Q: Archbishop J, kindly provide the text of your homily on the Assumption?
At first look, the readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption do not seem to speak about the feast. When we look deeper, however, they do so eloquently.
To understand the connection between the readings and the special feast, we need to understand biblical typology. Just as the manna in the desert was a type of the Eucharist, so too the ark of the covenant is a type of Mary.
The Old Testament type is always inferior to the New Testament reality, which is the full revelation. But the Old Testament reference gives the structure of grace to begin seeing the New Testament reality from new perspectives.
It fills out the interpretation and places it deeper into the tradition. I am indebted to Brant Pitre’s book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah that gives the biblical interpretation of these texts.
The First Reading, Revelations 11:19,12:1–6,10, begins: “The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it.” The ark of the covenant is in the sanctuary in Heaven! How did it get there? A first century Jew hearing this text would be asking many questions.
The last text we have about the ark was 2 Maccabees 2:1–7. Jeremiah was told to take the ark, the altar of incense and the tent to Mount Nebo (from where Moses viewed the promised land). He hid them in a cave in the mountain.
Some of his companions went to find the cave but Jeremiah said: “The place is to remain unknown, until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. Then the Lord will bring these things once more to light, and the glory of the Lord will be seen, and so will the cloud, as it was revealed in the time of Moses” (2 Mac 2:7, 8).
From that time onwards, the ark was lost and never heard of again. But just as a first century Jew knew that Moses would come again before the Messiah, he also believed that the ark of the covenant would be found again.
Now, in the Book of Revelation, we hear the ark is in the sanctuary of God in Heaven. This means God has “gathered his people together again and shown mercy”. That would be a reference to the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ—the mercy of God made manifest. It also means that the glory of the Lord was seen, and the cloud has rested on the Ark.
At the Annunciation when Mary asks: “How this will be?” The answer is: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35 see Ex 40:3).
Mary is the one overshadowed; she is the one on whom the cloud rests. She is the new Ark of the Covenant.
Just after speaking of the ark in Heaven, the Revelation text speaks about: “a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth” (Rev 12:1–2). From the earliest times, the Church interpreted this woman as Mary giving birth to Jesus.
Although the image changes, from the ark to the woman, it refers to the same reality. The original manuscript did not have chapters or verses. It read as one text. The ark and the woman are dual references of Mary, the mother of the Messiah (Rev 11:19; 12:1). Mary is in Heaven, in the sanctuary of God. She is the Ark of the Covenant.
Ark of the Covenant
Pope Pius XII, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (MD), which decreed the Assumption as a dogma, says theologians: “…have looked upon the Ark of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord’s temple, as a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven” (26).
The gospel for the Solemnity of the Assumption is the Visitation (Lk 1: 39–56). Again, at first there seems to be no direct connection with the feast. Scott Hahn, in the Catholic Bible Dictionary, draws out the connection.
There are four parallels between King David going for the ark and Mary going to visit Elizabeth, between 2 Samuel 6:2–11 and our passage.
In biblical typology, the ark contained the Ten Commandments, the golden urn of manna and the staff of Aaron (Heb 9:4). Mary contained, the Word who became flesh, the bread of life and the heavenly High Priest.
The New Testament reality is far superior to the Old Testament type. We know that the ark was made of acacia wood that is incorruptible and covered in gold—a sign of holiness. Mary is Immaculate and free from sin.
Pope Pius in his Apostolic Constitution says: “the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (MD, 44). Behind this bold declaration is the biblical typology of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant who is in the heavenly sanctuary according to Revelation 11:19.
In the life of Israel, the ark of the covenant went into battle with them. God did miraculous things when it did.
For us, the new ark goes into battle with us. For this reason, intercession of the Virgin Mary is esteemed in the Church. She, on so many occasions, has saved us from sure destruction. Where Mary is, we too are destined to follow. We are destined for Heaven.
Key Message: Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, already in the sanctuary in Heaven.
Action Step: Pray the rosary asking Mary’s intercession for a petition vital to you.
Scripture Reading: Revelation 11:19; 12:1–6,10