Br. Jacob Fluech
For many non-Catholics and even many Catholics, the way that the Catholic Church honors Mary can seem confusing, weird, or just downright unbiblical. It might seem that, by honoring Mary, we are worshiping her or are taking away from the honor that should be given to God alone. How does the Catholic Church explain its intense devotion to Mary? Well, although on the surface the Bible seems to say very little about her, when we dig deep into Sacred Scripture, we do find Mary, in a profound way, and we can understand the high praise that Catholics give her.
First, let’s recall a text from the Old Testament about the Ark of the Covenant. The story is found in 2 Samuel 6.
In summary, King David wanted to transfer the Ark of the Covenant, the central object involved in the Jewish worship of God, from Baale-judah (which refers to the hill country of Judah) to Jerusalem. They proceeded to carry the Ark on a cart, and when the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah touched the Ark to stabilize it. Then God became angry with Uzzah and killed him. David was afraid and said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So he let the Ark stay at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, where it stayed three months. Later, when King David learned that Obed-edom’s household had been blessed because of the Ark’s presence, he decided to continue his course. Thus, he took it into Jerusalem with great celebration and praise, and he was leaping and dancing before the Ark.
Now let’s turn to the Gospel of St. Luke, when Mary, after having conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This is found in Luke 1:39-56. We will look at a few specific verses from here and compare them with some verses from the story of 2 Samuel 6:
We should also note that, in Luke 1:42, the Greek verb ἀναφωνέω (“to exclaim”) is used for “[Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” This verb is used only here in the New Testament and six times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), each of which was to describe the Levites giving praise to God before the Ark of the Covenant.
And what did the Old Ark contain within it?
What did Mary have inside her womb? Jesus, Who is:
It’s not a coincidence that there are so many parallels between the Ark of the Old Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Luke and the Holy Spirit, the human author and the Divine Author of this Gospel, are trying to teach us that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.
What does this mean for our relationship with Mary? The Ark of the Old Covenant was how God dealt with the Israelites, how He was present among them, for the Lord sat enthroned upon the cherubim on top of the Ark, and it was from here that He met with Moses (1 Samuel 4:4; Exodus 25:21-22). Therefore, we hear things such as the following:
When King David had brought the Ark into Jerusalem:
We see that worship was being given to God, present through the Ark. The Israelites were not worshiping the Ark. Rather, they were worshiping God. Thus, we see that honoring the Ark of the Covenant does not take away from the worship due to God. Similarly, in the New Testament, honoring Mary, who brings to us the presence of Jesus (Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23)), does not take away from the worship due to God. We read, when Mary went to visit St. Elizabeth:
We notice that it was through hearing Mary’s voice that the Incarnate Lord filled Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit. Also, Elizabeth not only praised the God within Mary, but also Mary herself! Therefore, we shouldn’t fall into scrupulous confusion, thinking that by giving great honor to Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, we are committing idolatry, taking away from the adoration we owe to God alone. He Himself chose in the Old Testament to have a holy Ark through which to bring His presence to His people, and He gave it honor among His people. He Himself also chose in the New Testament to have an even greater holy Ark, His own mother. Therefore, let us likewise follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by honoring and blessing Mary, the most blessed among women.
Mary our Mother, Ark of the New Covenant, pray for us!