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Mary—the New Ark of the Covenant

If we pay close attention to the references in the Old Testament, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth could surely nourish our faith. The encounter begins with: “She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (v.40) and “the Baptist leapt for joy” (v.41). 

The Jews of that time like today’s, when they meet, greet each other with: Shalom-Peace. The prophet, Isaiah, called the Messiah the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:5). 

On the lips of Mary the word peace is a solemn proclamation. It is the announcement that the awaited Messiah has come into the world and with him the reign of peace spoken of by the prophets has begun. 

Elizabeth says, “How is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (v.43). It was uttered by David on a highly solemn occasion, when the ark of the covenant in which he believed the Lord was present was transferred to Jerusalem. 

In receiving it, the king exclaimed: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9).

There are also other significant details that put the visit of Mary in parallel with the story of the ark of the covenant. 

Both Mary and the ark remained three months in a house of Judea. The ark is received with dancing, shouts of joy, songs of celebration and is a source of blessing for the family that welcomes it (2 Samuel 6:10-11) and Mary’s entering the house of Zechariah causes the young John to leap for joy.

Anywhere Mary—the new Ark of the Covenant—comes, there is an explosion of joy: the Baptist leaps for joy (v.41), Elizabeth shouts her joy at being visited by the Lord (v.42) and the poor rejoice, because the time of their liberation has come (vv.46-48).

It is joy that characterises the messianic times. Zechariah will experience it and will bless the Lord because “he has come and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). 

It will be announced by the angel to the shepherds: “I am here to give you good news, great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). 

Simeon will rejoice when he takes the child in his arms and contemplates with his eyes “salvation which you display for all the people to see, the light you will reveal to the nations” (Luke 2:29-32). 

 “Blessed is she who believed” (v.45). This is the first beatitude that is encountered in the Gospel of St. Luke. 

Take note that is formulated in the third person (not Blessed are you …). This indicates that blessedness is not reserved for Mary, but extended to all who trust the word of the Lord.  

Authentic faith—that which Mary shows—does not need visions, demonstrations or verification. It is based on listening to the word and manifests itself in an unconditional adherence to this word.

The gospel passage ends with the first verses of the hymn of praise to the Lord that Luke has put on the lips of Mary (the Magnificat). Mary is the first to realise the wonders worked by the Lord and sings them. God turns his eyes to those who count for nothing, the despised, barren, unproductive and pitiful. 

Mary understood that God’s gaze is not drawn by merit or spiritual perfection, but by human need. Luke places himself among the poor and interprets their feelings of gratitude.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications