new ark would be flesh and the LawGiver Christ would be flesh of her flesh, and He would give of His Flesh to be salvation for the world, and means in The Eucharist, to cross over and into the kingdom of God by His Bread of Life Supplied. And, furthermore, the relic of what remained of the budded rod of Aaron, that had been in the first “ark” of the first official Levite priest, would be ‘updated’ greatly in the new Ark, who was Mary, Who had given to the world the Priest of Priests, The High Priest of Heaven, and associated with Mary with be the God of holiness, changing the world by the gift of her Son, who was forecast Scripturally to “rule over even Jacob’s (Israel’s) descendants forever with his rod (reign) that would never end (Luke 1:33).”
All this comes through Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, also called the New Eve, for all that started through her, by the Way of Jesus.
So, she who brought Jesus into the world, became a far greater Ark of the Covenant than the original Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. The Old Ark disappeared, and is lost somewhere to maybe one day be found by archeologists– yet the New Ark disappeared in a different fashion– she went to Heaven. We call Mary’s Assumption into Heaven the Ark being put in the grandeur of God’s Temple in Heaven. She is bodily and spiritually taken into Heaven.
Today’s feast day honors this astounding thing. We now know that in heaven Mary continues to intercede for us, helping us to reach the goal of heaven which she enjoys. That is why we pray the famous Marian prayer line “…after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus. O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ!”
How did we end up giving Mary this honor and this title? Is it Biblical? Yes, often on this feast we include the readings from Revelation. In Revelation 11:19, it describes John the apostle’s vision of heaven in which he sees something which would startle his contemporaries – he says he sees the Ark of the Covenant. As we just said, The Ark of the Covenant had been missing for centuries before the time of Jesus and we can imagine the shock that John’s account would have caused in the first century as he related that he saw the ark in heaven, and that he then described it as a woman.
The people knew that John was the one who cared for Mary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As the believers began the Way of the Lord, John had Mary often at Ephesus, or among the Ephesians. He knew Mary well, and he was very close to her. So, John would not be mistaken if he said that The Ark of the Covenant that he saw in his vision was Mary in Heaven. He also saw her in a new light. She was the new ark. The lost one need not be found. Mary was the living ark. The former one had prefigured her! What a revelation! And in the New Ark, he saw anew the three gifts in it:
1.Jesus the living Word of God, the Word made flesh (not just written on stone as in the Old Testament),and
2.Jesus the Bread of Life (John 6) the fulfillment of the manna of the Old Testament, and
3.Jesus the Priest of God of a New Eternal Covenant, and, by his natural parent on earth (and foster father), He was even a descendant of Aaron!
So the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was pointing forward to a far greater Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament, who came to be Mary, who carried the living word of God, Jesus. In the middle of the Old Covenant story, King David and King Solomon go to much effort to give reverence and honor to the signs and symbols of the (ultimately successful) Exodus of the Jews back home. Now, in the New Covenant story, the Church gives much effort to give reverence and honor to the New Ark, particularly, since she was so special to Jesus, God’s only Son, our Savior Divine.
If take it to the ultimate conclusion, when we will reach heaven, we expect to dance for joy like David (2 Sam. 6:5) over God’s people having come home to the Temple of God to give Him fitting worship. We will look back at how we honored Mary on earth in the Church, and be glad, and realize that God had given us Mary for secret help and holy power and friendship in the Church, and as our model. King David once called out, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” in 2 Sam 6:9–as he was glad to be near the object which contained the divine symbols of encounter with the living God. We should start falling into awe with the same statement of David, in asking: “How would the Ark of the Lord in Mary, come to me, when I am weak in faith, and sometimes ignorant?” We could also benefit from remembering that St. Elizabeth once called out to Mary in these same words (Luke 1:43): “Why is this granted me, a so undeserving one, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
After John the Apostle (and writer of Revelations) sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven in that vision, he sees another vision, as if to confirm that Mary is indeed the Ark of the Covenant of the New Testament; he sees “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…” (Rev 12:1)
Popes have reaffirmed this interpretation of this text. Events in history have too. The Revelations 12 form is that of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego. The woman in John’s vision was pregnant and giving birth to a male child and at the same time a dragon was waiting to do harm to the child but both the mother and child were spared by divine intervention. We can understand this vision of John as Israel in the Old Testament giving birth to the Church in the New Testament and the dragon is the devil trying to destroy the Church.
An even better way to understand John’s vision is that the woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament, and she is helping each of us to come to birth spiritually because she is the Mother of the Church and the devil is making war on us. Mary’s Assumption into heaven, having completed her life while remaining sinless, reminds us, as Saint and Pope John Paul II said, (that) the goal of the Church is Heaven. We pray that one day the whole Church may be in heaven pure and holy like Mary in heaven, as the sainted pontiff said: “in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle.” (Redemptoris Mater §47)
Mary has a role to play from Heaven to earth. Her Son Jesus allows it. In Heaven, Mary, as Mother of the Church, cares for us here on earth, helping us to become more like her son Jesus. She can visit or bless us or love us like a mother. Pope Paul VI, stated, “We believe that the Most Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church, carries on in heaven her maternal role with regard to the members of Christ, cooperating in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” Saint and Pope Pius the Tenth added, that Mary the Assumption, as giving birth in Rev. 12
“was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.” (Ad diem illum laetissimum §24)
It is all very interesting and mysterious isn’t it? And it’s OUR mystery cherished.