Why Our Lady Loves Processions
Early traditional stories about the Blessed Virgin Mary tell us that Our Lady was presented in the Temple at the age of three, where she served for about twelve years before returning to her parents. There she lived in the special lodgings for those dedicated to the divine service, those who attended the priests and levites in their sacred ministry (3Kgs 6:5-9).
Being of deep wisdom and highest intelligence, she learned quickly, taking part in the Temple worship according to her age and station. No doubt she listened carefully to the biblical stories told by the Temple teachers. She must have taken particular delight in the stories of the Ark of the Covenant, observing that it was made of incorruptible wood overlaid with gold, and that the tablets of the Law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai were kept inside the Ark, as well as a golden vessel containing some of the manna they had eaten in the desert. Perhaps we may dare to interpret her thoughts.
Mary’s heart was filled with both joy and holy fear as she thought of the Spirit of God overshadowing the Ark as it was brought to the place prepared for it in the tent of meeting in the desert. She thought of the Ark going before the people into battle, and of the parting of the waters of the Jordan when the Ark was carried before the people as they passed over into the Promised Land (Jos 3:14-17). She was filled with awe as she thought of the Ark being carried around the city of Jericho in procession for seven days, and of the walls tumbling down at the sound of the trumpets and the shouts of the people (Jos 6:6-21).
Mary was especially fond of the story about the journey of the Ark to the tent King David had prepared for it in Jerusalem. The Ark had fallen into the hands of the Philistines, who had a series of misfortunes until they realized that the Ark must return to its rightful guardians. Mary followed the Ark in her imagination as it began its journey through the Judean hill country. How tragic that someone, Oza by name, had touched the Ark to steady it, paying with his life for this forbidden sacrilegious act. King David, troubled at the incident, questioned, “How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” And so the Ark stopped at the house of Obededom the Gethite, where it remained for three months, during which Obededom and his whole household were blessed. David then allowed the Ark to continue its journey on its way to Jerusalem (2Kgs 6).
Mary imagined herself among the crowds as the Ark reached the holy city accompanied by a procession of priests and levites, musicians and singers, followed by waves of excited people, while David the King, filled with spiritual joy, danced before the Ark of the Lord with all his might. “And David and all the house of Israel brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord with joyful shouting, and with sound of trumpet” (2Kgs 6:14,15). Mary loved processions.
But there was always a part of the story of the Ark that saddened Mary. The Ark was the most treasured possession of the Israelites, and was kept in the sanctuary of King Solomon’s Temple. At the fall of Jerusalem, in 587 B.C., the Ark disappeared from history, hidden in a cave by the Prophet Jeremiah, who declared: “The place shall be unknown till God gather together the congregation of the people and receive them to mercy” (2Macc.2:7). Surely the Ark would return, thought Mary, before the birth of the Messiah in the time of mercy.
Mary returned to the home of her parents, Joachim and Anne, and was eventually betrothed to the just and holy man, Joseph, of the house of David. One day while she was deep in prayer, the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and greeted her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” He told her that she was to become the Mother of God’s only-begotten Son, Who was to be the long expected Messiah and Savior of His people. “How shall this be,” said Mary, “because I do not know man?” She thought of the Ark, which no man was to touch. “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you,” replied the Angel. And Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:26-38).
As the Angel disappeared, his mission completed, Mary had only one thought – she would go immediately to visit her beloved cousin Elizabeth, who was herself with child. Mary rose up and set out on her journey through the Judean hill country. Why did she feel that she had traveled this way before? She took no notice of the procession of adoring angels that accompanied her to protect her and the precious burden she now carried. As she approached her cousin’s house, Elizabeth rushed out to meet her. Mary found the words of Elizabeth strangely familiar – “And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1:43). Elizabeth told Mary that the child in her womb leaped for joy at the sound of her greeting – John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, like a tiny David, dancing before the Ark of the New Covenant. Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zachary for three months. And they and their whole household were blessed (Lk.1:39-56).
St. Luke in his Gospel was the first to portray Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. St. John made the same connection in his Apocalypse, picturing the Ark in Heaven: “And the temple of God in heaven was opened, and there was seen the ark of his covenant in his temple… And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” (Apoc.11:19-12:1).
Our Risen Lord was not content to leave His Holy Mother behind in this corrupt world after His Ascension. Pope Pius XII in speaking of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary says that “some have employed the words of the psalmist: ‘Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified’; and have looked upon the Ark of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord's temple, as a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven” (Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950, #26).
In these dark days, Our Lady, Ark of the New Covenant, goes before us into battle against our enemy, the devil, just as the ancient Ark went before the Israelites. “Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, ‘Arise, O Lord, that your enemies may be scattered, and those who hate you may flee before you’” (Num.10:35).
And our Heavenly Mother still loves processions. She is filled with joy when she sees her children following her statue, praying and singing hymns, their hearts dancing for joy in the presence of the Holy Ark who carried Christ the Lord. And Moses might still say: ‘Arise, O Lord, that your enemies may be scattered, and those who hate you may flee before you’” (Num.10:35).