The cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory
of the Lord filled it. Neither could Moses go into the tabernacle of
the covenant, the cloud covering all things and the majesty of the Lord
shining, for the cloud had covered all.
Exodus 40, 34-35
And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come
upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.
And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called
the Son of God.
Luke 1, 35
And David was afraid of the Lord that day,
saying: How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?
2 Samuel 6, 9
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Luke 1, 43-44
The word type is derived from the Greek word ‘tupos’ (τύπος) which means an impression. The Biblical term anti-type originates from the Greek word ‘antitupos’ (ἀντίτυπος). This word is defined as meaning being typical of, representing by type or pattern, and corresponding to an image. An anti-type corresponds to or fulfills a type: a predictive symbol. Overall, the word tupos is thought of as an image, pattern, model, figure, or an example. Throughout sacred Scripture, we find what are called theological types.
For instance, although the Old Testament does not explicitly mention Christ, he is spoken of figuratively and allegorically. Abraham’s son Isaac and David are fulfilled in our Lord. The former represents Jesus who is the propitiation for our sins, while the latter prefigures our Lord’s victorious Davidic kingship and rule over all nations in the new and everlasting Kingdom of God. The Suffering Servant who is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah also foreshadows Christ in his passion and death. Moreover, the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, after God has miraculously parted it, is perceived to represent Baptism; the Holy Eucharist is seen to have been foreshadowed in the manna which comes down from heaven daily during the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in the desert after they have been liberated from slavery in Egypt. Noah’s ark prefigures the Church, and so on.
Biblical typology is a literary device in which the authors of the sacred texts were inspired by the Holy Spirit to use for communicating the fullness of God’s revelation and His plan of salvation in human history. Typology is a means by which God reveals Himself and His thoughts to us, so that we come to better understand what it is He desires we should know to fully relate to Him. By means of types, God intentionally captures our attention so that we focus on what they point towards. This way, we can come to see the consistency and continuation of the manner of His salvific plan: (oikonomia): how God manages His household (Israel and the Church), the distribution of His property, the arrangement of the family members, all for their inheritance of eternal life (Scott Hahn, Consuming the Word: Image).
Of course, Biblical typology also includes reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary to draw our attention to her place and role in the Divine order of redemption. There is something about Mary in the economy of salvation that God desires to draw our complete attention to since it is an integral part of His plan to redeem the world. In the OT, we have Marian types in the figures of Sarah, Judith, and Esther among the other Hebrew Matriarchs who prefigure the mother of our Lord in some significant way. And even more remarkably, we find the Ark of the Covenant reaching its fulfillment in the person of Mary. Let us see how the Blessed Virgin and the Ark correspond to each other.
But Josue rent his garments and fell flat on the ground before the ark
of the Lord until the evening, both he and all the ancients of Israel:
and they put dust upon their heads.
Joshua 7, 6
In ancient Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant was the only religious relic (along with the Bread of the Presence that was kept in the tabernacle of the Temple) that was venerated and even prostrated before, since it was regarded to be intrinsically holy, being the medium by which Yahweh physically manifested Himself in the glory cloud. The Ark was God’s personal dwelling place in the world, as was the Temple in Jerusalem, having no relation to anything that was regarded to be profane. The purpose for which the Ark was constructed rendered it sacred.
This holy object which was sanctified by God was made of the purest natural materials; incorruptible acacia wood (shittim) and the cleanest gold (tahor) that covered the Ark without and laced it within. The golden wreath which decorated the Ark added the final touch. The Ark was so holy, in fact, that if anyone were to touch it without having first been ritually purified, they would be struck dead, albeit with any good intentions (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The Ark was first kept in the Tent of Meeting (a portable temple or tabernacle) in the time of Moses and eventually housed in the Holy of Holies (inner sanctuary) in the Temple which was built by King Solomon: a perfectly clean place where the Jewish high priests could enter only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) according to their sacred law (Leviticus 16:2-4). The Ark was so sacred that even a high priest would be struck dead if he dared to enter the inner sanctuary on any other day of the year.
Further, the Ark held the two stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments, the budded rod of the high priest Aaron, and a golden jar of the manna that came down from heaven during the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. When the Ark was carried in procession, it was accompanied by joyous singing, the playing of several musical instruments, and the wearing of religious vestments. The procession was an occasion for celebrating being blessed by God and receiving the grace of His faithful covenant (2 Samuel 6:3).
The Ark was also associated with God’s providential care. For instance, in the Battle of Jericho, the Ark was carried around the city’s walls seven times (figuratively the number of days God created the world) until they came tumbling down (Joshua 6:11-17). And as the Levitical priests carried the Ark in procession, God caused the water of the Jordan to recede and provide a path for His chosen people, so they could cross into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:2-4, 17). It was here where Joshua set up the Twelve Stones which the Israelites had to pass by to enter their new homeland. These stones themselves prefigure the twelve Apostles who were Christ’s first ministers of the sacrament of Baptism and initiation into the Church. Thus, when the Israelites venerated the Ark, they were, in fact, worshiping and praising God, for it was associated with the Divine Presence and the dispensation of His grace. The same can be said for Catholics who venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary and implore her mediation for the providential dispensation of God’s grace.
And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his
testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices,
and an earthquake, and great hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven:
A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Revelation 11, 19… 12, 1
Since the earliest time, the Catholic Church has venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. The first converts to the Christian faith were Jews, as were most of them in the first century during the Apostolic age. Because of their Judaic heritage, they naturally perceived Mary to be the anti-type of the Ark of the Covenant and saw its culmination in her. The parallel was so clear to them that it became a sacred tradition of the Church, one that has lasted in the Church to this present day. Just as the Israelites venerated the Ark until its disappearance prior to the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century B.C., so did the first Christian Ecclesia revere the mother of the Lord because of her personal association with the physical manifestation of God’s presence on earth in the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation.
Moreover, the faithful acknowledged Mary’s exceptional holiness and separation from all that was profane and even sinful, for it was she who was chosen to conceive the Divine Word made flesh in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; John 1:14). Her body could be compared to not only the incorruptible acacia wood that framed the Ark, but also to the holy Temple where the Ark was eventually kept, and her womb to the sacred sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where the Ark was particularly concealed within the holy place. The stainless gold of the Ark drew their attention to the purity of Mary’s soul (Luke 1:46).
The connection became clear. As the mother of our Lord, Mary held not only the Divine Word, but also in his person the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:8-10), and the “true manna come down from heaven” – the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35, 51). Mary held within her the anti-typical embodiment of the sacred relics in the Ark. Since they find their ultimate fulfillment in the holy person of the Divine Son, so too the Ark that held them must culminate in the holy person of the Blessed Virgin Mary who conceived and bore him in her sacred womb which was his personal dwelling place.
That this nascent Marian tradition of the Church did in fact exist is undeniably certain. In his Gospel, St. Luke draws a parallel between Mary and the Ark by alluding to persons and events found in the Book of Exodus, the Second Book of Samuel, 1 Chronicles, 1 Kings, and Zephaniah. All that the evangelist has written by Divine inspiration is drawn from what has been handed on through the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. Everything recorded in his Gospel comes from the first witnesses and servants of the spoken word or oral tradition (Luke 1:1-4).
Keeping this in mind, let us now examine what Luke has penned, as we continue to critically examine this nascent Marian tradition of the Church. Let’s see how he draws a comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant in many ways by referring to persons and events in the Old Testament. We cannot help but remark on the parallelism in the evangelist’s Gospel. What we are about to see is by no means just a coincidence. Rather, what we have is a fine example of Biblical typology. There is something very significant about Mary that God wants us to pay close attention to in His written word, only it isn’t mentioned explicitly or in a purely literal sense (sensus plenior). To make sense of Mary, we must read the Scriptures in more than one sense. This includes the spiritual sense (allegorical, analogical, anagogical, or moral).
To begin, Mary arises and goes to the hill country of Judea to stay with her kinswoman Elizabeth for three months. David arises and goes to the same hill country to stay with the Ark for three months. It is in Ein Kerem where Elizabeth lives. Abu Ghosh, where the ark resides, is only a short walk apart. Mary and the Ark are both on a journey to the same hill country of Judea.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
and she entered the house of Zechari′ah and greeted Elizabeth.
-Luke 1, 39
And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Ba′ale-judah,
to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts
who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart,
and brought it out of the house of Abin′adab which was on the hill.
-2 Samuel 6, 2-3
John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. King David leaps for joy as he dances before the Ark.
And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary,
the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.
– Luke 1, 41
And when the ark of the Lord was come into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul,
looking out through a window, saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord:
and she despised him in her heart.
– 2 Samuel 6, 16
Elizabeth deferentially asks her much younger cousin Mary how it is that the mother of her Lord (Adonai) should come to her. Being reverential to the Lord (Adonai), David asks how it is that the Ark should come to him.
“And whence is this to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
– Luke 1, 43
And David was afraid of the Lord that day, saying:
How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?
– 2 Samuel 6, 9
Mary stays in the house of Elizabeth for three months to look after her. The Ark is kept in the house of Obededom for three months. The Lord blesses his house and all his possessions because of the Ark’s presence. Elizabeth’s house is blessed the first instant her infant leaps in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Both Mary (the new Ark of the Covenant) and the Ark of the Covenant respectively serve as moral and physical channels of divine grace.
And Mary abode with her about three months;
and she returned to her own house.
– Luke 1, 56
And the ark of the Lord abode in the house of Obededom the Gethite three months:
and the Lord blessed Obededom, and all his household.
– 2 Samuel 6, 11
And the ark of God remained in the house of Obededom three months:
and the Lord blessed his house, and all that he had.
– 1 Chronicles 13, 14
Finally, Mary returns home from visiting Elizabeth and eventually goes to Jerusalem to present her infant Jesus to God in the Temple. The Ark leaves the house of Obededom and is taken to Jerusalem, where eventually the presence and glory of God is manifested in the newly built Temple. There the Ark is resting in the sacred sanctuary of the Holy of Holies.
And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb. And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.
– Luke 2, 21-22
And it was told king David, that the Lord had blessed Obededom, and all that he had, because of the ark of God. So David went, and brought away the ark of God out of the house of Obededom into the city of David with joy. And there were with David seven choirs, and calves for victims.
– 2 Samuel 6, 14
In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint has the salutation ‘chairo’ (χαρῆτε) for “sing aloud”. The word can mean “to be full of cheer” or “rejoice” as we have it in St. Luke’s Gospel. The reason for Mary to rejoice and be full of cheer is that God is in her midst, just as He was for Israel in the figure of Daughter Zion. But Mary’s cause for rejoicing is the fact that God has favored her to conceive and bear His Only-begotten Son. God is personally in her midst much more by being physically present in her womb. The Hebrew word for God is in Israel’s midst is ‘qereb’ (keh’-rev) which literally translated means “in the womb”. Further, the same word is used elsewhere in the Hebrew OT to describe how God dwells amid His people through the Ark in a physical sense.
And coming to her the angel said,
“Rejoice, O, favoured by grace! The Lord is with you.”
– Luke 1, 28
καὶ εἰσελθὼν ὁ ἄγγελος πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη
ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has cast out your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear evil no more.
– Zephaniah 3, 14-16
Χαῖρε σφόδρα, θύγατερ Σιών, κήρυσσε, θύγατερ ῾Ιερουσαλήμ· εὐφραίνου καὶ κατατέρπου
ἐξὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου, θύγατερ ῾Ιερουσαλήμ. 15 περιεῖλε Κύριος τὰ ἀδικήματά σου,
λελύτρωταί σε ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν σου· βασιλεὺς ᾿Ισραὴλ Κύριος ἐν μέσῳ σου, οὐκ ὄψῃ κακὰ
οὐκέτι. 16 ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ ἐρεῖ Κύριος τῇ ῾Ιερουσαλήμ· θάρσει, Σιών, μὴ παρείσθωσαν αἱ
Further, we read in the Septuagint version of the Book of Exodus that the Lord covered the tabernacle where the Ark was kept and filled it with His glory. This refers to the bright glory cloud (Shekinah) which the Jews believed to be a physical manifestation of God’s overshadowing spiritual presence and His word. Luke tells us in his Gospel that the power of the Most High shall “overshadow” Mary. He uses the same original Greek word ‘episkiazo’ (ἐπισκιάζω) for the word ‘overshadow’ in the future tense: ‘episkiasei’ (ἐπισκιάσει). It was the Holy Spirit who came upon Mary and “covered” her with His shadow, by whose power she conceived the Divine Word in the flesh. The sanctuary of her womb was filled with the glory of God, as He enveloped the temple of her body by His physical incarnation.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,
and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing
which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
– Luke 1, 35
καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται
ἐπὶ σέ, καὶ δύναμις Ὑψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι· διὸ
καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται Υἱὸς Θεοῦ.
And Moses was not able to enter into the tabernacle of testimony, because
the cloud overshadowed it, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord.
– Exodus 40, 35
καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνάσθη Μωυσῆς εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ μαρτυρίου,
ὅτι ἐπεσκίαζεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτὴν ἡ νεφέλη καὶ δόξης Κυρίοs ἐνεπλήσθη ἡ σκηνή.
Gary G. Michuta (Making Sense of Mary: Grotto Press) cites Zechariah 2:10 to connect the verse with John 1:14. In the prophecy, God says, “I am coming to dwell among you.” The author informs us that the Greek word for “dwell” is ‘kataskenoso’, whose root word for “tent” or “tabernacle” is ‘skene‘, viz., the portable tent or tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant before Solomon built the Temple. In the Gospel of John (1:14), the Greek word for “dwelt” is ‘eskenosen’ which is derived from the same root word ‘skene’. So, the evangelist is literally saying, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This occurred when Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived our Lord. God’s incarnated presence filled the temple of her body and the sanctuary of her womb in which He personally dwelled and filled with His glory as He had the Ark of the Covenant.
Last but not least, the Greek word ‘anephōnēsen’ or ‘ἀνεφώνησεν’ (“lift up the voice” / “cry out with a loud voice”) rarely appears in sacred Scripture. In the New Testament, it appears only once and with respect to Mary, that is in Luke 1, 42:
And she cried out with a loud voice, and said:
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
– Luke 1, 42
καὶ ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπεν Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν,
καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου.
There are only five instances in which this word is employed in the Septuagint, and on these occasions, it is in association with the Ark and Temple worship (1 Chron. 15:28; 16:4,5, 42; 2 Chron. 5:13). For instance:
So, they brought in the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle which
David pitched for it… And he appointed before the ark of the covenant of the Lord,
Levites to minister [and] lift up the voice, and to give thanks and praise the Lord God
– 1 Chronicles 16, 1-4
καὶ ἔταξε κατὰ πρόσωπον τῆς κιβωτοῦ διαθήκης Κυρίου ἐκ τῶν Λευιτῶν
λειτουργοῦντας ἀναφωνοῦντας καὶ ἐξομολογεῖσθαι καὶ αἰνεῖν Κύριον τὸν Θεὸν ᾿Ισραήλ·
Hence, the parallelism that we have in the Gospel of Luke clearly confirms this nascent Marian tradition of the Church which was an offshoot of Judaic belief among the first Christian faithful who received the oral word of God from the Apostles themselves. The designation of Mary being the Ark of the New Covenant is another instance of the Old Testament being fulfilled in the New Testament. Only those who are ill-acquainted with the OT and ancient Judaic tradition can easily fail to see the connection.
As we have seen, the Ark of the Covenant was specifically created by God to carry His overshadowing presence in this world. Similarly, God created Mary to carry the Divine Word in the flesh through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. For the same reason, both the Ark of the Old Covenant and Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, were made intrinsically holy by Divine mediation. As the Ark was made of pure gold within and without and of incorruptible acacia wood (which cannot be consumed by worms and insects) because it was designed to serve as God’s personal dwelling place on earth, so too God sanctified Mary’s soul when he fashioned it upon her conception and preserved her flesh free from all stain of original sin and ensuing bodily corruption.
Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place:
thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified.
Psalm 132, 8
Besides the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception and its corollary the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul into Heaven, find their integrity in Mary’s designation of being the Ark of the New Covenant. We read in Luke 1:28, that Mary was called completely and perfectly sanctified or justified by divine grace with a permanent result (kecharitomene). She had no cause to fear the Divine Justice, for she had found favor with God (Luke 1:30; cf. Isaiah 61:10). Not unlike a restored Daughter Zion, Mary was “clothed with a robe of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” (Isaiah 61:10). God had looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid and did great things to her because she was chosen to be God’s personal dwelling place in His physical manifestation, her body being His holy Temple and her womb His sacred sanctuary. Thus, all generations shall call the Virgin Mary blessed, for God has done “great things” to her, and holy is His name (Luke 1:48-49).
As with all Catholic Marian doctrines and dogmas, our fuller understanding of Mary’s role in the economy of salvation serves to better illuminate our understanding and deepen our appreciation for her divine Son. Mary’s role as the Ark of the New Covenant underscores the divine truth of who Jesus Christ is: one divine Person in the flesh with both a divine and a human nature hypostatically united, but nonetheless distinct from each other.
In the words of St. Hippolytus (200 A.D.): “For whereas the Word of God was without flesh, He took upon Himself the holy flesh (the true manna come down from Heaven) by the holy Virgin.” Mary was made holy by the grace of God, for she was predestined to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and carry the Divine Presence in the sanctuary of her womb. She truly is the new Ark who was “overlaid with pure gold with the Word within and the Holy Spirit without.” St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. A.D. 260) concurs: The Ark of the Covenant is truly fulfilled in the holy Virgin Mother, “gilded within and without,” having “received the treasure of sanctification.” St. Dionysius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 248) testifies in accordance with this sacred Tradition of the Church: “As Christ, our Priest was not chosen by the hand of man, so neither was His tabernacle framed by men, but was established by the Holy Spirit; and by the power of God is that tabernacle protected” from all putridity and corruption, “to be had in everlasting remembrance, Mary, God’s Virgin Mother.”
And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant
and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant
and went before the people.
Joshua 3, 6
Early Sacred Tradition
“At that time, the Savior coming from the Virgin, the Ark, brought forth His
own Body into the world from that Ark, which was gilded with pure gold within
by the Word, and without by the Holy Ghost; so that the truth was shown forth,
and the Ark was manifested…. And the Savior came into the world bearing the
incorruptible Ark, that is to say His own body.”
St. Hippolytus, In Daniel Vl
“Behold one in truth, the handmaid of the Lord. Holy she is, in whom is no guile,
all simplicity…. The spouse of Christ is the ark of the covenant, within and without
overlaid with gold, a keeper of the law of the Lord. As in the ark there was nothing
but the tables of the Testament, so too in thee no one from outside should be
thought of. Over this propitiatory, as though upon the Cherubim, the Lord is
pleased to sit…The Apostle thus defines a virgin, that she should be holy in body
and in spirit.”
St. Jerome, Epist. Xxii.
The prophet David danced before the Ark. Now what else should we say the
Ark was but holy Mary? The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament,
but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself. The former contained in
it the Law, the latter the Gospel. The one had the voice of God, the other His
Word. The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold,
but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity. The one
was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly.”
St. Ambrose, Serm. xlii. 6, Int. Opp., S. Ambrosiiz
(ante. A.D. 397)