Our Lady, Ark of the New Covenant

Homily for August 15th - The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We rejoice to celebrate Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven. No corruption touching Our Lady at the end of her life is what we would expect since she was immaculately conceived. Our belief in Our Lady’s Assumption fits in perfectly with the totality of our beliefs. As we celebrate Our Lady’s Assumption body and soul into heaven, we are helping to fulfill the prophesy of her Magnificat in our Gospel today, “from now on will all ages call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48) That one line in the Gospel assures us that Marian devotion and honoring Our Lady are biblical. If we did not honor Our Lady we would be leaving unfulfilled Our Lady’s prophesy, “from now on will all ages call me blessed.” Already when Luke was writing his Gospel, it was evident that Marian devotion is a necessity in a healthy spiritual life, “from now on will all ages call me blessed.”

In the first reading (Rev 11:19-12:6, 10), John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven and then he sees the woman. That is John’s way of telling us there is a correspondence between the ark and the woman, his way of telling us the woman is the ark. Our Lady is the Ark of the New Covenant. The Gospel recounts Our Lady visiting Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) and Luke describes that visit in a number of ways very similar to David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. So we have the Book of Revelation and Luke’s description of Mary visiting Elizabeth suggesting Our Lady is the Ark of the Covenant.

It is easy to understand why we would think of Our Lady as the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments written by God – the word of God - and Our Lady carried Jesus - the Word of God made flesh - for nine months in her womb. But there is a reason why reflecting on Our Lady as the Ark of the Covenant is very appropriate as we celebrate her Assumption today. We know from reading the Old Testament that the Ark of the Covenant was made from acacia wood (Ex 25:10; Deut 10:3) but what is fascinating in connection with today’s feast is that the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament says acacia wood is incorruptible or that acacia wood does not deteriorate or decay (*see below). This little detail about acacia wood means that when the New Testament describes Our Lady in such a way that she is seen as the fulfillment of Ark of the Covenant, it suggests she did not undergo bodily corruption at the end of her earthly life and is therefore implicitly supporting the dogma of Our Lady’s Assumption. That also explains why in the Church fathers the only Marian relics we read of are Our Lady’s robe and her girdle. There is no temple in Jerusalem because Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant was not seen after the Exile until its fulfillment in the person of Our Lady confirmed by John in the first reading.

In John’s vision in Rev 12, the woman is in pain as she gives birth (12:2). Catholic scholarship understands this as Our Lady’s spiritual motherhood. Jesus publicly gave her to us as our spiritual mother as she stood beneath his cross when he said, “Woman, behold your son.” (John 19:26). The pain of the woman in Rev 12 is the pain of Our Lady beneath the cross as Jesus died, cooperating with the sacrifice of her Son Jesus on the cross. As our spiritual mother she wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is to be configured into the image of her Son Jesus. Until we are configured to the image of her Son, she is interceding for us in heaven as our spiritual mother. She is your mother. Spend time with her every day. Allow her to bring you to birth in your configuration into the image of her Son Jesus.

Spending time every day with Our Lady, your Mother, is biblical since Luke records in her Magnificat, “from now on will all ages call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48) Allow her to enfold you in her mantle. We read in the book of Numbers that when the Ark of the Covenant was being transported, it was covered with a blue veil (Num 4:6). As you begin or continue your priestly formation here, may Our Lady enfold you and protect you in her mantle.

*I have inserted below screen shots of my Logos Biblical Software of the relevant parts of the Septuagint which you can enlarge by clicking. The first is Brenton's 1870 translation which always translates "acacia" as "incorruptible wood" and the the other screen shots are from the Lexham 2008-2010 translation which varies e.g. in Deut 10:3 it refers to the acacia of the Ark of the Covenant as "wood not subject to decay" and in Ex 25:10 as "wood that does not easily deteriorate."

acacia wood

acacia wood

acacia wood

acacia wood

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2018

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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