In today’s Gospel the Blessed Virgin Mary says: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” God has done great things for our Blessed Mother and he is doing great things for us. Today we celebrate a particularly “great thing” that God did for Mary when she completed the course of her earthly life. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not allow the body of his Mother to decay. Rather, he took her to be with him in Heaven, body and soul – the event known as the Assumption. Unlike the Apostles, whose exact burial places are often known and some of their remains found, our Blessed Mother’s body cannot be found in any tomb. The Church Fathers and the saints of the early centuries have always believed that she was assumed body and soul into Heaven.
The truth of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is strongly based on the Bible, as we see from the readings given for our meditation on this Solemnity. In today’s selection from the Book of Revelation, we read that “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” What is this ark of the covenant that can be found in God’s heavenly temple? In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant was the gold-plated acacia chest that contained the tablets of the Law and a sample of the manna – the word of God and the bread from Heaven. The ark was the most sacred possession of the Chosen People. It represented God’s presence in their midst, a constant reminder of their sacred Covenant.
But we know that the Old Law has been superseded by the New. Jesus has fulfilled the Old and inaugurated the New. He himself is the Word made flesh and the Bread of eternal life, the One who sealed the new and everlasting Covenant with his Blood. It follows, then, that the new ark of the covenant – or the Ark of the New Covenant – is not an ornate golden container but a real, living woman: the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the true Ark which appears in the temple of Heaven because she welcomed Jesus with her whole being, body and soul. She welcomed the living Word, the Bread of Life, the New Covenant. Therefore, Christian piety from the time of the ancient Church Fathers identified Mary as the “Ark of the Covenant,” which is still one of the titles in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.
As the living Ark of the Covenant, Mary 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, she is privileged to share fully in his glory in Heaven. This destiny is symbolized in the images St. John uses when he says that she is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ…” There is no one who belongs to Christ more than his Mother, and she is now in Heaven with him.
St. Luke’s Gospel shows us this living Ark – which is our Blessed Mother – on the move. After learning of the pregnancy of Elizabeth, Mary sets out in haste to visit her. She goes as quickly as possible because she puts the will of God first in all things. The only things that deserve haste, that are to be done urgently, are precisely those of God, who shows us the pressing need of others and the importance of his will in the moment. Celebrating the arrival of the new Ark of the Covenant, the unborn child of Elizabeth leaps for joy, much like King David danced for joy when the former ark was first brought into Jerusalem (cf. 2 Sm 6:14-15).
Our vocation is to be, in our own modest way, an “ark of the covenant” like Mary, moving quickly and giving priority to the things of God. As an “ark,” each of us is called to serve as a bearer of the word of God and as an image of his presence, especially in our world that is becoming increasingly secular. As we joyfully celebrate Mary’s glory in Heaven, we grow more attentive to the things of Heaven, so that, through us, God may draw men and women toward the life of Heaven, where he desires that we all live in communion with him and share in his glory, like Mary our Queen Mother.
How do I welcome the word of God in my life as Mary did with joy and humility? When others are in need, what do I do to help them as Mary went in haste to Elizabeth? How do I express to God my gratitude for the glory he bestowed on Mary?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.