BEFORE THE CROSS | The ark of the covenant pre-figures — and is fulfilled by — Mary

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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There's a fundamental pattern that can help us to understand the Bible and provide guidance for our lives. The readings for the Feast of the Assumption — which we celebrate this week (Aug. 15) — provide a perfect example.

The Old Testament reading for the vigil recalls how David took the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. The ark of the covenant wasn't just a symbol of God's presence. The Israelites considered it His actual dwelling place among them. The Psalm that follows speaks of the ark, and Jerusalem, as the "resting place" of God.

The New Testament reading for the feast day speaks of the ark of the covenant in heaven — and immediately associates it with Mary. The connection between Mary and the ark is central to the logic of the feast. When she became the Mother of God, Mary became the new ark of the covenant — the actual dwelling place of God. The 1950 decree of Pope Pius XII defining the dogma of the Assumption even speaks of Mary as the "tabernacle" of the Word. If you think about it, Mary was the first tabernacle — the place where the Body of Christ rests, and the place from which His body is brought forth to be given to people for their salvation.

So the ark of the covenant points forward to Christ taking flesh in the womb of Mary, and to Christ being reposed in the tabernacle of the Church. What the ark foreshadows is fulfilled in Mary and in the Mass.

But prefiguring and fulfilling isn't the end of the story. The Gospel for the feast — which tells of the Visitation — helps us complete the pattern. When Mary visits Elizabeth, she blesses her house by bringing the presence of Christ there. Our lives are called to echo this mystery. When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, and when we make Him the center of our lives through prayer and service, then He comes to dwell in us in a special way. As we become living tabernacles we can bring the presence of Christ to every person we meet and every situation we encounter.

The Old Testament foreshadows. The Gospel fulfills. Our lives echo. That's the pattern.

In this case, the ark of the covenant pre-figures Mary and the tabernacle. Christ fulfills this by dwelling in the tabernacle of Mary's womb and the tabernacle of the Church. Our lives are called to echo this fulfillment: we are to become living tabernacles.

The Feast of the Assumption is a perfect example of this fundamental pattern in salvation history. But it's not the only example! Everywhere we turn the pattern can be found in the Scriptures. The more we discover it, the more we see how the plan of salvation history works together. The more clearly we see how the plan of salvation history works together, the more firmly we can locate our lives within that plan. As we do so, we come to see how all of our joys and sorrows can find their place in God's plan.

The plan is to make our lives echo Mary's life. And the hope is that if our lives echo hers, then our dying and rising will echo hers, and we will come to share fully — as she did in her Assumption — in the victory of Jesus over sin and death. 

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