#55 ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT

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“… There was a woman whose dress was the sun and who had the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head…” (Rev. 12: 1)

Introduction

There are several interpretations to the passage of Revelation 12:1. But one that stands out is the identification of the woman with Mary. Saint John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, had identified this woman in the last verse of the preceding chapter as the “Ark of the Covenant”. We know this because the division of the scriptures into chapters and verses is a later addition to the Bible. So when John wrote, he was describing this Ark which appeared in the heavenly temple. Mary is the New Testament (NT) fulfillment to the Ark of the Old Testament (OT). Mary is the new and greater fulfillment of what was prefigured by the Ark of the OT. What follows is a step by step comparison of the OT Ark with its NT counterpart and why Mary should be honoured as sinless and pure.

Striking Resemblance

The Ark of the Old Covenant was the holiest and most powerful article on Earth outside of God Himself. It was a sacred chest which contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments among other things (Deut 10:5). The Ark also carried and represented the spiritual presence of God on Earth. When God spoke to Moses, it was from between the two cherubim which were on the Ark (Num 7:89; Ex 25:21-22). Let us now look at how the Bible identifies Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

The Ark of the Old Covenant contained the written Word of God (Deut. 10:5). The Virgin Mary contained the Word of God made flesh, Jesus (Jn. 1:1,14). Revelation 19:13 says, “And He [Jesus] was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called, the Word of God.”

The Ark of the Old Covenant was “overshadowed” by the power and presence of God (Ex 40:34 -35). The Virgin Mary was “overshadowed” by the power and presence of the Most High (Lk 1:35).

The tabernacle was constructed to contain the holy Ark (Ex 40:2-3). When God would come down upon the tabernacle and the Ark to speak to Moses, we read in Ex 40:34 – 35 that God’s glory cloud or visible presence (called the “Shekinah”) “overshadowed” it. The rare word which is used to describe how this unique presence of God would “overshadow ” the Ark is episkiasei in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.

Exodus 40:34-35 – “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud overshadowed it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

The very same word “episkiasei” is used in the New Testament which is written in Greek to describe how the presence of God will “overshadow” the Virgin Mary. The Scriptures uses this language only about the Ark and about Mary.

Luke 1:35 – “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

The clear implication is that the presence of God overshadows Mary and comes down upon her – since she is the New Ark – just as it overshadowed the Ark of the Old Covenant. This reveals that Mary, while just a creature and infinitely less than God, is the new Ark. She has a unique connection to God, a unique holiness, sanctification and power.

Parallel Lines that Intersect

Consider the amazing parallels that Scripture gives us between what happened to the Ark of the Old Covenant in 2 Samuel 6 and what happened to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, in chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel. 2 Samuel 6 is the most complete story in the Bible concerning the Ark of the Old Covenant. Luke 1 is the most complete story in the Bible concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary.

2 Samuel 6:9 – “David feared the Lord that day and said, How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”

Luke 1:43 –”[Elizabeth said]: And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? ”

Elizabeth says the same thing to Mary that David said about the Ark because Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. The only difference between the two statements is literally that “mother” is used where Ark was used. The Bible is telling us that the mother of the Lord  is the Ark. This is confirmed without any doubt as we carry the story further.

David leapt Before the Ark: 2 Samuel 6:16 – “As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Saul´s daughter Michal looked down through the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord…”

The Infant (John the Baptist) leapt in the presence of Mary: Luke 1:41-44 – “And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit… For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

The Ark stayed for three months: 2 Samuel 6:11 – “ The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed Obededom and his whole house.”

Mary (the Ark) remained with Elizabeth for three months: Luke 1:56-57 – “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”

David set out to fetch the Ark from Judah: 2 Samuel 6:2 – “Then David and all the people who were with him set out for Baala of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God.”

This occurred when Mary ( the Ark) went to Judah: Luke 1:39-40 – “During those days Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”

Revelation of the Ark

The Book of Revelation also indicates that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant:

Revelation 11:19,12-1 – “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail. [12:1] And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

The Bible was not written with any chapters or verses indicated. It was not until the 12th century that chapters and verses were added to the Bible. The author of Revelation, St. John, wrote what begins chapter 12 in one continuous stream immediately after what ends chapter 11. At the end of chapter 11, we read that the Ark of Jesus’ covenant was seen in Heaven. The very next verse is Revelation 12:1. Therefore, the words which end chapter 11 flows immediately into the words which begin chapter 12 without any interruption.

That means that the appearance of the Ark of Jesus’ covenant at the very end of chapter 11 is immediately explained by the vision of “the woman” clothed with the sun which begins chapter twelve, the very next verse (Rev. 12:1). This indicates that “the woman” clothed with the sun, who bore the Divine Person in her womb (the Virgin Mary), is the Ark of the New Testament.

The Ark contained the manna from the desert: Hebrews 9:4 – “…the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna , and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.”

Mary contained the manna from Heaven, Jesus: John 6:48-51 – “I am that bread of life…This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven…and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

There can be no doubt that the manna in the desert (Exodus 16) prefigured Jesus as the Bread of Life. Jesus makes a connection between the two in John chapter 6. He makes reference to the manna in the desert, and then says that His flesh is the true manna from Heaven. Well, the manna from the desert was placed inside the Ark of the Old Covenant. That prefigures Jesus Christ Himself being contained within Mary, His Mother.

In Hebrews 9:4, we also see that the rod of Aaron was placed within the Ark of the Old Covenant. In Numbers 17, we read that this rod budded to prove the true high-priest. The rod of Aaron then signified the true high-priest. In the New Testament, Jesus is described as the true high-priest.

Hebrews 3:1 – “ Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” Also see Hebrews 6:20, 9:11, and other passages all attest that Jesus is the true high-priest. The inescapable conclusion is that Aaron’s rod being placed within the Ark prefigured Jesus Christ, the true high-priest, being contained within Mary.

SINCE MARY IS THE ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT, THAT MEANS THAT SHE IS THE MOST SACRED THING ON EARTH OUTSIDE OF JESUS CHRIST

Holy So Holy

The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest thing on earth outside of the presence of God Himself. The Ark was contained in the tabernacle, within the holy of holies. The Ark’s presence is what made the holy of holies so sacred.

2 Chronicles 35:3 – “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build.”

The Ark was so holy that when the people of God followed it they had to keep a respectful distance.

Joshua 3:3-5 – “When you shall see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests of the race of Levi carrying it, rise up also, and follow them as they go before: And let there be between you and the ark the space of two thousand cubits: that you may see it afar off, and know which way you must go: for you have not gone this way before: and take care not to come near the ark .”

People who unlawfully touched the Ark were killed.

2 Samuel 6:6-7 – “Azor put forth his hand to the ark of God , and took hold of it: because the oxen kicked and made it lean aside. And the indignation of the Lord was enkindled against Azor, and he struck him for his rashness: and he died there before the ark of God.”

The men of Bethshemesh were killed because they had dared to look into the Ark.

1 Samuel 6:19 – “ And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men…”

We see how sacred God considered the object which was to come into close contact with His spiritual presence.

SINCE MARY IS THE NEW ARK, SHE HAD TO BE HOLY AND CREATED FREE FROM SIN

God gave the most precise specifications for the construction of the Ark. He ordered that it be made with the most pure gold (Ex 25:10-13,24).

It’s interesting that the Ark not only had to be overlaid with gold all around, but there is a specific reference to it having a “crown of gold round about.”

The Ark of the Old Covenant had a gold crown: Exodus 25:11 – “And thou… shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.”

The Virgin Mary (the New Ark) also has a crown: Apocalypse 12:1 – “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

The Ark of the Old Covenant had to be perfect and holy because it was the seat of God’s unique spiritual presence. God’s holiness could not be tarnished by contact with that which had defects. Likewise and to a greater degree, the Virgin Mary, as the new Ark and bearer of Jesus Christ, had to be created without sin and in a state of perfection.

She did not merely contain the spiritual presence of God, but Jesus Christ (God Himself). She did not merely contain the written word of God, but the Word of God made flesh (Jn 1:1). Consequently, Mary must be perfect. She had to be free from all sin, ever-virgin and untouched by man.

If the Ark of the Old Covenant, which contained the written tables of the Law and was overshadowed by the spiritual presence of God, had to be overlaid with the most pure gold and had to be constructed according to the most precise specifications of God, how much greater is God’s “construction” of Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant? The fulfillment is always greater than the type. Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, must be and is greater than the Ark of the Old Covenant.

Just like the Ark of the Old Covenant, Mary must also have tremendous power over the Devil and God’s enemies. She must have a unique power of intercession with God, in bringing down His blessings and in aiding the people of God, just as the Ark of the Old Covenant did.

The Ark of the Old Covenant had awe-striking power. When it was taken by the Philistines, extraordinary things happened to them and to their false god, Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-5).

The Philistines began to be destroyed for having taken the Ark. This prompted them to return the Ark to their enemies, the Israelites.

1 Samuel 5:7 – “And the men of Azotus seeing this kind of plague, said: The ark of the God of Israel shall not stay with us : for his hand is heavy upon us, and upon Dagon our god.”

The waters of the Jordan were miraculously dried up by the Ark.

Josh 3:13-14 – “ [And the Lord said to Josue ]: And when the priests, that carry the ark of the Lord the God of the whole earth, shall set the soles of their feet in the waters of the Jordan, the waters that are beneath shall run down and go off: and those that come from above, shall stand together upon a heap. So the people went out of their tents, to pass over the Jordan: and the priests that carried the ark of the covenant went on before them… ”

Mary, the New Ark, has this power and even more; for the fulfillment is greater than the type, and the New Testament is greater than the Old. We are told that the angels fought for the woman against the dragon (Rev 12:7). As we learnt from previous articles, Mary “by her fair humility and holy life conquered (the devil) and beat down his strength”. For Alphonsus Ligouri, “Jesus and His Mother have overcome Lucifer.” And for Saint Bernard, “this proud spirit (the dragon) was beaten down and trampled under foot by this most Blessed Virgin; so that, as a slave conquered in war, he is forced always to obey the commands of this Queen. She is our Queen and our Ark of refuge as she is for her Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

#51 HONOUR MARY

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WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HONOUR THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?

“From now on all generation will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:48)

Introduction

Throughout the centuries, the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, has certainly been a source of much discussion and controversy. I believe, however, that the failure to recognize her importance in salvation history is due, in great part, to misunderstanding and failure on the part of many to search the Scriptures and focus on some very important, inspired words as, for example, those recorded in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:46-55). It is here that we find the “Magnificat” as spoken by Mary on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, who became the forerunner or precursor of Jesus Christ Himself.

Charges or accusations have been levelled against Catholics for thinking or believing that Mary is some kind of goddess because of all the devotion or attention they direct to her. Mention is often made of all the shrines, the novenas, the Rosary and the apparitions involving the Virgin Mary. In fact, to put it even more clearly, Catholics are often accused of paying more attention to Mary than they do to Christ, her Son. The truth is that Catholic devotion to Mary, as do all the saints, points to Christ.

Communion with the Saints

An article of the Catholic faith that buttresses this point is the article in the Apostles’ Creed that says, “We believe in the Communion of Saints”. This article affirms our faith in the resurrection of Christ and the truth that all the faithful who have done the will of God while on earth are united to Him in heaven (cf. 1Jn 3:2). We also believe that since God is life and light, in Him the saints are alive and see what God sees. Psalm 36:9 tells us “in you is the source of life, by your light we see the light” (NJB). The same article also affirms that we share a special connection with them. So it is wrong to say that those in heaven are unconcerned about what happens on earth. The numerous apparitions of Mary, Angels and some of the saints to people on earth are evidences to the contrary. The saints are aware of our plights on earth. And since they know and see in their union with God, they are able to pray for us and bring heavenly messages to us. This also means that our honour of the Saints is not out of place because whatever honour we show them, we invariably show to God. We will explain this in details shortly. It is worthy of note that it is in the Scriptures that the first Christians honoured Mary as the “Mother of our Lord”.

 The Magnificat

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

 48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

 50 And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

 51 He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,

 52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;

 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.

 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:46-55 RSV)

When we carefully study the beautiful prayer that we call the “Magnificat”, Mary’s Canitcle, we find many answers to those who object to honouring Mary. In the very first verse Mary says her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour. If Mary considers God her Saviour, that means she understood that she had to be saved, and in no way did she ever imply that she was equal to God or did not need His help.

As one continues to read, we hear her saying that “He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His Name”. She gives all the credit to God. Others who have not understood the role of Mary through the years would do well to read the closing lines of the Magnificat where she says that “henceforth, from now on all generations will call me blessed”. That is why Catholics call her the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the current generation, we understand that it is fitting that we look upon her as special because God Himself considers her special. To be selected from all women to bring the Son of God into the world certainly is a great honour.

Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that (s)he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God.

Mother Of God

The Church’s position on devotion to Mary is based on Scripture and on the fact that God chose her to be the mother of His Son. That, incidentally, is the answer to the problem or difficulty that some people have with Catholics calling Mary the Mother of God. Mary is not the mother of the Triune God. She is the mother of Jesus who is true God and true Man. Since Jesus is both human and divine, we ask; “who was His mother”? The answer is obvious. Hence, the title “Mother of God”. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth called Mary, “the Mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43). Interestingly, Saint Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord unless by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). In the same way, only the Spirit could have revealed to Elizabeth that Mary is the Mother of the Lord (Lord, “Adonai” in Hebrew is another word for “God”).

Work of Art

Picture yourself in an art gallery. When you praise a work of art as the best in a gallery filled with paintings, and the artist is standing right there. The artist is not going to be offended or jealous. Rather, he will be delighted because in praising the painting, you are actually praising him. This is simply because that painting is his creation, the result of long, hard work. We honour and love our parents or our neighbours; no one frowns at this. In doing so we are not taking anything away from God, rather, in honouring them we honour God because they are His creatures. The Prophet Isaiah uses this analogy when he says that, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Isa 64:7 New American Bible). Paul says it in even clearer terms, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Eph 2:10 New Jerusalem Bible). In the same way, when we honour Mary, we are honouring God her Creator.

To Whom Honour is Due

To honour someone is to show great respect or esteem for their person. Honour is due in different degree to different people. This is true whether we are talking about God, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, our parents or neighbours. The honour due only to God is what we call Latria in Latin. This is translated in English as “worship” or “adoration”. The honour due to the saints and people we admire, revere and respect is called Dulia in Latin. But we know that among God’s creatures none comes close to the one who gave birth to Jesus Christ who is true God and true man. The Blessed Virgin Mary herself. To her is reserved a special kind of honour that is neither latria nor dulia. The honour we show to Mary is called Hyper-dulia. The honour we show to her does not detract from the worship we offer to God. In loving her, as God’s child, we are loving God Himself (cf. Lk 9:48).

It’s all Love

You cannot claim to love of God and choose to disrespect your neighbour (1Jn 4:11). They go together just like the head and tail of a coin. The love of God and love of neighbour is the greatest of all the commandments (cf. Lk 10:27). Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that the reason for this is that he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God. Conversely, the disrespect we show to Mary shows our disrespect for God who first honoured her through the greeting of the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:28). The disrespect is even more grevious since Mary is the Mother of God. (We shall highlight the implications of this in the next article.)