GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay, now you might still be thinking, “Well, okay Dr. Pitre, what does any of that have to do with the Assumption of Mary? Okay, I can see how she’s the new Ark of the Covenant, but what’s the relationship between that and the feast today?” Well, in order to see that, you have to go to the first readings. Let’s look at the Gospel in light of the first reading. And in this case, the first reading isn’t from the Old Testament. It’s from the book of Revelation 12 — actually, chapter 11 and 12. It’s the end of 11, starting with verse 19, going into the beginning of chapter 12. This is John the Evangelist or sometimes you’ll hear him called John the Revelator — that’s an old phrase. But John the author of the Apocalypse, this is his vision of the heavenly Ark of the Covenant.
Now before I read this vision, let me just put it into context for a second here. In first century Judaism, everyone understood that after David put the Ark in the temple (and Solomon built the temple) that the Ark remained there for hundreds of years until the sixth century before Christ. Because in the sixth century, the Babylonians came and they destroyed the temple. They burned Jerusalem to the ground.
And according to the book of Maccabees — 2 Maccabees 2 — before the temple was destroyed, Jeremiah the prophet (who was also a priest) took the Ark of the Covenant out of the temple, because he knew the Babylonians were coming to destroy it, and he brought it to Mount Nebo, which is the mountain that Moses had gone up to see the Promised Land. It’s on the eastern side of the river Jordan. It’s not Mount Sinai in the Arabian desert. This is Mount Nebo, which overlooked the Promised Land where Moses saw the Promised Land, but he died on that mountain. He didn’t get to go in.
So Jeremiah brings the Ark … he goes east across the Jordan, brings it to Mount Nebo, and he hides it there in the mountain in a cave. And 2 Maccabees 2 tells us that Jeremiah said that the location of that Ark would remain hidden until God revealed His mercy and until the glory cloud came down again from Heaven.
So if you fast forward to the time of Jesus, these traditions about the Ark of the Covenant, they were well known. Everybody would have known, number one, that there was no Ark in the temple … that the temple rebuilt after the Babylonian exile was missing something really important. It was missing the Ark of the Covenant. It would be today like you going into St. Peter’s in Rome and there being no tabernacle, no Blessed Sacrament. It would still be a holy place, still be a beautiful place, but it would be empty of the thing that most makes it holy — the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Same thing was true of the temple. It was a holy place, sacrifices were offered there, but there was no Ark.
The second thing that every Jew knew at the time of Christ was that one day the Ark would come back. According to Jeremiah’s prophecy in 2 Maccabees, its location would be revealed. But nobody knew exactly what had happened to it, because when Jeremiah puts it in the cave, the location of the cave disappears. People can’t find it. They don’t know … it miraculously disappears.
So there was this expectation that one day, the location of the Ark would be revealed. And of course that led to this day, to the quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant is a very popular theme. So what happens in Revelation 11 is that John sees where the Ark is; its location is unveiled to him. And the location that it gives here is not of the earthly Ark of Mount Nebo. It’s of an Ark in Heaven. This is what he sees, and this is the reading for today, Revelation 11:19. He says this:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple…
Okay, pause here for just a second. In order to understand this verse, you have to understand that in ancient Judaism, the idea was that the earthly temple was a kind of replica or analogy of the true temple that was in Heaven. And just as in the earthly temple, the Ark of the Covenant is within the Holy of Holies (the innermost sanctuary), so too when John says he saw the temple open, what he’s really seeing is the doors of the temple open. And he’s able to see all of the way into the Holy of Holies. And what he sees in there is the Ark within his temple.
But it’s not the earthly temple; it’s the temple in Heaven. So that’s what’s going on here. Now what’s fascinating about this is as soon as John sees the Ark in the temple in Heaven, all of a sudden the image switches and now he sees a woman in Heaven, almost as if the two images are superimposed on one another. It’s something that happens frequently in the book of Revelation, where John will sometimes use two symbols to describe one reality. And scholars have suggested this, that the Ark and the woman are just two ways of talking about this one reality.
So once he’s seen the Ark in Heaven in the temple, now all of a sudden he sees a woman in Heaven. And this is what he says:
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 and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God…
Then it skips down to verse 10:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come…
Okay, so what’s going on here? Why is this the first reading for the feast of the Solemnity of the Assumption? And the answer is simple. If Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant on Earth — at the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadows her like it overshadowed the Ark and God begins to dwell in her in Christ — then when John sees this mysterious apocalyptic vision of the Ark in Heaven and of a woman in Heaven who is the mother of the Messiah and who’s wearing a crown of twelves stars (she’s a heavenly queen), since ancient times, this vision has been interpreted as a vision of Mary in Heaven as mother of the Messiah … and not just as the mother but as the heavenly Ark of the Covenant.
And I’ll quote from ancient writers in just a second, but I just want to help you understand that. If you think about it in this way, if Mary’s body is the dwelling place of God on Earth — if Mary’s body is the true Ark of the Covenant, then it's fitting that at the end of her life, that body, that sacred Ark, would not remain on Earth in a human grave or a human tomb, but that it would be taken up to its rightful place in the heavenly Holy of Holies in the heavenly temple of God. That’s the logic of choosing this vision of the heavenly Ark of the Covenant on the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Because she’s not just the mother of the Messiah; she’s also the Ark of the Covenant. And the Ark of the Covenant isn’t just her soul, it’s her body. So all of us, ordinary Christians, when we die our hope is that our soul will enter into Heaven and that on the last day we will receive our bodies in the resurrection of the dead. But the Church teaches that Mary has a singular gift. Because her body was the Ark of the Covenant on Earth, it’s fitting that her body and her soul would be caught up into Heaven to dwell in the heavenly Holy of Holies in the heavenly temple with Christ for all eternity … and that what John is giving us here in this vision is an apocalyptic description of Mary that reveals her to be (among other things) the queen mother of the kingdom of God and
the true Ark of the Covenant.
So again, I know I don’t have time to get into this in detail. Please, I cover all this in depth in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary
. You can check it out there. For now, that’s just the basic point. Now that’s the first reading for today. What about the responsorial psalm...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Now you might be thinking, or at least I was certainly thinking when I was trying to prepare this video … What does this have to do with Mary’s Assumption into Heaven? So let me give you a few clues here to what the Church is thinking when She selected this particular passage from Paul. First, notice the importance of Adam — very important. This is one of those passages where Paul says:
For as by a man came death…
And in saying that, he’s alluding — like he does in Romans 5 also — to the coming of sin and death into the world through the transgression of Adam. So this is an allusion to Adam. And he’s drawing a kind of typological contrast between Adam and the Old Testament and Christ and the New Testament. So as by Adam, death came into the world (one man), so through Christ (one man) the Resurrection of the dead is coming into the world.
So this is a classic example of Paul’s assumption (that he frequently operates) of two creations, the old creation and the new creation — two spheres of reality. The old creation is the sphere of reality that is under the power of Adam, and it’s under the sphere of Adam’s sin and the tragic consequences of Adam’s transgression. It’s the fallen world around us that we see.
And then the realm of Christ or the new creation is what begins on Easter Sunday morning when Christ rises from the dead and ushers in a whole new phase of human history, but also a new kind of body — His glorified body — which is the first fruits of the new creation, the beginning of the new creation.
And so what Paul is saying here is just as everyone who is in Adam (part of the mystical body of Adam) dies because of Adam’s sin, so too in Christ everyone who is part of the Mystical Body of Christ will be made alive through the power of His Resurrection. And Christ is the first fruits of that resurrection. Just like the Jews in the temple in the spring would chop down the first sheaf of grain and they’d bring it and offer it up to God as the first fruits of the harvest, but then later on they go and gather the rest of the grain in the fullness of the harvest, so too Christ is the first fruits of the Resurrection of the dead. He experiences in the middle of time what the rest of humanity will experience at the end of time in the final harvest of the resurrection of the dead.
Very important point for us to remember, that Jews were waiting for the resurrection of the dead, but they were waiting for it to happen at the end of time, at the end of the old creation. And what’s mysterious about what ended up happening is that Christ, when Jesus was raised from the dead, what the Jews expected to happen to everyone at the end of time, happens to one person in the middle of time. So He’s like the first sheaf of grain that’s cut down and then raised up to new life. He’s the beginning of the resurrection of the dead, but not because He’s the only one who will be raised from the dead, but as a sign as of what will happen to everyone at the end of time … and not just at the end of time. You actually see in the Gospel of Matthew, he says:
… the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised … (Matthew 27:52)
And they appeared in the city to many. So in a sense, Jesus’ Resurrection sets off a chain reaction that will come to its full completion in the new creation at the final judgment in the resurrection of the dead.
And when that happens, at His parousia
, as Paul says:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-27a)
And here’s where I think the link is with Mary, because the image of putting an enemy under your feet or crushing them under your feet is an allusion all the way back to the book of Genesis, the famous prophecy of the war between the woman and the serpent. So if you go back to Genesis 3:15, there’s this famous prophecy called the Protoevangelium,
or the First Gospel. It’s in the words of God to the serpent, which He curses after the first transgression of Adam, when He says these words. He says in verse 15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
So there’s this battle between the woman and the serpent, and between the woman’s offspring and serpent’s offspring. And it says that the offspring of the woman is going to crush the head of the serpent under his foot. So it’s an image of subjection. So if you look at ancient Christian writers, ancient Church Fathers, you look at the Doctors of the Church, they all saw this as a prophecy not just of the coming of Christ the Messiah (who would overthrow the works of the devil) but also of the Mother of the Messiah who would give birth to the One who would crush the head of the serpent.
And so in my book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary
, again I cover this in much more depth in the chapter on Mary as the new Eve. What I show there is that just as Christ is the one man, the new Adam through whom salvation comes into the world, so too Mary is the new Eve, the one woman who is in herself the beginning of the new creation. This is so very important.
So if Christ is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve, then just as Christ tastes the gift of the Resurrection and the glory of the life to come before everyone else in advance, as a sign of the beginning of the new creation, so too in Mary’s bodily Assumption, in the fact that her body and soul are incorruptible and assumed into Heaven, it means that Mary as the new Eve gets to experience now what we will all experience in the Resurrection at the end of time. She’s an eschatologial sign of the fact that resurrection of the body isn’t just for Jesus; it’s also for other human beings. It isn’t just for the God Man; it’s for ordinary human beings.
And although Mary is not an ordinary human being, she is fully human. She is just a creature, and yet she participates in the glory of the Resurrection and the life of the world to come in her body now, already. So if He’s the first fruits of the Resurrection, she’s like a second sheaf. She gets to taste it in advance.
And you can see this understanding of Mary as the new Eve is everywhere in the ancient Church Fathers, but let me give you a couple of quotes just as an example. So St. Ireneaus of Lyons, this is in the 2nd century AD around 180 AD. He’s only one generation removed from the apostles. He says this:[T]he knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.
For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.
That’s from his Against Heresies
, book 3.22. Then St. Jerome of Stridon, great biblical scholar, late 4th, early 5th century said famously:
Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.
That’s Jerome’s letter. Now some people might react saying, “Whoa, that’s going too far. Life comes through Christ, not through Mary.” And Jerome here is, of course, he knows that. But he’s talking about Christ Himself, because Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14), how does He come into this world? He comes into this world through Mary. So if He is the new Adam, she is the new Eve.
But notice things are reversed. In the first order of creation, Adam comes first, and then Eve comes into the world through Adam, because she’s created from his side in Genesis 2. But in the new creation, Eve comes first, and the new Adam comes through her, comes from her. So life comes into the world through Eve. So this is beautiful typology that Jerome has given us.
And then finally — this is important...
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