Damien F. Mackey
“In our modern Bibles, there is a chapter division between the appearance of the Ark of the Covenant and the description of the “woman clothed with the sun.” But chapter divisions were added in the Middle Ages to make the books of the Bible easier to refer to. John did not make any divisions: he wrote straight through from Revelation 11:19 to Revelation 12:1 without a break”.
The human activity discussed in Part Three (i), of ‘cleaving across the real structure’ of things, for some legitimate utilitarian purpose, rather than patiently studying ‘the thing as it is in itself’ (Immanuel Kant’s das Ding an sich), is apparent from the artificial re-arranging of the Book of Genesis into 50 chapters each consisting of multiple verses – whereas the book in-itself naturally falls into those eleven toledot (‘family history) divisions as discussed in my:
Structure of the Book of Genesis
Today we would be hard put to live without those familiar chapters and verses, artificial though they be, which can serve as a handy mnemonic device and points of reference. However they, because they are artificial, can also have the unfortunate effect of hindering one from properly grasping the original intention and meaning of the author(s) of the text.
This is well exemplified when we turn from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, to the last, Revelation. Dr. Scott Hahn, writing of what he calls “The Ark of the New Covenant”, explains how St. John the Evangelist’s intended meaning gets completely lost due to the thematic discontinuity caused by the artificial division of Revelation’s Chapters 11-12 (https://stpaulcenter.com/studies/lesson/lesson-three-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant):
A. The Ark Reappears in Heaven
Luke uses parallel language and images to make his point. But John, the author of Revelation, tells us directly that he saw the Ark of the Covenant – the holy object that had been lost since Jeremiah’s time – in a vision.
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. A great sign appeared in the sky, 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 and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth” (see Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 12:1-2).
This is a strange string of images, almost overwhelming – like much of the book of Revelation. But certainly the statement that the Ark of the Covenant was visible must have caught the attention of the first people who heard the vision.
If the Ark had been seen, then the time Jeremiah spoke of must have come: the time when “God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy,” the time when “the glory of the Lord will be seen in the cloud, just as it appeared in the time of Moses” (see 2 Maccabees 7-8)
And indeed the sights and sounds are the same as in the time of Moses – storm and earthquake:
“There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm” (see Revelation 11:19).
“On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled . . . Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the LORD came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (see Exodus 19:16, 18)
Naturally, we want to hear more about the rediscovered Ark of the Covenant. And John goes on to describe what he sees: “a woman clothed with the sun” (see Revelation 12:1).
In our modern Bibles, there is a chapter division between the appearance of the Ark of the Covenant and the description of the “woman clothed with the sun.” But chapter divisions were added in the Middle Ages to make the books of the Bible easier to refer to. John did not make any divisions: he wrote straight through from Revelation 11:19 to Revelation 12:1 without a break.
In the dream-like but deeply significant logic of John’s vision, the Ark of the Covenant is “a woman clothed with the sun.”
B. The Woman Clothed With the Sun
And who is this woman?
“She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth ” (see Revelation 12:2).
“She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne” (see Revelation 12:5).
The one destined to rule the nations with an iron rod (a shepherd’s rod) is the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah or Christ (see Psalm 2). The “woman clothed with the sun,” whom John sees when he looks at the Ark of the Covenant, is the Mother of the Christ.
C. What Makes Mary the Ark of the New Covenant?
The Ark of the Covenant was the sign of God’s real presence among His people. In Jesus Christ, born of Mary, God was really present among his people in an even more direct way.
The Ark held the Word of God written in stone. Mary bore the Word of God in flesh.
The Ark held the bread from heaven, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Mary bore the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ (see John 6:48-50).
The Ark contained the rod of Aaron, symbol of his priesthood. Mary bore Jesus Christ, our High Priest (see Hebrews 3:1).
If the Ark of the Covenant was holy, then by the same standards Mary is even holier. As Mother of God, she is the Ark of the New Covenant, bearing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Bread of Life, our great High Priest. That is not a re-interpretation of the Gospel: it is a truth made clear by the New Testament writers themselves.
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For more on this fascinating subject, see the following article:
‘The Marian Dimension’. Part Three: Mary as New Ark of Covenant