Mary, true Ark of the Covenant
The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven is a very great and ancient Feast. When we say Mary was assumed into Heaven, we don’t only acknowledge her soul being taken up into Heaven as is the case with everyone else who has made it there. Mary, at the conclusion of her earthly life was taken up soul and body into Heaven. In other words, her body never turned to dust in the grave. Just as Adam and Eve would not have turned to dust had they not sinned, so Mary, being immaculately conceived and having never sinned retained the gift which Eve lost by sinning, and so her body suffered no corruption.
One of Our Lady’s titles is ‘Ark of the Covenant’. Today’s First Reading from the book of the Apocalypse (11:19, 12:1-6, 10) opens with John’s vision of Heaven in which he sees the Ark of the Covenant there. “The sanctuary of God in Heaven opened, and the Ark of the Covenant could be seen inside it.” The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament had been lost for centuries before the birth of Our Lord, and now it suddenly appears in Heaven in this reading. The Ark of the Old Testament was a pre-figuring of Mary, the true Ark of the Covenant. Whereas the Ark of the Old Testament contained the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written, the manna (sweet bread) with which God fed the Israelites in the wilderness, and the rod of Aaron the High Priest, Mary contained in her womb JESUS the living Word of God (not just written on stone), JESUS the Bread of Life and fulfilment of the Old Testament manna, and JESUS the eternal High Priest. The Ark was also made of acacia wood which is incorruptible and doesn’t rot. So just like the Ark was made of incorruptible wood, Mary’s body is incorruptible. It is not going to rot in a tomb but rather be taken up into Heaven.
And so as soon as John sees the Ark in the sanctuary in Heaven, all of a sudden the image switches, and now he sees a woman in Heaven, almost as if the two images are superimposed on one another. “Now a great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown.” The ‘woman’ here is clearly Mary and she is in Heaven.
This is how Pope Benedict XVI put it in his homily for the Feast in 2011: “The passage from the Book of the Apocalypse also indicates another important aspect of Mary’s reality. As the living Ark of the Covenant, she has an extraordinary destiny of glory because she is so closely united to the Son whom she welcomed in faith and generated in the flesh, as to share fully in His glory in Heaven. This is what the words we have heard suggest: ‘A great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman adorned with the sun …’ (Apoc 12:1) … Mary, Mother of God, full of grace, fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, already lives in God’s Heaven with her whole being, body and soul.”
But what does all this matter to us? What Mary has now, we hope to enjoy one day. As St Alphonsus Liguori said, “JESUS did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death, since it would have redounded to His own dishonour to have her virginal flesh, from which He Himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC