Mary – The Ark of the New Covenant

There is a teaching presented in the New Testament that Mary is the Ark of the (new) Covenant. Recall what the Ark of Covenant was in the Old Testament. It was a box of Acacia wood, covered  in gold. (See photo at right of a replica).  Inside it were placed: the two tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments. Also in it was the staff of Aaron, and a vile of the Manna. More importantly, in this box, this ark, dwelt the very Presence of God in Israel. God mysteriously dwelt within, much as is the case today in our understanding of the tabernacle in our Catholic Churches. Incredibly however the Ark was lost when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in 587 BC. It was never found again. Or was it? There is a scene in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation where it is rediscovered:

Rev 11:19ff Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Note that the Ark is seen. It has been found! John then seems to say nothing more of it. Or does he? He goes on to describe a beautiful woman who gives birth to a child who can be non other than Jesus. Thus the woman is Mary. A compelling case can be made that John has not shifted his attention away from the Ark of the Covenant but is in fact still describing it when he describes Mary. It makes sense that Mary would be described as the Ark of Covenant for she, like the Ark of old carries the very presence of God (Jesus) in her womb. She carries the presence of God in Israel every bit as much as did the ancient Ark. In fact she does so even more perfectly.

If this were the only place in the New Testament where Mary is described in this way, the whole interpretation might be dismissed as fanciful. Nevertheless Luke also describes Mary in this way (see next page) which helps give reinforcement to the idea that John here also intends for us to link Mary with the Ark of the Covenant.

St. Luke presents the tradition that Mary is the Ark of the Covenant by presenting a series of parallelisms. In other words he takes what was said of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and re-presents it but as applied to Mary. Observe the two texts in parallel columns below: (Note especially the bold texts)



(2 Sam 6:1-20) David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. {2} And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baalejudah, 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. {3} And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart {4} with the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. {5} And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. {6} And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. {7} And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. {8} And David was angry because the LORD had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Perezuzzah, to this day. {9} And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” {10} So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of Obededom the Gittite. {11} And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months; and the LORD blessed Obededom and all his household. {12} And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obededom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obededom to the city of David with rejoicing; {13} and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. {14} And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. {15} So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn…


 (Luke 1:39-47,56) In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, {40} and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. {41} And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit {42} and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! {43} And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? {44} For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. {45} And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” {46} And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, {47} and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.



 Note the following similarities between the Ancient Ark of the Covenant and Mary’s Visit:

  1. David Arose and went…Mary arose and went
  2. David went from Baal up to Judah…Mary went from Nazareth up to the Hill country of Judah
  3. David says How can the Ark of the Lord come to me…Elizabeth says Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?
  4. David Dances before the ark…John the Baptist leaps (dances) for Joy in the womb of his mother.
  5. The text in 2 Sam 6 describe the cries of the people which accompany the ark…Luke describes the cry of Elizabeth for Joy.

All these similarities paint of picture. Luke wants us to recall a story of the Ancient Ark of the Covenant now retold in the context of a visit of Mary, the Mother of God. What the Ark of the Covenant was in the Old Testament (that which carried the presence of God in Israel) Mary is now in the New Covenant. The teaching is inescapable. Luke and the Holy Spirit want us to understand that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark has been found an it is Mother Mary. Note too an important contrast. When David brought the Ark up to Jerusalem there was great fear mixed in with the joy. In the new story however as Mary carries Jesus in her womb, mercy is front and center and there is only joy.

9 Replies to “Mary – The Ark of the New Covenant”

  1. Does anyone there have an insight into why God would kill Uzzah given his good intentions in stopping the ark from falling. Remember that Christ approvingly noted that David and those with him when they were hungry ate the loaves of proposition in the temple which no man can eat except the priests. Why was God against Uzzah’s act but for David’s act within the same generation.

    1. There were lots of problems evident that deadly day. First of all the Ark was to be carried on poles only by the priests, it was also to be covered with a cloth (Ex 37:5; Num 4:6) There were no instructions that the ark should ever be put in a wagon or cart. Hence the tipping Ark was preventable. As for his good intentions, there are many who think that they will be justified by their good intentions apart from whether or not they follow God’s law or even bother to learn what God commands. I don’t necesarily mean you personally Bill. But this is a common attitude, a common error today. Just to illustrate that good intentions alone cannot grant me access, the other day I placed the wrong key in the rectory door. Now my intentions were good. I thought I was doing the right thing. But the lock wouldn’t turn despite my intentions. More than good intentions are required. Hence what we have in the story in 2 Samuel 2 is a bad situation. God’s instructions are ignored and this leads to a tragic incident. Another truth contained in this story is the radical holiness of God. Man cannot endure the holy presence of God without radical transformation available only through the sanctifying Grace of Jesus Christ. Hence, as Uzzah reaches out to touch the Ark he is not capable of such a touch and experiences the radical incompatibility of man’s sin in contact with God’s holiness. You might say he gets quite a jolt. The poles were clearly called for in carrying the Ark by God’s command for this reason. We must presume that the Ark had been lifted up on the cart with the poles I suppose. As Israel’s understanding of God’s holiness increased, or perhaps its sin grew worse it was not possible even to look on the Ark. Once the Ark was placed in the Temple the High priest dared not look upon in and entered the Holy of Holies with thick incense to avoid a glance. Further a rope was tied around his ankle, so that, if he were struck dead in there they could drag him out without having to go in there! All of this seems extreme to us moderns but it was a powerful indication of God’s absolute holiness. Granted Jesus has opened a way for us to the Father but we ought not get too casual here. God is still HOLY and as the Book of Hebrews says, “We must strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:10)

  2. Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

    I also love to meditate on the silence that was placed on Zechariah. Upon going into the Holy of Holies he was struck dumb, due of course to his disbelief. However, in God’s mercy, the Holy of Holies comes to him through Mary. There is in the household, now, an enforced silence – almost a monastic silence – as all of the parties contemplate the Great Mystery that is enfolding in their lives.

  3. Beautiful, thank you.
    Our tainted nature’s solitary boast! We’re non-immaculate, but yet not vile either!
    I believe the ampoule vessel is spelled vial (from phial via French, Latin and Greek) of manna!

  4. Msgr.Pope
    Thank you for the reply…but what of the opposite and contrasting example that I gave of Christ…when queried as to why He and the disciples picked grain as they walked on the Sabbath….Christ commending David and those with him for eating the loaves of proposition which no man can eat but the priests when they were hungry?

    1. I’ll try to answer more thoroughly later since I’m running out the door now. But two quick thoughts: Sabbath laws and the eating of the show bread were not exactly on par with touching the ark. Christ argues that many Sabbath laws are cluttered with human interpretations and have thus missed the mark that the Sabbath was made ofr man. As regards the showbread and priestly food I am less aware of all the regulations. A second point is that Christ clearly inaugurates a kingdom of Grace by his blood and hence we are more “able” by his grace to apprach the Father with confidience. Hence, Christ’s relaxation of the more stringent matters may be indicative of his ushering the Kingdom of God which has graces unavailable to the men of old. What say you?

  5. A well presented article. I very much appreciate the close links you draw between 2 Samuel 6 and the Visitation scene. I’ve been drawing more details about how deep these links go from many sites online talking about the Scriptures, and you’ve given me some pieces I didn’t find anywhere else. Thank-you very much!

  6. You might want to edit this so it says, “vial of manna” not “vile.” I’m sure you mean the former and not the latter.
    Beautiful replica of the ark. Very impressive to see it in a setting with the curtains, lampstand and table of show bread.

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