Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant
The meaning of Sacred Scripture has been placed there by the Holy Spirit. This has been done in such way that we will never be able to plumb the depths of wisdom that can be found in the Bible. With the eyes of faith we are shown all those overlapping truths, all in accord with each other, all designed to point to the inscrutable mystery of God. It was God who ordered Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant thousands of years before Mary of Nazareth was born. God gave very precise instructions to Moses on how to build and use the ark. The Scriptures show that the Ark of the Covenant was a type, or model of Our Blessed Mother.
Exodus 25, 10-22 —They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.
The ark was designed so that four or more Levites could move it without actually touching this holy object directly. God had promised Moses that He was going to be in the ark by saying “There I will meet with you”. In the same manner, in the Incarnation, the Son of God was present inside the womb of Mary who is also destined to be immaculate and untouched, just like the ark of ancient times. In Luke 1, 36-37 the angel uses the word ‘overshadowing’ (Gr. epischiasei) to describe how the Holy Spirit would approach Mary. That word is the same that is used in Exodus to describe how the angels are to overshadow the mercy seat of the ark and also in Exodus 40, 34-35.
The Ark of the Covenant contained objects representing types of Jesus the Messiah. The ancient ark was designed to contain several sacred things: The stone tablets where the finger of God had carved the Commandments, a golden bowl with “manna” or bread from heaven miraculously preserved fresh, and Aaron’s rod that sprouted buds and blossoms and bore ripe almonds in a single night, faithfully showing God’s choice of Aaron for the priesthood. Each of those objects point at one quality of Jesus Christ. The stone tablets are the commandments given to Israel by God. Of all men, only Jesus fulfilled those commandments faithfully (1 John 3, 5-6). The manna is the “bread from heaven” (John 6:22-65). The rod of Aaron is a symbol of Jesus’ eternal priesthood (Hebrews 7, 23-24). These three things were inside the ark and all of them point at Jesus. Our Blessed Mother contained not representations of the qualities of Jesus but Jesus Himself. That is why she is considered to be the Ark of the New Covenant.
2 Samuel 6, 9-12 — And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Hittite. And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Hittite three months; and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household. And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.
This portion of the Old Testament shows several parallels between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary, the mother of Jesus. First, David asks almost the same question that Elizabeth asked when Mary came to visit “How come the ark of the LORD come to me?”. Replacing the word “ark” in this phrase, we have the phrase Elizabeth exclaimed when she saw Mary coming to visit her. Second, the Ark remains in the house of Obed-Edom for three months and so does Mary, who remains in Elizabeth’s house three months (Luke 1, 56). The baby in Elizabeth’s womb, the son of a Levite, leaps for joy, while David danced before the ark, dressed as a Levite.
Revelation 11, 19 to 12, 6 — 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, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
The Apocalypse of John, also known as the Revelation, was written towards the end of the first century A.D. By that time the Ark of the Covenant had been lost for more than 600 years. According to Jewish tradition, it was the prophet Jeremiah who hid the ark, to protect it from falling into the hands of the Babylonian army (2 Macabees 2, 5-8). In his vision John sees the ark again “in Heaven”. The ark scene seems to end abruptly to introduce the reader to the “sign” or “portent”, the woman clothed with the sun. In Isaiah 7, 14 it was prophesied “Therefore the LORD himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The image also has strong connections with Galatians 3, 27, where the apostle Paul exhorts the Church to “put on the Christ” who is also compared in Scripture as the sun or the “great light” (Matthew 4, 16). The woman is clothed perfectly with the light of Christ and crowned with twelve stars, that is the twelve apostles of Christ (compare with the use of the number twelve in Revelation 21, 10-14). In reality the scene describing the ark does not end suddenly. It rather continues, indicating that the ark and the heavenly woman are the same, or closely associated in John’s vision. Other clues that point to this woman as being a type of Mary are the child she bears, who is going to rule the nations (Christ), the moon under her feet is the Church—under the Queen of Heaven, the militant Church, imperfectly reflects the glory of Christ, in contrast with the triumphant Church whose light is Christ (Revelation 21, 23). Additionally she is the enemy of the Dragon (Revelation 12, 17) who is identified in Revelation 20, 2 as Satan “the original serpent,” who will fight and persecute the offspring of the woman (compare with Genesis 3, 14-15).
In John’s Apocalypse the Ark of the Covenant is a woman, who is also the mother of the Messiah. In similar fashion later in John’s Apocalypse the Bride of the Lamb is also the City of God, the Church triumphant in Heaven.