The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the day on which the Western Church commemorates the events depicted in chapter 1, verses 39-56 of St. Luke’s Gospel. Informed the by Angel Gabriel that her kinswoman Elizabeth has conceived in her old age and will bear a child, the Blessed Virgin Mary traveled to the hill country of Judea to see Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah. As soon as the Mother of Our Lord entered into the house, the baby who would be remembered as St. John the Baptist “leaped for joy,” and then, filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth spoke out and proclaimed,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.’”
Upon hearing these words, the Blessed Virgin Mary proclaimed one of the very first hymns in the Christian Church, the beautiful canticle known as The Magnificat. The reader is then told that the two women remain together for three months before the Blessed Virgin Mary returned home.
This passage of Scripture is a deep mine of treasures which could become the subject of a year’s worth of messages. The Magnificat itself could provide months worth of exhortation and encouragement even before one made comparisons to the Song of Hannah in I Samuel 2. Yet somewhere deep in the mines of this passage is a gem that is hidden in two simple phrases and informs us about the truth of the identity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lord, and even ourselves.
Saint Elizabeth says, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43) St.Luke tells us, “Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.” (v. 56) Neither of these passages is particularly striking on their own until one realizes that each bear a striking similarity to a passage in II Samuel 6. In that passage David has defeated the Philistines and reclaimed the lost Ark of the Covenant. After his first (and fatal) attempt to move the Ark, David cries out saying, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (v. 9) David was afraid to move the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem and, therefore, “The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months.” (v. 11)
The second of the two pairings is very straightforward. Both the Ark of the Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary remained in the hill country of Judea for three months. The first of these pairings, on the other hand, is hardly identical, but are rather what we would call parallel. They are structured similarly and convey similar meanings although they use slightly different wordings. Consider the passages like so:
How can the ark of the LORD come to me?
But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Essentially you have an interrogatory phrase (“How” vs. “Why…”) that precedes “the _______ of the Lord [should] come to me.” In II Samuel, it is the Ark of the Lord; in St. Luke’s Gospel, it is “the mother of my Lord.” Could Saint Luke be suggesting that the Blessed Virgin Mary is somehow like the Ark of the Covenant?
What was the Ark of the Covenant? For those who have not seen Raiders of the Lost Ark in a great while, the Ark of the Covenant was the ornate box within which the Jews carried the two stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. The description of the Ark itself, complete with its two cherubim whose wings cover the Ark, can be found in Exodus 25:10-22. While the Ark of the Covenant contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, some interpret passages in the Books of Moses to mean that the Ark also contained a jar of manna which the Lord had provided as well as Aaron’s staff which had budded as a symbol of his election to the High Priesthood. (Exodus 16:33-34; Numbers 17:10-11). These additional contents are also mention by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (4:9)
Now, in a way, Jesus overshadows each of these objects. The Prophet Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of the Lord declared,
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (31:31-33)
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes it expressly clear that this very passage pertains to Jesus Christ. (See Hebrews 8 and following)
Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Our Lord informs the crowd, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” (St. John 6:41) In doing so, Jesus is responding to concerns which have arisen from one of His earlier teachings. Jesus had previous proclaimed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:32-33) Our Lord told His listeners that He was the manna. The bread which sustained their fathers in the wilderness was only a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ who would ultimately give His blessed body to be the manna of the Eucharistic feast.
Finally, the Rod of Aaron represented both his priestly anointing and authority, as seen in Numbers 17, and his priestly-pastoral role, since shepherds always carried a rod to herd their flocks (recall Psalm 23:1, 4). Of course, we remember that Our Lord declared that He was (and is) “The Good Shepherd” (St. John10:11) and we also remember that, according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is our “Great High Priest.” (4:14; 9:11) Once again, the contents of the Ark of the Covenant foreshadow the coming of and nature of Jesus Christ.
In a recent article, I discussed the word “type” in its religious context. (click HERE for that article.) Each of the various elements contained in Ark of the Covenant is a type of Christ. They represent and foreshadow some aspect of His character. As such, the Ark of the Covenant, which contained all three of those elements, is a type as well. Rather than being a type of Christ, the Ark of the Covenant is a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who contained within her womb the fulfillment of each of those Old Testament types. Thus, St. Elizabeth need not have changed the words which she (knowingly or otherwise and under the influence of the Holy Spirit in either case) borrowed from King David. When the Blessed Virgin Mary came into her own, St. Elizabeth could have rightly asked, “How can the Ark of the LORD come to me?”
Father in heaven, by whose grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.