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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Real Ark of the Covenant

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The texts presented to us to mark this beautiful feast (both for the Vigil and the actual Day) present us with the image of the Ark of the Covenant.  In the Old Testament reading for the Vigil Mass, taken from the First Book of Chronicles, we see King David bringing down the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  When the Ark reaches King David, he greets it, saying, "Who am I that the Ark of the Covenant should come unto me?"  He then proceeds to dance in front of it with great joy (while wearing an ephod).  In today's reading from the Book of Revelation, the first line tells us that John saw the God's Temple opened and that the Ark of the Covenant was there.  The scene immediately shifts to an image of a Woman clothed with the sun and a crown of 12 stars on her head.

This vision is particularly striking.  In the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept, there was a curtain that depicted the sun, the moon, the stars and other celestial bodies.  Ancient Israel recognized that God's Temple was well beyond its sight, surpassing the heavens and the celestial bodies.  The earthly Temple was Ancient Israel's closest approximation to the heavenly one. 

The Ark of the Covenant was Ancient Israel's most sacred treasure, as it contained the tablets of the Law of Moses, the rod of Aaron and the Manna from heaven.  God dwelled within the Ark.  When the Babylonians were near Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah had the Ark hidden within a cave near Jerusalem and vehemently discouraged anyone from trying to mark the trail.  He predicted that the Ark would re-emerge when the Glory Cloud once again descended.

And here is where we connect the dots between yesterday's account from First Chronicles, today's reading from Revelation and St. Luke's Gospel passage concerning the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her kinswoman, St. Elizabeth.  The Blessed Mother makes the long journey from Nazareth to a town in Judea, much in the same way as the Ark made its journey from the north to Jerusalem, which is in Judea.  The Glory Cloud, the Holy Spirit, has indeed descended on the Ark, only this Ark is not an inaminate vessel; the true Ark is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Glory Cloud descended on her when she gave her Fiat to become the Mother of God.  At that point, Mary held within her womb the true Law, the true High Priest and the true Bread come down from heaven, Jesus.

When Mary greets Elizabeth, the older kinswoman mirrors the words uttered by King David, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come unto me?"  Her unborn son, St. John the Baptist, further harkens back to David when he leaps for joy in his mother's womb, so near is his Salvation to him.

But, there is more.  When God dictated to Moses just how the Ark would be made, He also warned his prophet that no one could touch the Ark.  He specifically commanded that rings be attached to the Ark so that it could be bourne up by poles. No one could touch the Ark because of its truly sacred nature.   Anyone touching the Ark met a terrible fate, no less than death, as poor Uzziah found out when he tried to steady it.  As soon as his hand touched the Ark, he was struck dead.   From the moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin.  The True Ark that God had fashioned for Himself had to be pure and spotless.   Thus, she could not be touched.  Decay could not contaminate her body, since she is sinless.

Because we were born with the stain of original sin, we suffer the same physical fate as Adam and Eve.    When we die, our mortal remains decay (unless, if by some literal miracle, our bodies become incorrupt, as has been the case with some of the saints).  Such was not the case with the Blessed Virgin Mary.   Of course, it was also certainly and obviously not the case with Jesus; however, His is a different matter because He is God.  Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, body and soul, on his own power.   We do not know if the Blessed Mother, wanting to follow her Son, experienced an earthly death.  What we do know is what Pope Pius XII solemnly declared some 60 years ago, that at the end of the Blessed Virgin Mary's earthly existence, she was assumed body and soul into heaven.  Thus, the Ark that St. John saw in his vision was no less than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.

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