Assuming Glory: A Biblical View on the Assumption of Mary
While every detail in the Old Testament is significant, there are numerous moments in the story that are especially pivotal to the development of God’s saving plan for mankind. We might refer to these moments as “mountain peaks” in the grand story of salvation. Three of the tallest of these are: the creation and fall of man (Gen 1-3); the redemption of God’s people from slavery in the Exodus; and the establishment of the Kingdom of David. Each of these events tells of the wonderment of God’s saving plan for his people, culminating in the saving act of Jesus Christ. We should not think of these accounts, though, merely as signs that encourage one to skip forward to the New Testament (hereafter, NT). Rather, the scriptural accounts of the events themselves reveal Christ to us: In Adam, the first man from whom all come, we see the man Christ who is before Adam—the first and the last, in whom all things are contained (cf. Rom 5:14, 18-19; 1 Cor 15:45, 47). In Moses leading the people toward Canaan, we see Christ leading his people out of sin into true and final salvation in the kingdom God has prepared (cf. Matt 5:1; Luke 9:30-31). And in David, the king whom God himself chose, we see David’s future son—Jesus himself—as the true and eternal King of Kings (cf. Matt 1:1; Rev 16:19).
But what does all of this have to do with the Assumption? If this is supposed to be an article about Mary, then why begin in such a way? Before we can understand and appreciate the person of Mary and the event of her Assumption into heaven, we must first begin with Christ—and we must end with Him as well. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter CCC), “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (§487). Contrary to common misconceptions about Catholic practice, devotion to Mary is never satisfied in itself. Devotion to Mary always comes from Christ and leads to Christ. I sometimes fear that too many Catholics today ascribe an event such as the Assumption to “tradition”—falsely understood as something we believe that isn’t in the Bible. In this article we will address these issues, and doing so will lead us to two conclusions: 1) The Assumption of Mary is about Christ; and 2) Our belief in the Assumption of Mary comes from our understanding of Scripture. Along the way, we will need to address a few related topics. This will not be an exhaustive study, but one which I hope will stimulate charitable dialogue and lift our hearts closer to Christ and His Mother.
TYPING OUT THE MESSAGE
As we have already noted, the Old Testament’s strategy is not simply to point us “forward” to Christ in the NT, it already reveals him in certain ways. For example, we begin to understand Jesus and His kingdom when we understand the persons and missions of Adam, Moses, and David (among others). One way in which we are able to encounter Christ in the OT events that precede His incarnation is by reading them typologically. Simply put, ‘typology’ is the reading of Scripture in light of Christ. A type is a real person, place, or thing, or event in Scripture that is shaped in such a way as to fill out the meaning of a future biblical person, place, thing, or event (the antitype). As the Catechism explains, “Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself” (CCC 129). Consider also what Dr. Christopher Seitz has to say about a typological approach to the OT:
[There is a call] for a reattachment of the Old Testament to the New, self-consciously, and a return to older forms of typological reading…. What a challenge it represents to stop reading through things developmentally, with the conviction, run odd interference for by historical approaches, that Christians do not know where the lines of that old story intersect when in fact that is their confession and their only point of entry, because Jesus is ‘in accordance with scriptures’ once not their own. Instead of asking how Israel thought about itself and God, how the New Testament then continued this, and then how we do that too, we should reverse the order of concern. How does the God we confess raised Jesus from the dead think about Israel and the world?1
It should not be taken lightly how certain modern ways of reading, both religious and secular in nature, have detached us from a familiar relationship with the OT as the largest portion of the Christian Canon. Jesus Himself, following his resurrection, explains to two of his disciples how all of the OT speaks of him (Luke 24:25-27). Likewise, Peter instructs us to understand the OT texts in the same way by using the example of Noah and the flood as a type of baptism: “…when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds [antitypon] to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” (1 Pet 3:20-21).
A typological reading of Scripture finds its ultimate end in the revelation of Christ, though sometimes in more or less direct ways. Dr. Scott Hahn explains, “Typology unveils more than the person of Christ; it also tells us about heaven, the Church, the apostles, the Eucharist, the places of Jesus’ birth and death, and the person of Jesus’ mother.”2 With this in mind, we can broaden our horizon of reading to now see how certain OT persons, places, things, or events not only speak of Christ but also of Mary. Keeping in mind that every belief about Mary comes from our understanding of Christ and in turn strengthens our faith in Christ (cf. CCC §487), we are not confined to the NT texts alone to discover how the Lord wishes to reveal His mother to us. It is in this light that we return to the “mountain peak” moments of Scripture we noted at the beginning of this piece. What is significant in revisiting these OT events is that in each of these mountain peak moments we not only learn something profound about the mission and identity of Christ, we also learn something profound about the person of Mary and her role in salvation. In fact, it is these three OT events that inform the three Marian dogmas that the Church holds: the Immaculate Conception, the bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven, and the role of Mary as Queen of Heaven as Earth. It is the second of these, the Assumption, with which this article is concerned, and we will expound upon it primarily by looking at the typological relationship between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant.
A NEW EXODUS NEEDS A NEW ARK
If Christ fulfills the OT mission and person of Moses and the Exodus event, then we naturally anticipate a new exodus in the mission and person of Jesus. If in the first Exodus God’s people were led out of captivity in Egypt to the promised land, where does the new Exodus take place? Jesus could lead His people out from under Roman oppression, just as he did through Moses for Israel, previously under Egyptian oppression. That would make sense, but they are already in the geographical area of the promised land, so where would he take them? A new plot of land, unoccupied by Caesar? Let’s hear what Jesus has to say about this new Exodus: “And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31). This new Exodus will be accomplished “at Jerusalem.” To what is he referring—what salvific event will take place in Jerusalem? The new Exodus event of Jesus is accomplished in Jerusalem upon His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; thus, the new Exodus begins where the old one ended. But where does the new Exodus end? “Then…lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). Just as the old Exodus began in Egypt and ended in Jerusalem (i.e., the Promised Land), the new Exodus begins in the earthly Jerusalem and ends in the heavenly Jerusalem. This new Exodus brings together the physical journey with the spiritual one.
The role of Mary in this new Exodus turns on a significant question—one that must be asked if we are at all familiar with the story of the first Exodus—namely, if Jesus is the new Moses, then where is the new Ark? Pivotal to the story of the first Exodus is the role of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is what always went before the people, bearing God’s very presence, leading them through the wilderness, into the Promised Land, and even into battles of conquest. The Ark was the place where God communed with his people during the time of the Exodus and beyond. Our understanding of Mary assumed into Heaven will be closely linked to how we understand the role of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. So let’s examine several key features of the Ark by revisiting several familiar OT passages.
What was the Ark of the Covenant? Dr. Brant Pitre observes several features about the role of the Ark in the life and liturgy of Israel:
1) The Ark of the Covenant was the very first sacred item that the Lord commanded Moses to build for the sanctuary. Its construction is described in great detail, and it is worth reviewing those details at length:3
“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. They shall make an ark of acacia wood…And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay 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…And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold…And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat…The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing 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.” (Exod 25:8-14, 16-18, 20-22)
The instructions for constructing the Ark are given in great detail. Nothing about the ark was left to the discretion of Moses or whoever built it. Every single detail for the building of the ark came from the Lord Himself. This leads us to ponder the important role God was to bestow on it.
2) The Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God on earth. This is the whole reason the sanctuary is built! Reminiscent of the great story of Creation, which culminates in God’s resting with mankind, likewise in the Exodus event—a story with countless parallels to the first creation—God comes and rests on his mercy seat, built on the top of the Ark of the Covenant, and dwells in the midst of his people. This is a fascinating reality: that the all-powerful, invisible God comes to dwell and make his presence known among mankind. It calls us to a new appreciation for the dwelling of the Lord in our tabernacles today.
3) The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred chest, or box, that contained the ten commandments. The ten commandments were a testimony, a word (or words), that God spoke to Moses and the people. It was His testimony of His covenant to them. Eventually the manna, also called the “showbread,” along with Aaron’s priestly staff, were added to the Ark (cf. Num 17:10; Heb 9:4).
4) The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood—that is, incorruptible wood. Acacia wood has a tradition of being called holy itself in select ancient pagan cultures simply due to its durability and sacred use. The Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, translates “acacia wood” in Exodus 25:5 as “incorruptible wood.” The Lord was so keen in His instruction on the Ark, that even the very type of wood that was to be used was to be of a certain quality: incorruptible wood.
5) The Ark of the Covenant was covered in gold that was pure (Hebrew tahor); gold that was clean, without any imperfection. This was meant to symbolize the absolute holiness of the Ark, completely free from stain or blemish so that it could become the dwelling place of God’s glory. This is also why it could only be carried by certain golden poles and could not be touched by human hands; it would be devoid of any uncleanliness and it would remain this way. Everything on and around it was to be covered in this pure gold.
6) Whenever the Ark of the Covenant was carried out or moved (only by the priests of Israel), it was veiled with “a cloth of blue” (cf. Num 4:5-6).
7) And finally, the Ark of the Covenant is where the glory cloud would descend from heaven to rest (cf. Ex 40:34-38). This glory cloud was known as the shekinah. It was the physical cloud of glory that signaled the very presence of God in the midst of Israel. The ending scene of the book of Exodus tells us that this glory cloud “overshadowed” (Greek episkiazen) the Ark and made it His resting place among Israel.
The Ark of the Covenant served as the liturgical center of Israel. It was the meeting place where God communed with man. It would also become the means by which God would lead his people through the wilderness to bring them home to the promised land. Whenever the ark was with them, they were victorious (cf. Josh 6:1-21), but whenever it was absent, they were defeated (cf. Num 14:44-45). Before we move on to examine how the Ark is a type of Mary, it is necessary to survey one last scene regarding the Ark found in 2 Samuel 6.
THE ARK FINDS ITS HOME IN JERUSALEM
When David is finally anointed King over all of Israel (see 2 Sam 5:1-3), there is one stronghold left that had not been conquered, and that was the stronghold of Jerusalem. In his first move as king, David goes up to conquer and claim Jerusalem to make it his political capital from where he would reign over Israel, and he did so with the help of the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:6-10). But David did much more than seek to make Jerusalem his political capital, he also made it the liturgical capital of Israel.4 Upon seizing control of Jerusalem—and thus the entirety of Israel—David’s first move is to bring the Ark of the Covenant to reside with him in Jerusalem. The account of this is found in 2 Samuel 6:1-15 where we learn of the traveling of the Ark and its company, the tragic tale of Uzzah, and the famous dancing of King David before the Ark. Though David was doing a great thing in bringing the Ark to his newly established capital, he forgot that the Lord gave specific instructions on how the Ark was to be transported: by the golden rods carried by the Levites. If David or anyone had any doubts about the holiness or authenticity of the ark, the tragedy of Uzzah surely proved that the Ark was no mere symbol of God’s holy presence—a symbol doesn’t strike someone dead. Here they are assured that the Ark is the holy and untouchable presence of God.
The tragic death of Uzzah causes David to reconsider his actions and he leaves the Ark in the house of Obed-Edom for three months. Though after hearing that the presence of Ark at Obed-Edom’s house was a cause of blessing, he finally finishes his original mission and brings it to Jerusalem—and this time he does it the right way. This scene may not be one of much fame to Christians today, but rest assured this was a pivotal scene for the Jewish people—the Ark of the Lord coming to dwell in Jerusalem, the city of God! Psalm 132 recounts this event and sings praise in honor of the Ark coming to rest in Jerusalem: “Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might” (Ps 132:8).
King David’s son, King Solomon, eventually builds the grand Temple in Jerusalem, and places the Ark of the Covenant in the center of the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, where the shekinah visibly comes to dwell on the Ark once again (see 1 Kgs 8:1-11).
Tragically, in 587 B.C. the Babylonians invade the land of Judah and capture Jerusalem, destroying the city, sending its inhabitants into exile, and destroying its Temple. Just before this, the prophet Ezekiel recounts how the glory cloud of God’s presence was taken up from the Temple and departed, knowing that Jerusalem was soon to be captured and destroyed due to the sin and ignorance of God’s people. (cf. Ezek 10). From then on, the Ark has never been found, that is until 1981 when Harrison Ford finds it in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Right? Actually, we do know what happens to the Ark. Only it is less commonly known because it is recounted in one of the books taken out from its canonical home in the Protestant Revolution of the 16th century. We find the account of the prophet Jeremiah hiding the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8. Jeremiah, one of the major prophets of the OT, who was also a priest, takes the Ark out of the Temple so that it would not be stolen or destroyed and seals it up where no one would find it. Although he seals up the Ark in an undisclosed location, he does prophesy that the Ark will one day reappear. But is that true? Has anyone actually ever found the Ark of the covenant? Sadly, no. So was Jeremiah wrong, or have we just yet to find it? Well, Jeremiah was actually right in his prophecy and the Scriptures do in fact reveal the new Ark of the Covenant. All we have to do is pay attention as we turn the page to the New Testament.
PUTTING SKIN IN THE GAME: FINDING THE NEW ARK IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
With a firm foundation in our OT roots we now look ahead to the revelation of Mary in the NT and will begin to make sense of the words of Pope Benedict XVI, that “The image of Mary in the New Testament is woven entirely of Old Testament threads.”5 Let us begin by recounting the various features of the OT Ark of the Covenant and see how they are fulfilled in the mission and identity of Christ’s Blessed Mother:
1’) The Ark of the Covenant was the very first sacred item that the Lord commanded Moses to build for the sanctuary. It is given great detail in how it was to be built and it is worth noting in length.
Though Mary was certainly not the first woman of God’s creation, nor was she preexistent in some limbo state waiting to come at the right time, she most certainly stands as the new Woman of the new Creation. Just as Eve stood at the helm of the first Creation, so Mary stands by Christ the new Adam as the new Eve in the ushering in of His new creation. And though she was not built by human hands, she was certainly given great care in her bringing about by the hand of the one who would be borne in her. Bishop Fulton Sheen gives a breathtaking reflection on this point:
“If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived—one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise?”6
Why does the Lord take so much care to include the meticulous building of the old Ark in Scripture if not to show the great intent with which He created His own mother?
2’) The Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God on earth. Just as God’s very presence dwelt in the old Ark, so now even more his physical and intimate presence is borne in the womb of Mary. God so longed to be with his people, that an immaterial presence in an inanimate golden box was not enough to display the intimacy He so longed for. To enflesh his love for us, His presence took on flesh—and if His presence was to take flesh, so would the object (or person) that would bear it.
3’) The Ark of the Covenant contained the ten commandments, the manna, and Aaron’s priestly staff. Just as the first Ark in held the ten words, or ten commandments, of God, so now the new Ark bears the true Word of God. Just as the first Ark bore the manna from heaven, so now Mary bears Christ, the true and living bread from heaven. And just as the staff of Aaron the high priest abode and blossomed in the old Ark, so now Jesus our true High Priest comes from the womb of the New Ark of the Covenant.
4’ and 5’) The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood, that is incorruptible wood, and covered in pure gold. Though this is not the primary source for a Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, it is this pristine feature of the old Ark of the Covenant that aids in our understanding of Mary without sin. A fuller comprehension of this belief is found in the study of the typological relationship of Eve to Mary. This key description of the Ark of the OT though proves that the dogmas of Mary as the new Eve and the new Ark are not mutually exclusive but are rather mutually interpretive. This will also play an important role in understanding why Catholic faith professes that Mary’s body did not see the corruption of death.
6’) Whenever the Ark of the Covenant was carried out or moved (only by the priests of Israel), it was veiled with “a cloth of blue.” I would like to consider this point in slightly more detail than the others; though seemingly insignificant, I believe there lies here a great theological shaping. Let’s consider the Scripture that tells of this certain Ark feature:
“…then they shall put on it [The Ark] a covering of goatskin, and spread over that a cloth all of blue” (Num 4:6).
It may be without much theological or biblical grounding, but I find it a fascinating discovery that the Blessed Mother, who is frequently depicted in blue, is anticipated here by the Ark being covered in a blue mantle. In a turn of events though, I would like to switch the focus from the mantle of blue to the covering of goatskin around the Ark. One might ask how in the world a goatskin is going to be relevant to Mary? First, I think the translation here is spot on as “goatskin,” likely used to protect the ark from damage, dust, etc. What is noteworthy is that the Hebrew word for goatskin (‘ôr) can also be translated simply as “skin.” Take for example Exodus 34:29, when Moses comes down from the mountain and his face is shining after encountering the Lord:
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the covenant in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face (‘ôr) shone because he had been talking with God.”
I think there lies a subtle but poignant theological foreshadowing here: the Ark, the grand and holy presence of God, when leading His people to salvation in the promised land is to be covered in ‘ôr; “skin.” Might the Holy Spirit be telling us something significant here? If the old Ark of God’s Covenant is to be covered in skin, perhaps the new Ark should be the same. Perhaps the new Ark one day will take on flesh—will be “covered in skin”—in the person of Mary?
7’) Lastly, the glory cloud of God’s presence will overshadow (Greek: episkiazen [cf. Ex40:35]) the Ark and rest upon it. In sum, the Greek word episkiazen is used not even ten times in the whole Greek translation of the OT (4) and the original Greek NT (5). In fact, in each use of the word in the Greek NT it deals with the direct action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 1:35; 9:34; Acts 5:15). It is Luke who employs this word twice in his Gospel, once at the Transfiguration of Jesus to describe the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and once in the message of Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation:
“And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (episkiazen) you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.’”
Here we see that just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the OT Ark in the form of the glory cloud, so He also overshadows Mary to bear the holy presence of Jesus in her womb.
“IS THAT EVEN IN THE BIBLE?”
All of this typologizing and theologizing may sound nice, but we have to ask—after all, this is a biblical studies article—does the NT Scripture itself refer to Mary as a New Ark of the Covenant? Does it forthrightly proclaim: “Mary is hereby declared the New Ark of the Covenant in the Kingdom of Christ!” No, of course not. If we had to rely on the NT to do so for every Christian doctrine, then Christian doctrines would be more scarce than they are! Take for instance the Trinity, a foundational doctrine and mystery of our faith, uncontested by nearly all Christians, and yet not once is the word or the explicit theology supplied by a NT proclamation. Rather it is in our interpretation of Scripture that we can conclude the doctrine of the Trinity. Likewise, in a careful interpretation of the NT texts, it becomes quite obvious what the sacred authors thought of Mary. Let’s begin with Luke.
After the scene of the Annunciation we read the famous scene of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah (Luke 1:39-45). The account of Elizabeth in the visitation gives rise to one of the great lines of the famous Hail Mary prayer: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). What may be most evident about the way Luke penned this scene though is not its contribution to the Hail Mary, but rather its contribution to our understanding of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant. Consider the words of Denis Farkasfalvy, O. Cist., “ [the Visitation] reminds the reader of a scene of the Old Testament about the Ark of the Divine Presence being carried on a similar route.”7 Farkasfalvy is quite correct that Luke obviously had the scene of 2 Sam 6 in mind when he wrote the account of the Visitation. Consider the following similarities between the Ark of the Covenant and the Virgin Mary:
David “arose and went” (2 Sam 6:2)
Mary “arose and went” (Luke 1:39)
…to “Baale-judah” (i.e., the hill country of Judah) to bring up “the ark of God” (2 Sam 6:2)
…to the “hill country…of Judah” to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:39)
David admits his unworthiness to receive the Ark by exclaiming: “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9)
Elizabeth admits her unworthiness to receive Mary by exclaiming: “And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)
The ark went into the“house of Obed-Edom” (2 Sam 6:10)
Mary goes into the “house of Zechariah” (Luke 1:40)
For “three months” (2 Sam 6:11)
“Mary remained with her about three months” (Luke 1:56)
“King David leaping and dancing before the LORD” (2 Sam 6:16)
John the Baptist “leaped” in the womb of Elizabeth when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:41)
“David and [the people] brought up the ark…with shouting” (2 Sam 6:15)
Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry” (Luke 1:42)
Clearly, Luke’s portrait of Mary utilizes the language of 2 Sam 6. So although the NT does not declare Mary to be the new Ark in candid prose, its use of the very phrases one finds in OT texts makes its case nonetheless. And if this is not sufficient, let us consider one last biblical text found in the Apocalypse of John.
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, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev 11:19-12:1)
After a whirlwind of apocalyptic visions and imagery in John’s concluding book to the NT, we arrive at chapter 11 where the seventh trumpet of the angel is blown, there are loud voices shouting, and the walls of the heavenly temple are ripped open, exposing the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. It is reminiscent of the walls of Jericho crumbling down after the seventh trumpeter blown and the Ark at the helm of the battle. What any faithful Jew wouldn’t give to see that blessed Ark again. Yet with no explanation or apology, John ends chapter 11 and moves on to chapter 12 where he tells of a woman clothed in the sun. Are you telling me that after centuries upon centuries of looking for the lost Ark of God’s holy presence, that John is going to seemingly skip right over it to talk about a mysterious new woman? Surely not! Let us keep in mind that chapter and verse divisions were not done by the hand of John, but by later Christians when composing the canon of Scripture. Consider the observation from Dr. Edward Sri:
From a literary view…Revelation 11:19 and 12:1 are meant to be read together, side by side. For the appearance of the Ark in Revelation 11:19 serves not as the conclusion of the previous narrative about the seven trumpets but as an introduction to the appearance of the woman clothed with the sun (Rev 12:1). Thus, these two back-to-back verses should not be considered separately, but together.8
So it is, then, that John does not leave the reader unsatisfied after all; but to every reader’s surprise, it is not the old Ark he starts describing. Rather, when John sees the new Ark, he begins to describe it as a “woman clothed with the sun”—the woman who is none other than the Blessed Mother.9 It may be a surprise to a first time reader of the Apocalypse, but with trained eyes and listening hearts, is it really a surprise to see one last time an obvious identification of Mary as the new Ark of God’s Covenant? Surely not.
And so we arrive to a conclusion by reflecting on how these things inform our belief in that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. Recall the first action of David as King of Israel was to “bring up” the Ark of the Covenant and take it to Jerusalem, placing it inside the sanctuary (2 Sam 6:17). This is what Psalm 132 sings of when it says, “Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might” (Ps 132:8). With a suitable understanding of Christ as the new David and Mary as the new Ark, it becomes fitting to conclude the action of Christ the King to take His new Ark with Him to her final resting place, the new and heavenly Jerusalem. Remember, it was not just Mary’s soul that was the Ark of the Covenant, only spiritually bearing the presence of God, but it was her body that bore Jesus. Thus, Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant in body and soul. Therefore it is fitting that when the New Ark is taken up into the New Temple, she is taken body and soul.
St. Germanus, an 8th century saint, reflected upon the great love that resided at the center of this mystery. He poetically wrote onto the lips of Jesus when imagining the scene of Mary’s Assumption: “You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son.” Earlier saints and fathers of the Church, such as Modestus of Jersualem and John Damascene, wrote likewise to Germanus, unwavering in their belief in the Assumption of Mary because of her identity as the new Ark of the Covenant.10
THE ASSUMPTION IS ABOUT CHRIST
At the beginning of this article, I suggested that the Assumption is about Christ. From our study, it would be unfitting to believe otherwise. For what good would a new Ark of the Covenant be without a loving and all-powerful Giver of the Covenant? What good would a new Ark be without a presence to bear? And so it is that Mary’s identity as the new Ark of the Covenant is required by our understanding of Jesus, and in turn strengthens our faith in Him (cf. CCC §487). As the head of the Body, Jesus ascended into Heaven to anticipate our resurrection from the dead. Mary is the first human to reap this special grace of joining her body to her soul in heaven. She is the hope for each of us, who will all experience the uniting of our body and soul again one day in heaven. Pope St. John Paul II says:
By looking at [Mary], the Christian learns to discover the value of his [or her] own body and to guard it as a temple of God, in expectation of the resurrection. The assumption, a privilege granted to the Mother of God, thus has immense value for the life and destiny of humanity.11
It is fitting, then, that when reciting the ancient Hail Holy Queen that Christians pray to Mary as “our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” Mary stands as a beacon of the hope we have in Christ: the hope that we will one day live in unity with Him; the hope that we will one day be reunited with our bodies in a glorified state; the hope that heaven awaits us and death is not the final answer. In the words of St. Germanus, may Christ greet us with the same words he addressed to Mary: “You must be where I am.”
Christopher Seitz, Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 8.
Scott Hahn, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 24.
See Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary, (New York: Image, 2018), 44-47.
See John Bergsma and Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, 363.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Beliefs, trans. John M. McDermott, S.J., (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983), 12.
Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 19.
Denis Farkasfalvy, O.Cist., The Marian Mystery, (Staten Island, NY: Society of St. Paul, 2014), 34.
Edward Sri, Rethinking Mary in the New Testament, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press: 2018), 214-215.
Another study would be necessary for a full examination of Mary as the woman in Revelation 12.
See Brian E. Daley, S.J., On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies (Popular Patristics 18; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 88 and 204-205.
John Paul II, “Mary is the First Creature to Enjoy Eternal Life”, General Audience of July 9, 1997, in Pope John Paul II, Theotókos: Woman, Mother, Disciple. A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), 208.