As the ark of the Covenant bore the Presence of God in the time of ancient Israel, so Mary bears God now in the New Covenant. She is thus the Living Ark of the New Covenant.
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
This teaching upholds the Deity of Christ; as the original ark bore the Presence of God, so Mary truly bore God Himself in her virginal womb.
The Holy Ghost inspired St. Luke to portray Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant in his Gospel. In Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel tells Mary "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." "Overshadow" here comes from the Greek word "episkiasei", which denotes a bright cloud of glory. It is used in reference to the cloud at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7. Luke 9:34). This cloud is none other than the Shekinah Glory, the visible Presence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, which dwelt in the Holy of Holies above the ark of the covenant (Exodus 24:15-16, 40:34-38, 1 Kings 8:10).
The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made two centuries before Christ, uses "episkiasei" in Exodus 40:34-35, to describe the Shekhinah's overshadowing of the Temple. Saint Luke, who was quite familiar with the Septuagint, uses the very same word for the Spirit's overshadowing of Mary! The angel Gabriel clearly drew a parallel between God's presence in the Sanctuary and in Mary. She is the new, living Ark chosen to bear the God-Messiah.
St. Luke also draws a parallel between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant in the account of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-52). Compare it to 2 Samuel 6:4-16, where David tries to bring the original Ark into Jerusalem. Both the ark and Mary are on a journey. David dances before the ark; John leaps in his mother's womb. David says "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" (2 Sa 6:9); Elizabeth says "Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43). The ark stayed in the house of Obededom for three months (2 Sa 6:11); Mary stayed in Elizabeth's house for three months (Lk 1:56)
The two passages are clearly parallel. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to draw this parallel, to show that Mary is the New Ark, chosen to bear God. The Ark was a sacred vessel which bore the Divine Presence, Mary is a holy woman who bears the Lord God.
Finally, just before the vision of the New Eve in Revelations 12, we read "and the temple of God saw opened in heaven, and there was seen the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail" (11:19). Now remember; the Bible was not written in chapter and verse; that was added in the twelfth century AD. When John penned these words, there was no division between chapters 11 and 12; he wrote about one right after another as a continuous thought. The appearance of the Ark here immediately precedes the appearance of the Woman, the Mother of the Christ Child; and we saw above that the Woman is Mary. This also indicates a relationship between the Ark and Our Lady.
That passage states that Jesus is a propitiatory sacrifice, not the Propitiatory itself (the cover of the Ark, also called the "mercy seat"). The Bible does not state that Jesus is the Ark of the Covenant, and it does not deny that Mary is (though it strongly insinuates that she is). The Ark was a created thing, a mere vessel which carried the presence of God. Jesus is not just a vessel carrying God's presence, He is God Incarnate! There's a big difference.
Mary is a mere creature, a living vessel who carried the presence of God. Thus she is the New Ark. Though the Bible never portrays Jesus as the Ark, II Samuel 6:2-11 clearly parallels the Visitation (as we saw above), thus indicating that Mary is the Ark.
Why should part of the Ark "symbolize" Deity when it bore the Deity Himself? It seems repetitious and unnecessary. The gold may just as well symbolize royalty, since Mary is the queen mother (more on that in Chapter 8), or perhaps grace, with which Mary is filled.
The tablets containing the Ten Commandments, the Manna and Aaron's budded staff all do signify Christ, Who is the living Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest. But the Ark is the vessel meant to hold these things, even as Mary is the Vessel who bore Jesus.
The Jews were not supposed to worship the Ark, only the Shekhinah Glory enthroned upon it. If any Jews did worship the box itself (which is doubtful) then they were committing idolatry, as would anyone who worships Mary, the New Ark.
That same argument could be turned against Jesus being the New Adam, since He did not do everything the first Adam did (like walk around naked in a garden with a wife and commit the first sin). If not everything that happened to the first Adam happened to Jesus, then Mary did not have to experience everything which happened to the Ark of the Old Covenant.
(Thanks to Mario Derksen for this answer.)
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