Damien F. Mackey
“We must conclude that, being necessary to God by a necessity which is called “hypothetical”, (that is, because God so willed it), the Blessed Virgin is all the more necessary for men to attain their final end. Consequently we must not place devotion to her on the same level as devotion to the other saints as if it were merely something optional.”
–Saint Louis Marie de Montfort
“True Devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary”
‘The Marian Dimension’
“The Marian dimension of the life of a disciple of Christ is expressed in a special way precisely through this filial entrusting to the Mother of Christ, which began with the testament of the Redeemer on Golgotha. Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the Christian, like the Apostle John, “welcomes” the Mother of Christ “into his own home”130 and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian “I”: he “took her to his own home”.”
Pope John Paul II:
Just possibly, John Paul II may have picked up this phrase, “The Marian Dimension”, from a one-time mentor of mine, Frits Albers, who used the description twice in titles of books that he wrote, one of which was apparently part of the Offertory at the pope’s Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne (Australia) in 1986. Frits’s book, The Marian Dimension in the Apocalypse of St. John (1982) preceded John Paul II’s sixth encyclical letter, Redemptoris Mater (1987), by some 5 years.
Frits Albers, philosopher and maths teacher, was an extraordinary and controversial character, who studied for ten years to become a Jesuit at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in Holland. He claimed to have lost his vocation, but never his faith, and he blamed his loss of vocation on the teachings of Father Teilhard de Chardin that were rampant at the time. Moving later to Geelong in Victoria (Australia), Frits married and he and his wife together had ten children.
Frits was a relentless warrior in defence of the Catholic Faith, and launched many broadsides against de Chardin. Some of it must have rubbed off on me. See my:
The Sheer Silliness of Teilhard de Chardin
Pope John Paul II makes another mention of “the Marian dimension” in the same part of his encyclical, when writing:
It can be said that motherhood “in the order of grace” preserves the analogy with what “in the order of nature” characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: “Behold your son.”
lt can also be said that these same words fully show the reason for the Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciples. This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with his Master’s Mother, but it is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary. At the foot of the Cross there begins that special entrusting of humanity to the Mother of Christ, which in the history of the Church has been practiced and expressed in different ways. The same Apostle and Evangelist, after reporting the words addressed by Jesus on the Cross to his Mother and to himself, adds: “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:27). This statement certainly means that the role of son was attributed to the disciple and that he assumed responsibility for the Mother of his beloved Master. And since Mary was given as a mother to him personally, the statement indicates, even though indirectly, everything expressed by the intimate relationship of a child with its mother. And all of this can be included in the word “entrusting.” Such entrusting is the response to a person’s love, and in particular to the love of a mother.
The “New Eve”
“The foundation of this beautiful alias is entirely biblical. Jesus Christ is the New Adam. Now, the old Adam had a helpmate like unto himself who was his partner in crime. It’s a parallelism that begs to be completed. Common sense tells us we don’t have to look far to complete it. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Gospels show us that Jesus had a partner in redemption, and that partner was Mary”.
Sometimes it may seem to us as if it is Satan, and not God, who really controls the show.
The Devil can certainly be accused, at least, of ruining the show, as according to this famous quote from French Thomistic philosopher, Jacques Maritain:
“Nowadays the devil has made such a mess of everything in the system of life on earth that the world will presently become uninhabitable for anybody but Saints. The rest will drag their lives out in despair or fall below the level of man. The antinomies if human life are too exasperated, the burden of matter too oppressive; merely to exist, one has to expose oneself to many snares. Christian heroism will one day become the sole solution for the problems of life.”
However, as the Book of Job reveals to us, it is God, not Satan, who has the last word – or who has, one could say, the First and the Last Word.
Satan is allowed a degree of interference for the sake of a greater good. The prophet Job became a far better person for his terrible ordeal, as did his three friends who had formerly accused him.
As St. Paul optimistically put it (Romans 5:20): “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”.
God will always re-write a discordant note into a new and better symphony. He always has at hand what Tertullian called “a rival operation”, to turn the Devil’s schemes upon himself.
This Divine method is most wonderfully illustrated in the reversal, by the “New Adam” and the “New Eve”, of the sin of the first Adam and Eve. I wrote about it as follows in my book:
The Five First Saturdays of Our Lady of Fatima
A Rival Operation
All the way through the history of salvation, since sin fist entered into the universe, the Triune God has employed what Tertullian called “a rival operation”, to turn the Devil’s own schemes upon himself. This dramatic change of fortune against the forces of evil, just when these had appeared to have the upper hand, always leaves them stranded, trapped at their own game, and an easy target for God. It is a process that is wonderfully demonstrated in the Book of Esther, where it is consciously used by the sacred writer to create a dramatic tension. That this same process of “rival operation” runs throughout the entire Scriptures in fact, is attested by Fr. Papali, when he says that: “There is no parallelism in the Scriptures so pronounced and so perfect as between the drama of the fall of man and that of his restoration. St. Paul has emphasised the essential and central point of that contrasting parallel:
“Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life. For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just’ (Rom. 5:18-19)”. ….
Now what is the role of the Woman in this parallel scheme of things? With this question we touch on the heart of the Fatima message. And, as we are going to discover, this role is a central one.
Already, in the Introduction, we briefly considered how Queen Vashti and Queen Esther typify, respectively, the First Eve and the Second Eve. Now, Tertullian used this very example of the Virgin Mary as the ‘Second Eve’, to illustrate exactly what he meant by his term “rival operation”. Thus he wrote (in De Carn. Christ., 17):
“For into Eve, as yet a virgin, had crept the word which was the framer of death, equally into a Virgin was to be introduced the Word of God which was the builder-up of life”.
Now, considering that the hero and heroine in the Book of Esther – that is, Mordecai and Queen Esther – typify (and only typify) respectively Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, then we shall have to go to the New Testament where the final details of their true relationship lie revealed. We may expect Mordecai, even more than Esther, to be the drama’s chief protagonist on the side of good. And whilst it is indeed Mordecai who initiates the action, and who conveys vital instructions to the ever-obedient Queen Esther, it was nevertheless she alone amongst the Jewish race who had any hope of access to the king. If then it is Esther who will stand before the royal presence – though it may mean her life – and plead for mercy: ‘I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish’ (4:16), then the final answer to this profound mystery, “Why this preference for the Woman as the central figure in the drama?”, cannot be given until they whom Mordecai and Queen Esther typify have made their appearance: namely, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His holy Mother.
We begin our search for the only answer that can completely satisfy us (as far as the limitations of our earthly existence will allow) at the level where two Popes (Pius IX in “Ineffabilis Deus”, 1854, and Pius XII in “Munificentissimus Deus, 1950) have instructed us to look for it: in eternity …. A little earlier on we had displayed the important text which appears in both of these papal documents:
“… the revered Mother of God, ‘from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same Decree of Predestination’ …”..
Central to the answer is the unbelievable power of an ‘instrument’ in the Divine Mind; power associated with being a ‘causa instrumentalis’ in God’s Hands. To understand fully what is to follow, it is absolutely essential that the truth be accepted as proposed by the holy Catholic Church: that Mary is not only the Mother and the Model, but also the beginning of the Church. Central in the Mind of God as to this whole Mystery of Fall and Redemption is this Revealed Truth: that Mary, as the New Eve, was at one stage the whole Church when, on that momentous occasion of the Annunciation, She gave Christ the two instruments that he needed under the Divine Decree of Redemption: the physical Body that made Him human and the Mystical Body that made Him Head. And by this simple act of being the singular instrument that Christ needed to redeem the world in the form of a “rival operation” paralleling the Fall, the world became inundated with the Flood of the Incarnation and Redemption; an unleashing of Grace out of all proportion to the status of being a mere human instrument. And the whole core of what this present book is about is that now, by that same decree, this tremendous power of being a ‘causa instrumentalis’ has flowed from Christ the Head, through Mary, through the holy Church to each of its members, i.e. to each of this Mother’s children ….
“Many souls go to Hell because there is no one to pray or to bring sacrifices for them ….”.
Christ prayed and died for these souls. Mary prayed and suffered for them. The holy Church prays and suffers. Yet, according to St. Paul [Col. 1:24] and the above-quoted words of our Lady at Fatima, there is still something lacking, there is still more to be done! Locked up in God’s inscrutable Decree of Predestination lies the decision that other instruments have been set aside and have been given the power to obtain the very special grace equally won by Christ: the removal of individual obstructions to this ‘flood of Grace’; obstructions which, due to fallen human nature, remain present in each parched soul. And unless a substitute can be found in case the instruments, chosen initially, refuse to pass on this flow and secure this individual grace, “many souls go to Hell” ….
That this teaching of the New Adam and the New Eve, stemming from biblical roots, represents a most ancient belief in the Christian Church is apparent from what we read in the following article (http://catholicism.org/second-eve.html):
The foundation of this beautiful alias is entirely biblical. Jesus Christ is the New Adam. Now, the old Adam had a helpmate like unto himself who was his partner in crime. It’s a parallelism that begs to be completed. Common sense tells us we don’t have to look far to complete it. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Gospels show us that Jesus had a partner in redemption, and that partner was Mary.
The “Last Adam”
Saint Paul provides us with the first part of our argument. It is this inspired title of Jesus Christ: The Last Adam. In two passages, the Blessed Apostle teaches us that Adam was a type 1 of Our Lord as the head of a new race. As Adam was the head of fallen humanity, Christ Our Lord is head of a regenerated, sanctified humanity. In the Epistle to the Romans, he tells us that “death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned, after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come” (5:14). He further develops the thought in the Epistle to the Corinthians while speaking of the Resurrection. Proving to the doubting Corinthians that there will indeed be a resurrection on the last day, the Apostle contrasts the curse received through Adam with the blessings received through Christ: “For by a man came death: and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).
Later, he continues the contrast by showing its origin in the corrupted nature we inherit from Adam as opposed to the heavenly nature we receive by the grace of Our Lord:
“The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit. Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural: afterwards that which is spiritual. The first man was of the earth, earthly: the second man, from heaven, heavenly. Such as is the earthly, such also are the earthly: and such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly. Therefore, as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
According to Saint Paul, Jesus is the “last Adam” or the “second man” who came to restore to the human race what we lost in the Fall.
All who call themselves Christian accept this Adam-Christ parallel. We will not prove it or develop it here. Our task is to complete the picture by showing that Christ, like Adam, had a “helpmate like unto himself” (Gen. 2:18) who was his partner in the redemption. This will establish a strong foundation for Catholic Marian beliefs and devotions. Our approach is to present the doctrine of the “Second Eve” in the thoughts of the Fathers of the Church, whose testimony to the Eve-Mary parallel shows that these ancient defenders of the Christian religion were generous in their love of Our Lady (like Catholics) and not “Marian minimizers.”
Common to many of the Fathers’ texts on the Second Eve is the notion that Our Lady’s Annunciation was the antithesis of Eve’s disobedience. The parallels are obvious: both were women, both were virgins, both were approached by angels who promised them something glorious should they cooperate with their respective propositions, both stood at the dawn of creation (Christ’s work was a “new creation”). The contrasts, too, are obvious: In the one case, disobedience of God brought misery, while in the other, obedience brought about happiness; the one was all-too-eager to hear what the evil spirit was suggesting, while the second was “troubled” at the angel’s wondrous greeting; the first accepted the angelic proposal even though it contradicted God’s word, while the second tested the message by its fidelity to God’s word. 2
The earliest known reference to the Eve-Mary parallel is that of Saint Justin Martyr, who died around 165. It is likely that this great philosopher-martyr was referring to an older tradition when he made the following reference, contrasting Mary’s Annunciation with Eve’s encounter with the serpent:
“[The Son of God] became man through a Virgin, so that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it had begun. For Eve, who was virgin and undefiled, gave birth to disobedience and death after listening to the serpent’s words. But the Virgin Mary conceived faith and joy; for when the angel Gabriel brought her the glad tidings that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, so that the Holy One born of her would be the Son of God, she answered, ‘Let it be done to me according to thy word’ (Lk. 1:38). Thus was born of her the [Child] about whom so many Scriptures speak, as we have shown. Through Him, God crushed the serpent, along with those angels and men who had become like the serpent.” (Dialogue with Trypho 100, quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, by Luigi Gambero, Ignatius Press, 1999 [hereafter, MFC], pg. 47.)
A later witness of the parallel between Gabriel and the serpent is Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (+403): “Death came through a virgin, Eve. It was necessary that life also should come through a virgin, so that, as the serpent deceived the former, so Gabriel might bring glad tidings to the latter.” (Catecheses 12,15; MFC, pg. 135.)
“Cause of Salvation”
Many of the patristic texts on this subject assign to the Virgin an active role in man’s salvation. She was no mere passive recipient of grace. For instance, here is Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (+c.202), who tells us that Mary is the “cause of salvation,” whereas Eve had been the “cause of death”:
“Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin. … By disobeying, she became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way, Mary, though she also had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. … The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience. What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.” (Against Heresies 3, 22; MFC, pg. 54. Unless otherwise noted, all italics in quotes are ours.)
Those tempted to object to this causality attributed to Mary should note that it is a perfect expression of Catholic Marian orthodoxy. The role of the Blessed Virgin is dependant on Christ in much the same manner as the role of Eve was dependant on Adam. God, who was no feminist, made salvation dependant on the action of a Man, just as He punished our race because of the sin of a man. Here we need to repeat what many are probably unaware of, namely, that it was Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, which is the original sin. Saint Paul reminds us that, in the order of time, the woman sinned first: “For Adam was first formed; then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman, being seduced, was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). But he also lets us know that Adam’s fall was the fall of the entire race: “For by a man came death: and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). For Catholics, Adam’s exclusive role in the original sin is dogma. The same is true for many Protestants. The Calvinist New England Primer memorably put it this way: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”
Now, while God was no feminist, He did give woman a special place. Eve was, for Adam, a “helpmate like unto himself” (Gen. 2:18). When she sinned and encouraged him to sin, she failed in that role. All this goes to show, that while Adam’s was the original sin, Eve had a real, active, and causal role. Invert that in the case of the New Adam. The work of redemption was the work of Christ. But He had a helpmate. Hence, we see the reasonableness of Mary’s title, “Co-Redemptrix.” 3
Saint Irenaeus writes elsewhere about Mary’s effective role in undoing what Eve did. This Father of the Church had a very profound theology which developed Saint Paul’s doctrine in Ephesians (1:10) about the “recapitulation” of all things in Christ. All human history, from Adam to his last son, are “recapitulated” in Christ so that what went wrong in Adam will be made right in the Second Adam. He details this theology in his Against the Heresies, the work we cited earlier. Here, in another work, he makes reference to the same idea, but with a beautiful Marian twist:
“Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ, so that death might be swallowed up in immortality, and Eve [had to be recapitulated] in Mary, so that the Virgin, having become another virgin’s advocate, might destroy and abolish one virgin’s disobedience by the obedience of another virgin.” (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33; MFC, pg. 55.)
Note again the active nature of the Blessed Virgin’s role: Mary destroyed Eve’s disobedience.
Another who gives Our Lady an active role in the redemption is Saint Ephrem the Syrian (+373), the “Harp of the Holy Ghost.” Saint Ephrem is one of the early witnesses to the Immaculate Conception and to the Marian interpretation of Genesis 3:15 (“she shall crush thy head”; the “she” being Mary). Here he espouses this position, throwing in the Eve-Mary typology: “Because the serpent had struck Eve with his claw, the foot of Mary bruised him.” (Diatesseron 10, 13; MFC, pg. 117.)
Saint Jerome (+420) was one of Our Lady’s great defenders in the fifth century. It is he who stood up for her perpetual virginity when … Helvidius attacked it. Speaking of the wife of Job, who foolishly advised Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), he notes the devil’s trick of using women to ensnare men:
“Observe the cleverness of the ancient foe. He ferociously preyed upon the substance of the just man [Job]. … He left him nothing but his tongue and his wife, so that one tempted him while the other blasphemed. The devil remembered the old trick by which he had once ensnared Adam through the woman… thinking that he could always trap men by using woman. But he did not consider that, if a man was ruined by a woman once, now the whole world has been saved through a woman. You are thinking of Eve, but consider Mary: the former drove us out of paradise; the latter leads us back to heaven.” (Tract on Psalm 96, 1; MFC, pg. 212.)
Mary as New Ark of Covenant
Catholic biblical commentators have been, in recent times, drawing magnificent and compelling parallels between the blessed Virgin Mary and the ancient Ark of the Covenant, with Mary being described as, for example, “the Ark of the New Covenant”.
Consider, for instance, the parallels drawn in the following article by Catholic convert Steve Ray http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/mary-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant
Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant
By: Steve Ray
Why do Catholics call Mary the Ark of the New Covenant? Answering that question will take us on a thrilling journey through the Old and New Testaments.
For example, Luke wove some marvelous things into his Gospel that only a knowledgeable Jew would have understood—a Jew who knew Jewish Scripture and had eyes to see and ears to hear. One of the things he would have understood is typology.
We all know that the Old Testament is full of stories, people, and historical events. A type is a person, thing, or event in the Old Testament that foreshadows something in the New Testament. It is like a taste or a hint of something that will be fulfilled or realized. Types are like pictures that come alive in a new and exciting way when seen through the eyes of Christ’s revelation. Augustine said that “the Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed” (Catechizing of the Uninstructed 4:8).
The idea of typology is not new. Paul says that Adam was a type of the one who was to come—Christ (Rom 5:14). Early Christians understood that the Old Testament was full of types or pictures that were fulfilled or realized in the New Testament.
Here are a few more examples of biblical typology:
- Peter uses Noah’s ark as a type of Christian baptism (1 Pt 3:18-22).
- Paul explains that circumcision foreshadowed Christian baptism (Col 2:11-12).
- Jesus uses the bronze serpent as a type of his Crucifixion (Jn 3:14; cf. Nm 21:8-9).
- The Passover lamb prefigures the sacrifice of Christ (1 Cor 5:7).
- In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Lk 1:39-45)
- Compare David and the ark to Luke’s account of the Visitation:
- David went out to retrieve the ark (1 Sm 6:1-2). After a man named Uzzah was struck dead when he touched the ark, David was afraid and said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” He left the ark in the hill country of Judea for three months. We are also told that David danced and leapt in front of the ark and everyone shouted for joy. The house of Obed-edom, which had housed the ark, was blessed, and then David took the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sm 6:9-14).
- Luke weaves additional parallels into the story of Mary—types that could be overlooked if one is unfamiliar with the Old Testament. After Moses died, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Joshua established the Ark of the Covenant in Shiloh, where it stayed for more than 200 years. One day the Israelites were losing a battle with the Philistines, so they snatched the ark and rushed it to the front lines. The Philistines captured the ark, but it caused them great problems, so they sent it back to Israel (1 Sm 5:1-6:12).
- King David and Elizabeth
- The Virgin Mary is the living shrine of the Word of God, the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant. In fact, St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation of the angel to Mary nicely incorporates the images of the tent of meeting with God in Sinai and of the temple of Zion. Just as the cloud covered the people of God marching in the desert (cf. Nm 10:34; Dt 33:12; Ps 91:4) and just as the same cloud, as a sign of the divine mystery present in the midst of Israel, hovered over the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Ex 40:35), so now the shadow of the Most High envelops and penetrates the tabernacle of the New Covenant that is the womb of Mary (cf. Lk 1:35). (Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God)
- God was very specific about every exact detail of the ark (Ex 25-30). It was a place where God himself would dwell (Ex 25:8). God wanted his words—inscribed on stone—housed in a perfect container covered with pure gold within and without. How much more would he want his Word—Jesus—to have a perfect dwelling place! If the only begotten Son were to take up residence in the womb of a human girl, would he not make her flawless?
- It’s easy to miss the parallel between the Holy Spirit overshadowing the ark and the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, between the Ark of the Old Covenant as the dwelling place of God and Mary as the new dwelling place of God.
- In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of his glory—with Moses on Mount Sinai, at the tent of meeting, and during the wandering in the desert, and with Solomon at the dedication of the temple. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills these figures. The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and “overshadows” her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. On the mountain of Transfiguration, the Spirit in the “cloud came and overshadowed” Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’” Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on the day of his Ascension and will reveal him as Son of Man in glory on the day of his final coming. The glory of the Lord “overshadowed” the ark and filled the tabernacle. (CCC 697)
- When the ark was completed, the glory cloud of the Lord (the Shekinah Glory) covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35; Nm 9:18, 22). The verb for “to cover” or “to overshadow” and the metaphor of a cloud are used in the Bible to represent the presence and glory of God. The Catechism explains:
- God loved his people and wanted to be close to them. He chose to do so in a very special way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The prayer of the people of God flourished in the shadow of the dwelling place of God’s presence on earth, the ark of the covenant and the temple, under the guidance of their shepherds, especially King David, and of the prophets” (CCC 2594). God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle surrounded by heavy curtains (cf. Ex 25-27). Within the tabernacle he was to place an ark made of acacia wood covered with gold inside and out. Within the Ark of the Covenant was placed a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant (cf. Heb 9:4).
- The Ark of the Old Covenant
- Paul says that Abraham “considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:19).
- Mary arose and went to the hill country of Judea. I have been to both Ein Kerem (where Elizabeth lived) and Abu Ghosh (where the ark resided), and they are only a short walk apart. Mary and the ark were both on a journey to the same hill country of Judea.
- When David saw the ark he rejoiced and said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth uses almost the same words: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke is telling us something—drawing our minds back to the Old Testament, showing us a parallel.
- When David approached the ark he shouted out and danced and leapt in front of the ark. He was wearing an ephod, the clothing of a priest. When Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, approached Elizabeth, John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb—and John was from the priestly line of Aaron. Both leapt and danced in the presence of the ark. The Ark of the Old Covenant remained in the house of Obed-edom for three months, and Mary remained in the house of Elizabeth for three months. The place that housed the ark for three months was blessed, and in the short paragraph in Luke, Elizabeth uses the word blessed three times. Her home was certainly blessed by the presence of the ark and the Lord within.
- When the Old Testament ark arrived—as when Mary arrived—they were both greeted with shouts of joy. The word for the cry of Elizabeth’s greeting is a rare Greek word used in connection with Old Testament liturgical ceremonies that were centered around the ark and worship (cf. Word Biblical Commentary, 67). This word would flip on the light switch for any knowledgeable Jew.
- The ark returns to its home and ends up in Jerusalem, where God’s presence and glory is revealed in the temple (2 Sm 6:12; 1 Kgs 8:9-11). Mary returns home and eventually ends up in Jerusalem, where she presents God incarnate in the temple (Lk 1:56; 2:21-22). The early Christians taught the same thing that the Catholic Church teaches today about Mary, including her being the Ark of the New Covenant. ….
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes the words from the earliest centuries: “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men’” (CCC 2676).
- Gregory the Wonder Worker (c. 213–c. 270) wrote: “Let us chant the melody that has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, ‘Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy sanctuary.’ For the Holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary” (Homily on the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary).
- Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373) was the main defender of the deity of Christ against the second-century heretics. He wrote: “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O [Ark of the] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides” (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin).
- Even if someone rejects Catholic teaching regarding Mary, he cannot deny that Catholics have scriptural foundations for it. And it is a teaching that has been taught by Christians from ancient times. Here are a few representative quotations from the early Church—some written well before the New Testament books were officially compiled into the final New Testament canon:
- in the same chapter we read that the devil went out to persecute the woman’s other offspring—Christians—which certainly seems to indicate that Mary is somehow the mother of the Church (Rv 12:17).
- What I would maintain is this, that the Holy Apostle would not have spoken of the Church under this particular image unless there had existed a Blessed Virgin Mary, who was exalted on high and the object of veneration to all the faithful. No one doubts that the “man-child” spoken of is an allusion to our Lord; why then is not “the Woman” an allusion to his mother? (On the Blessed Virgin Mary)
- John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote about this passage in Revelation:
- But does this passage really refer to Mary? Some say the woman represents Israel or the Church, and certainly she does. John’s use of rich symbolism is well known, but it is obvious from the Bible itself that the woman is Mary. The Bible begins with a real man (Adam), a real woman (Eve), and a real serpent (the devil)—and it also ends with a real man (Jesus, the Last Adam [1 Cor 15:45]), a real woman (Mary, the New Eve [Rv 11:19-12:2]), and a real serpent (the devil of old). All of this was foretold in Genesis 3:15.
- What did John say immediately after seeing the Ark of the Covenant in heaven? “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child” (Rv 12:1-2). The woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant, revealed by God to John. She was seen bearing the child who would rule the world with a rod of iron (Rv 12:5). Mary was seen as the ark and as a queen.
- At this point chapter 11 ends and chapter 12 begins. But the Bible was not written with chapter divisions—they were added in the 12th century. When John penned these words, there was no division between chapters 11 and 12; it was a continuing narrative.
- While the apostle John was exiled on the island of Patmos, he wrote something that would have shocked any first-century Jew. The ark of the Old Covenant had been lost for centuries—no one had seen it for about 600 years. But in Revelation 11:19, John makes a surprising announcement: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.”
- The Old Testament tells us that one item was placed inside the Ark of the Old Covenant while in the Sinai wilderness: God told Moses to put the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments inside the ark (Dt 10:3-5). Hebrews 9:4 informs us that two additional items were placed in the Ark: “a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded.” Notice the amazing parallels: In the ark was the law of God inscribed in stone; in Mary’s womb was the Word of God in flesh. In the ark was the urn of manna, the bread from heaven that kept God’s people alive in the wilderness; in Mary’s womb is the Bread of Life come down from heaven that brings eternal life. In the ark was the rod of Aaron, the proof of true priesthood; in Mary’s womb is the true priest. In the third century, St. Gregory the Wonder Worker said that Mary is truly an ark—”gold within and gold without, and she has received in her womb all the treasures of the sanctuary.”
- It seems clear that Luke has used typology to reveal something about the place of Mary in salvation history. In the Ark of the Old Covenant, God came to his people with a spiritual presence, but in Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, God comes to dwell with his people not only spiritually but physically, in the womb of a specially prepared Jewish girl.
A Marian Church
“This Marian profile is also – even perhaps more so – fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united…. The Church lives on this authentic ‘Marian profile’, the ‘Marian dimension’…. The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine…. Mary… precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles…”.
Pope John Paul II
to Roman Curia (Christmas 1987)
Similarly one reads in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Church – mystery of men’s union with God
772 It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.”189 St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church “a great mystery.” Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn.190 Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”191
773 In the Church this communion of men with God, in the “love [that] never ends,” is the purpose which governs everything in her that is a sacramental means, tied to this passing world.192 “[The Church’s] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. And holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom.”193 Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as “the bride without spot or wrinkle.”194 This is why the “Marian” dimension of the Church precedes the “Petrine.”195
“The “Marian” dimension of the Church precedes the “Petrine”.”
The current pope, Francis, appears to have made this teaching his own, according to the following piece by John Honner (http://spirituality.ucanews.com/2013/08/15/the-marian-church-of-pope-francis/):
It seems that Pope Francis lives in a more personal, compassionate and collegial Church, rather than in a legalistic, hierarchical and ritualistic Church. He does not refer to himself as Pope so much as Bishop of Rome, he prefers to live in community rather than alone in the papal apartment, he dreams of a poor church for the poor, he spurns the trappings of ritual and power, he celebrates Mass with a community rather than in private. This could be described as a Marian Church, the Church of Pentecost, a Church of a community guided by charism rather than by law.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at #773, it is taught that ‘the “Marian” dimension of the Church precedes the “Petrine”.’ The supporting reference for this statement is to John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, Mulieris Dignitatem #27. In that paragraph John Paul II writes not so much about precedence as about the Church being ‘both “Marian” and “Apostolic-Petrine”. However, as Brendan Leahy notes in his contribution to The Legacy of John Paul II, John Paul II stressed the priority of the Marian in an address to the Roman Curia before Christmas 1987:
This Marian profile is also – even perhaps more so – fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united…. The Church lives on this authentic ‘Marian profile’, the ‘Marian dimension’…. The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine…. Mary… precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles….
Leahy then shows how the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar influenced both John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their view of ‘the Church’s charism-institution polarity within the interplay between the Marian-Petrine profiles”.
In his essay on ‘Von Balthasar and the Office of Peter in the Church’, John McDade explains that for von Balthasar
Mary is at the centre of the Church because her faith represents ‘the all-inclusive, protective and directive form of all ecclesial life’, ‘the model of all being and acting’ in the Church…. ‘The entire Church is Marian’, von Balthasar says … because ‘Mary disappears into the heart of the Church to remain there as a real presence which, however, always gives place to her Son’. For von Balthasar, the radiant heart of the Church is lay, faithful and holy….
By displacing the Petrine office from the ‘centre’ or ‘top’ of the Church, von Balthasar aims to restore an ecclesiological balance which an over-juridical, ultramontane approach to papal authority has disturbed…. He argues that one nourishes the other—the Church is both Marian and Petrine—and that they are not to be opposed….
While the Marian Church of von Balthasar, John Paul II and Benedict XVI is described in abstract principles, Pope Francis stresses the Marian dimension to the Church in uncompromising practical ways.
For example, in his address to the Italian Bishops on 23 May 2013, his closing prayer included not only addressing Mary at the heart of the Church, but also the practical implications of being a tender and compassionate Church on pilgrimage, rather than a more hierarchical institution: ‘being pastors also means to be ready to walk in the midst of and behind the flock: capable of listening to the silent story of the suffering and bearing up the steps of those who are afraid of not succeeding; careful to raise up, to reassure, and inspire hope’. And so he prayed:
Mother of the silence that preserves the mystery of God…
Purify the eyes of pastors with the balm of memory: that we might return to the freshness of the beginning, for a praying and penitent Church….
Cloak Pastors with that compassion that unifies and integrates: that we might discover the joy of a humble and fraternal servant Church…. Mother, we will be the People of God, on pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Amen.
It seems that in Pope Francis’s practice, the “Marian” dimension of the Church actually does precede the “Petrine”.
“Of Mary, never enough” (De Maria numquam satis)