At a pre-Christmas party last evening my favorite Catholic Sunday School teacher was explaining about the significance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Old Testament. It all has to do with overshadowing, arks and angel wings.
See, the Ark of the Covenant is that gold covered wooden box which was the throne of God which rested first in the tabernacle and later in Holy of Holies in the temple. Yes, the one that Indiana Jones found buried in Egypt in the movie (only that was pretend). The ark held the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna–the Bread from heaven–and Aaron’s staff which had budded miraculously. On top of the box was a lid topped with images of two angels with their wings spread out to touch each other in a gesture of overshadowing protection for the covenant box and its contents.
The Ark of the Covenant is, of course, an ancient archetype (no pun intended) for the Blessed Virgin. The Ark contained the tablets of the Word of God. She was the bearer of the Word Incarnate. The Ark contained the manna of the wilderness. She held in her womb the Bread of Life. The Ark held the budding staff of Aaron. Within her was the spring of new life from the stump of Jesse. That she is the Ark of the Covenant is seen in Revelation 11-12 where, in John’s vision of heaven, he sees the Ark of the Covenant, and immediately afterwards sees the sign of the woman in heaven clothed with the sun who bears the child who rules with the rod of iron.
So the angels overshadow the Ark of the Covenant. Then there is that interesting story of Ruth in the Old Testament. You may remember that the young widow Ruth was entitled to marry her kinsman Boaz, who would look after her. According to custom she presented herself to him, and as a sign of his acceptance of her he takes her under his cloak. Now, the Hebrew word for a cloak is the same as ‘angel wings’ and is the same root as the word ‘to overshadow’. As a sign of betrothal, Boaz “overshadowed” her with his cloak.
Jump forward to the Annunciation and we see that the angel says “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This “overshadowing” therefore alludes to the angel wings, and to Boaz’ cloak of betrothal and to the wings of the angels that overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant. Thus in one little word the full imagery of the Old Testament prophecies about the Blessed Mother are brought to fulfillment. Also, we see why that curious (and seemingly superfluous) story of Ruth was included in the Old Testament.
So, to those non Catholics who protest that there is not much about Mary in the Bible–she is there woven through the Scriptures through symbol and sign and archetype. Mary the Ark of the Covenant, who bears the Word of God Incarnate, the Bread of Life, is overshadowed by the angels–the powerful messengers of the Lord. Ruth–the type of the virtuous bride–is overshadowed by the cloak of Boaz–bringing forward the nuptial imagery in which the Virgin becomes the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church–which in turn points forward to the nuptial imagery of the Church as the Bride of Christ.
And all of this captured in the moment when the Angel and the Girl are met. For more learned details on this go to Christian’s blog: Smaller Manhattans.