The Nine Choirs of Angels

Stan-William Ede

“The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith, and the witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 328).

The word “angel” is from the Latin word angelus and the Greek word aggelos, translated from the Hebrew word malʼach, meaning “messenger” or “one who is deputed”. Angels are messengers of God (1 Kgs 19:5-7; Matt 1:20-25; 2:13, 19; 28:2-7 ; Lk 1:11-20, 26-38; Act 27:23-26), created in accordance with His divine plan and commissioned with a special purpose for the praise and service of God and to preside over the ordering of creation (cf. Lk 2:13; 1 Pet 1:12; Jde 1:6; Rev 7:11). They are purely spiritual creatures who are of a higher order than man (Ps 8:4-5; Lk 20:36) but inferior to Christ (Heb 1:4-5), and gifted with intelligence, knowledge (2 Sam 14:20) and will. They are innumerable (Heb 12:22), hence they are called the “heavenly hosts” (1 Sam 17:45) and vested with enormous power to defend and protect God’s people (Ex 14:19; 2 Kgs 19:35; Ps 34:7; 35:5-6; Isa 37:36; Dan 12:1; Act 5:9). Angels are called “holy ones” (Ps 89:5, 7) because of their pure state and distinguished moral character.

Beside the copious amount of biblical passages and references which clearly show how angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, theologians through the course of the centuries have sought to describe the identity of the angels via a taxonomy of nine choirs, each group charged with its own specific roles and duties.

Following the biblical references to these heavenly beings, arriving at this number of choirs is not far-fetched. As we have seen above, “angels” are mentioned everywhere in the Bible. The term “archangels” occur in 1 Thess 4:15 and Jude 1:9, and they are said also to be the mystic seven who stand before God and present the prayer of the saints (cf. Tob 12:15; Lk 1:19). References to “Cherubim” are found in Gen 3:24; Ez 10:1-22, etc., while “Seraphim” appear especially in Isa 6:1-7. Then we have the two lists of names presented by St. Paul. He tells us in Eph 1:21 that Christ was raised up “above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Dominion”. Then he says again in Col 1:16 that in Christ, “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether Thrones or Dominions, or Principalities or Powers.” When we combine the two Pauline lists along with those earlier mentioned, we get nine as the total number of choirs. It is worthy of note that when St. Paul also uses two of these names, principalities and powers in Col 2:15 to refer to some evil forces or power of darkness, he means the fallen angels (cf. Rev. 12:7-9), who may have originally belonged to the either of these groups of the holy ones before they were cast out of heaven.

The most popular grouping of angels is based on the schema of three tripartite hierarchies (i.e. three orders/categories with three choirs each) drawn up by St. Denis the Areopagite (cf. De Caelesti Hierarchia) in the 4th-5th Century and St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa Theologica) in the 13th Century. Drawn upon the Bible, especially the New Testament, the classification by these authors comes up to the following:

(A.) First Order: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

(B.) Second Order: Dominions, Virtues and Powers.

(C.) Third Order: Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

The ranking into first, second or third order is more or less a matter of conjecture than revelation. It must be said that the Bible itself didn’t specify any hierarchy or rank among the angels. Likewise, the Church herself has never made any definitive pronouncement about a triangular structure of hierarchy or any other ranking structure among the heavenly hosts. Individual theologians and biblical commentators who do so may have based their hierarchical structures on certain descriptive inferences from the various scriptural references, such as, proximity to God or to the Divine throne. So, without any emphasis on rank or hierarchy, we rely on the Scripture to identify the nine choirs of angels, which will be expatiated on hereunder.

(1.) SERAPHIM: Their name is derived from the Hebrew word, seraph, plural seraphim, meaning “Burning Ones”. There is the saying that the charity of the Seraphim burns like white heat in a flame. In the call narrative of Prophet Isaiah (cf. Isa 6:1-7), the Seraphim are revealed as attendants and guardians or caretakers of God’s throne, whose lips are ever filled with chants of adoration and worship, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of Hosts” (Isa 6:3). Isaiah who was unworthy at the time was cleansed from his sins when one of the Seraphim took a live coal from the altar and with it touched his lips (cf. Isa 6:6-7). The Seraphim have six wings, covering their faces with two, their feet with two, while with the remaining two they fly (cf. Rev 4:6-8). The imagery presented by both scenes in the books of Isaiah and Revelation reveals the Seraphim as the closest to the throne of God. Their perception of God is of utmost intensity, the richest most possible for any created being, and they are endowed with the excellence of love, unmatched intellect and will.

(2.) CHERUBIM: There is quite a vast amount of biblical references to the Cherubim. When God drove the disobedient Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he set Cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). Like the Seraphim, they also surround the throne of God, and continuously praise God. They are closely linked with God’s glory and they symbolize the strength and vigour of the Divine Majesty. A comprehensive description of the Cherubim is found in Ezek 10:1-22. Following some aspects of Ezekiel’s description, to which allusion is made in Rev. 4:6-8, Cherubim have a man-like appearance and four conjoined wings. Along with this appearance, they have four faces, one each of a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle in flight (cf. (cf. Ezek 10:14, 21). This imagery was later adopted as the symbols of the four evangelists. Other references to Cherubim include 1 Kgs 6:23-28; 2 Chron 3:7-14; Ezek 10:12-14; 25:17-22; 28:14-16.

(3.) THRONES: Allusion to this group of angels called “Thrones” may be drawn from Ezek 10:17; Dan 7-9; Rev 11:16. But the most direct and clear reference is found in the list given by St. Paul in Col 1:16. The word itself is from the Greek word thronos, for they have the “throne” as one of their symbols of authority. They are also living symbols of God’s justice and authority, and are also known as the angels of pure Humility, Peace and Submission.

(4.) DOMINIONS: These are also known as “Lordships” taken from the Greek term Kyriotites which translates into Latin as Dominatio, plural Dominationes. The Dominions (also known as Dominations), are referred to as the “Angels of Leadership”, for they regulate the duties of some of the other groups of angels, and preside over nations. They make known the commands of God. Christian arts show them to look very much like beautiful humans with feathered wings.

(5.) VIRTUES: These are also known as “Strongholds”, and sometimes referred to as “the Shining Ones” for they are charged with the power to accomplish the ordering of nature (Eph 1:21). They function primarily to oversee the movement of the heavenly bodies and ensure that the cosmos maintains its order. Thus they have control over seasons, stars, moon; even the sun is subject to their command. In addition, they provide courage, grace and valour to humankind, and are in charge of miracles.

(6.) POWERS: The members of this choir are warrior angels who have the role of guarding the conscience and watching over history. Being bearers of conscience and keepers of history, they have the special duty to preside over the distribution of power among humankind. For this, they are called Potestas (pl. potestates) in Latin, which means “Power”. They fight against evil spirits who attempt to wreck havoc in the realm of humanity. By virtue of their role and power also, they are charged with the function of overseeing the execution of what has been divinely commanded. They also collaborate with some other choirs of angels in the aspect of ordering creation.

(7.) PRINCIPALITIES: These are also called “Rulers” (Eph 3:10), and they are shown in Christian art to wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. They collaborate effectively with the Dominions, and they impart blessings to the material world. They also collaborate in power and authority with the “Powers”, and function as guardians and educators of the realm of the earth. They oversee groups of people and direct their activities. Principalities are said to inspire living beings in the development of ideas and lead them to breakthroughs in the arts and sciences.

(8). ARCHANGELS: Earlier, we saw the meaning of angel as “messenger”. The prefix “arch” is from the Greek archē meaning “beginning”, “first”, “ruling power”, “first in order or power”. Simply put, an Archangel is a “chief messenger”. The word itself is used twice in the New Testament (cf. 1 Thess 4:16; Jde 1:9). In the mainstream of the biblical narratives and writings, three of the Archangels, Michael (Dan 10:13ff; 12:1), Gabriel (Dan 8:16; 9:21-27) and Raphael (Tob 5:4; 12:15) are mentioned by name in the Old Testament, while Michael (Jde 1:9; Rev. 12:7-9) and Gabriel (Lk 1:19, 26) are mentioned in the New Testament, although Raphael is generally identified as the angel who moved the waters of the healing pool in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1-4). It is therefore evident that Archangels have a unique role as God’s messengers to the people at critical times in history and salvation. They are the guardians of nations and countries (cf. Dan 12:1). Archangels may be of this or other choirs. For example, St. Michael is known as the supreme prince and leader of all the Angels, and who has been invoked as patron and protector of the Church from the time of the Apostles till the present.

(9.) ANGELS: These are the closest to the material world and to human beings, for they are the most recognized and most concerned with the affairs of living things. They are messengers to mankind. Also, they deliver the prayer of humans to God, and God answers them and sends them with other messages to humankind. They are also guardians to individuals and groups of people, and they ever ready to assist those who ask for help.

As we noted earlier, whatever taxomomical or functional category theologians and commentators impute to the existential state of angels, there remain some inscrutable strides in the entire string of human efforts to penetrate or wholly understand the fullness of God’s purpose and ordering of creation. Much of what we have is influenced by the hermeneutics of various biblical passages such as in Daniel 10:12-21 where various angels are termed “Princes” and having various districts allotted to every group of them.

However, it is pertinent to repeat that with regard to this matter of classification or hierarchical ordering amongst these heavenly beings, the Church has not made any definitive declaration. In other words, based upon the great influence of the works of the Scholastic theologians, the teaching regarding the classification of angels many have been received in the Church with an overwhelming unanimity, no proposition regarding a hierarchical structure or alternating roles is binding on our faith. However, Pope St. Gregory the Great gives us a clear idea of the view of the Church’s doctors when he drew upon the authority of Scripture to assert that: “There are Angels and Archangels as nearly every page of the Bible tells us; and the books of the Prophets talk about Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: ‘above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Dominion’; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: ’whether Thrones, or Dominions, or Principalities, or Powers’. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we fine Nine Orders of Angels.” (cf. Hom. 34, in Evang.). This view, just as we noted earlier, comes down to identification and not hierarchization. In order words, the great Pope and theologian identified the grouping of angels into choirs, but didn’t state any hierarchical or functional priority among them. All that discussion and knowledge is submitted to the Divine Will.

On the matter of angels from an overall perspective, the teaching of the Church is clearly laid out in sections 328 through 336 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Therein, the Church emphasizes that angels are God’s servants and messengers, reminding us of the “blessed company” we are intended to share with them.

Sacrificial Blood in the Economy of Redemption

Stan-William Ede

The simple definition of “sacrifice”, in the context of this article, is “the offering up of something precious and esteemed to God”. The very first time the bible explicitly talks about making an offering to God is in the story of Cain and Abel (cf. Gen 4:1-12). Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground while Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. While Cain’s offering was rejected, Abel’s offering was accepted and in it there was the shedding of blood. But even before this took place, God himself had expressly set the stage for this realization. After Adam and Eve sinned and became naked, God slaughtered animals to provide clothing for them. And further, it happened that after God had destroyed the earth with water due to the sins of humankind, Noah as head of the only surviving family from the flood, took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird, and he offered them to the Lord. Noah’s offering which involved the shedding of animal blood was so much pleasing to the Lord that he declared: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man …” (cf. Gen 8:20-22).

From that moment onward, the Scripture is filled with sacrifices to God which involved the shedding of blood (the blood of animals). Let us consider the prescription in Lev. 3:7-8, “If he offers a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD, lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it in front of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall pour the blood round about upon the altar”. Afterwards follows the act itself in Lev 9:8-9, “Then he killed the burnt offering, and Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he poured it round about upon the altar. (Lev 9:12). ). With this phenomenon of blood sacrifice extending throughout the Old Testament, it becomes really clear when we read the Scripture very well that it is only by the shedding of blood that sins can be forgiven. Why is it so? Why does God repose so much high importance in ‘blood’? In other words, what are the implications and the significance of blood sacrifice in the history of humankind’s relationship with God?

The answer coming from Scripture is simple and straightforward: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. … For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off” (Lev 17:11-14). Man and other animals are composed of “flesh” and “blood”, and God who confers life has made the blood a vital principle for the flesh, hence the eating of blood is prohibited (Gen 9:4; Deut 12:23). Just as all life belongs to God, so does blood belong to Him. Being that the blood represents life, it is symbolically offered to God in the sacrificial system (Lev 1:5; 4:6-7, 25).

Does science or biology support this spiritual explanation that life is in the blood? Yes indeed! The evidence can be found in the properties of the human blood, as with animals too. Blood contains oxygen, protein and other nutrients which it distributes to all parts of the human body in the course of circulation. As such, every part of the body is supplied with oxygen and nutrients, and so stays alive. If any part of the body gets cut off from the supply of blood, the tissue would die and the problems that would follow are manifold. Much of the information we need in this regard is summarized by the Franklyn Institute in the following words: “The average adult has about five litres of blood living inside their body, coursing through their vessels, delivering essential elements, and removing harmful wastes. Without blood, the human body would stop working. Blood is the fluid of life, transporting oxygen from the lungs to body tissue and carbon dioxide from body tissue to the lungs. Blood is the fluid of growth, transporting nourishment from digestion and hormones from glands throughout the body. Blood is the fluid of health, transporting disease fighting substance to the tissue and waste to the kidneys. Because it contains living cells, blood is alive.

It is little wonder then that God warns again taking of human life, for to take life is to shed blood, for which therefore, everyone who falls guilty will be accountable to God (cf. Gen 9:5-6). When God chose Abraham as our father in faith, God entered into a covenant with him, which was made and sealed by blood and sacrifice (cf. Gen 15:9-10, 17-18). Amidst the series of offerings involving blood sacrifice rendered up to God by the chosen lineage in the Bible, the offering of the Passover lambs comes to the fore, opening the doors of a mighty deliverance for the people of Israel (Exod 12:1-14, 21-29). On their journey to the Promised Land, the first covenant between God and his chosen people is marked and sealed with the sprinkling of blood (Exod 24:1-8). And from that time on, year after year, the High Priest of the Israelite community invoked God on behalf of the people in atonement for the sins of Israel, after he had sprinkled the mercy seat (place of God’s presence) in Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood (cf. Exod 25:22; Lev 16:2, 15-16; Num 7:89).

The centrality of blood therefore to animal sacrifice was highly significant. It signified the flow of life between God and man. Poured out on the altar, it joined the offerer to God because he had placed his hand on the animal and had become one with it. It was a ritual expression of the total surrender to God. God received the blood and returned it to the offerer in the form of divine life. Thus the desired effect of sacrifice, communion with God, was achieved.

Sacrificial blood was also a very important part of the ordination rites to the priesthood of the Old Testament. With the blood, the ears, hands and feet of those being ordained were anointed (Exod 29:20). The blood anointing of the extremities of the body reflected the dedication of the whole man to God. Here lies also the meaning of the final anointing in which the blood mixed with oil was sprinkled on the priests and their vestments. This made them “sacred” (Ex 29.21). The blood was the bearer of God’s life to the priests. Ordination made them holy because they were totally immersed in God’s own life.

While various sacrificial rituals and ceremonies sealed with blood continued to take place in the Old Testament for divine worship and in atonement for the sins of the people, Jesus Christ sanctified and perfected this offering with his own blood once and for all in the New Covenant and won for us our eternal redemption. The Letter to the Hebrews clearly explains what took place that was so highly transformational and eternally redemptive. “But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant … Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (Heb 9:11-18).

The relationship of blood to the redemptive economy is very clear, for, “Indeed, under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). The Law and the Prophets find their fulfillment in Christ. The significance of the sacrificial shedding of blood in the Old Testament inheres in relation to the bloody sacrifice of Christ upon the cross by which he washed away our sins and brought life to the world. Indeed, the sacrifice of Jesus surpasses the bloody sacrifices of the Old Testament because beyond merely being a symbol of the flow of life between God and man, the blood of Jesus is divine blood which bears the life of God in itself and therefore imparts divine life on the faithful.

While he was dying on the cross, blood and water flowed from the heart of Jesus that was pierced (cf. Jn 19:34). In this St John assures us that the Spirit of God, whom water symbolizes, flows to us through the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood (1 Jn 5:6-8). Verily, Redemption comes through the precious and saving blood of Christ (Rom 5:9; Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 1:18-19). By the once and for all sacrifice of his own blood, Jesus completed and perfected all forms of sacrificial offering that require the shedding of blood, and he perpetuated this one unique sacrifice amongst us by a new form of expression, the sacramental expression. At the Last Supper just the night before his ultimate sacrifice and expiation on the cross, Jesus gave His disciples His blood to drink, sealing the new and everlasting covenant, and accomplishing the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:27-28; Mk 14:23-24; Lk 22:20; Jn 6:53; 1 Cor 11:25). In this Jesus gives His blood as the life which is communicated from Him to His disciples through the Eucharist (Jn 6:53; 1 Cor 10:16.)

Following the command of Christ to do it in his memory, the Church repeats the Eucharistic action by a special sacrificial offering where the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. The sacrificial blood of each Mass renews the covenant of Calvary, purges us of our sins, bestows upon us a share in the Divine life, bonds us into a close union with God, and guarantees us all the spiritual effects of the eternal Redemption that Christ won for us through the shedding of His precious blood.

Mary as the Ark of the Covenant

Stan-William Ede

It is fitting to reflect on one of the many things that the Bible teaches us about the Blessed Virgin Mary, who among all created beings is matchless in excellence and unsurpassed in virtue. Our theme for this reflection is one taken from her litany of titles, the “Ark of the Covenant”.

To engender a fuller grasp of the truth that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, it is pertinent to revisit what is known about the Ark of the Covenant in its Old Testament context. This revisitation itself impels us to first understand the phenomena of biblical prefiguration and biblical refiguration, which can be simply called “Typology” in the biblical texts. We learn from the Bible that the Old Testament is a “shadow” or “figure” of the New Testament (cf. Heb 8:1-13). As St. Augustine coins it, “The Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed.” (Catechizing the Uninstructed 4:8).

The issue of “typology” requires further explanation, but because of space, the explanation here is very brief and articulated within this single paragraph. There were many events, persons and things in the Old Testament which prefigure other events, persons and things that would come later in the New Testament. The reality in the Old Testament which prefigured is known as a “type” of what is to come in the New Testament. And the reality in the New Testament which refigures by fulfilling an Old Testament type is called “antitype”, meaning that it (“antitype”) is greater than the “type”. For example, just as the first man, “Adam” was a type of the one (Jesus) who was to come” (Rom 5:14), the first woman Eve prefigured Mary, who refigures the Divine original will from “fallen” (Eve) to “sinless” (Mary). The “antitype” (in the New Testament) is always greater than “type” (in the Old Testament). In fact, the “antitype” is the fulfillment of the “type”. As such, Jesus Christ is infinitely greater than Adam, Mary is greater than Eve, and the New Testament is greater than the Old Testament. With this we set ourselves on the path of understanding Mary as the New Ark of the New Covenant, beginning with a retrospective glance into the Old Testament context and significance of the Ark of the Covenant.

In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a sacred chest-box which contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments of God were inscribed. God himself gave instructions to Moses and the Israelites on how to build it, including its size and the materials to be used for its construction (Exod 25:10-21). Made of acacia wood, the Ark was overlaid in and out with the purest gold, and had a golden crown or ream around it. For a more elaborate description of the physical and material characteristics of the Ark, we are invited to read Exod 25:10-16 again. Our focus here however, will be directed toward its spiritual essence, because the “spiritual significance” is actually what constitutes the raison-d’être of the Ark.

As it is revealed in the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred object in the Old Testament. In fact, it was the holiest and most powerful thing on earth outside God himself, for it was the visible sign of God’s presence and protection among his people. In Exod 27-29, when God gave Moses instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle, the making and installation of the ark was given a culminating import. Within the tabernacle, Moses was to place the ark. It is noteworthy that beside the two stone tablets of the covenant, the ark also contained a golden jar holding manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded (cf. Exod 25-29; Heb 9:4). Because it contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Ark represented the covenant between God and Israel (cf. Deut 10:4-5). And for all that the Ark contained and stood for, it was also called the “Ark of the Testimony” (cf. Ex. 25:21-22; Num 7:89).

At that time, Moses did the work and prepared the sanctuary just as the Lord had commanded. All the Israelites cooperated with him, and they placed the Ark in the Holy of Holies. Then on completion, “… the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exod 40:34-35). During the day, a pillar of cloud covered and filled it, and during the night, it was a pillar of fire (Exod 40:38). The verbal root shakhan in Hebrew which means “to cover” or “to overshadow” is used along with the metaphor of a cloud to represent the presence and glory of God, hence the designation, Shekinah Glory, which is common in our day to day use of Christian language. The Shekinah Glory overshadowed the tabernacle of the Lord, for there in the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant by which God made his all-powerful and protective presence manifest and felt (cf. Exod. 40:34-35; Num 9:18-22).

Speaking to Moses and to all Israel of the significance of the Ark, God said: “And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the Ark of the Testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exod 25:21-22). And truly, just as the Lord had told them, “… when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; and God spoke to him” (Num 7:89). Assuredly, this was the dwelling place of God among his people. The love with which the people received it, the profound awe and reverence which they accorded it, and the diligence with which they accompanied it in solemn procession, cannot be overemphasized.

After the death of Moses, Joshua took the baton of leadership to lead the Israelites in the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land. Throughout that time the Ark of the Covenant protected the Israelites and assured them victory in their battles. When God wanted to punish the Israelites for their sins, he caused them to be defeated in battle against the Philistines and allowed the Ark to be captured by the conquering enemy (cf. 1 Sam 4:1-22). While “the Glory of the Lord departed from Israel at that time, for the Ark had been captured” (1 Sam 4:22), the same Shekinah Glory had a devastating effect upon the land of the captors, the Philistines. Their princes and all the peoples suffered many plagues and death that were inflicted upon them by the overwhelming presence of God in their midst since they were not consecrated into the sacred covenant and did not know nor observe commandments of God, (cf. 1 Sam 5:1-12). The Philistines thereupon returned the Ark to the land of Israel with great reverence and honour (1 Sam 6:1-16). King David brought the Ark into Jerusalem, the holy city (2 Sam 6:1-23), and his son, King Solomon built the temple and brought in the Ark into the “inner sanctuary”, the “Holy of Holies”. It was this reality that constituted the core essence of the temple, the presence of God through the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies that was overshadowed by the Shekinah Glory (cf. 1 Kgs 8:1-11, 12-62).

After many years of disobedience, idolatry and apostasy by the Israelites, God gave them again into the hand of captors. First the Assyrians conquered and exiled the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C (cf. 2 Kgs 17:5-18), and later the Babylonian conquered and exiled the Southern Kingdom of Judah in two phases, in 597 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:11-16) and in 586 B.C. (2 Kgs 25:1-21). At the second invasion in 586 B. C., the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and God caused the Ark to disappear, for its mission in the Old Testament had been accomplished. The Ten Commandments and the Law of God will now be written in the hearts of believers by a new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31-35) . From then on, nothing was ever mentioned of the old ark again. Even when the Babylonians carted away the treasures they found in the temple of the Lord, there is no evidence in the Bible that the invaders found the Ark. The mystery of the disappearance of the Ark in the Old Testament can best be understood from the perspective of the refiguration of the Ark in the New Testament and its significance in the new covenant of God with his people, wherein God now dwells with his people in a new and profoundly rich way.

The Old Testament ark was only a figure of the Ark of the New Covenant. That Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant” (or to put it the other way, the “New Ark of the Covenant”) is divine truth which is revealed in Sacred Scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God himself, made flesh (Jn 1:1-14) so as to dwell among us that we may “receive from his fullness, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). When God took flesh to dwell amongst men, his first tabernacle on earth, the “inner sanctuary”, “Holy of Holies” was the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary conceived Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and for nine months, the “inside” of Mary was the dwelling place of Jesus. Just as God dwelt with the people of Israel and manifested his presence and glory through the Ark of the Old Covenant, the Word took flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) through the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the Ark of the New Covenant. It was said earlier in this reflection that the two tablets of stones containing the Ten Commandments were within the Ark of the Old Covenant. In other words, inside the Ark of the Old covenant, was the written Word of God (Deut 10:4-5), but inside the Ark of the New Covenant was the Word of God made flesh (Jn 1:1, 14), the same Jesus who “was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called , the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13).

While the Ark of the Old Covenant contained Manna, bread from heaven (Heb 9:3-4), the Ark of the New Covenant bore the Jesus, the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven (Jn 6:31-42). Whereas the Ark of the Old Covenant also contained the rod of the High Priest of the Old Covenant, Aaron (Heb 9:4), Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant bore the Perfect and Eternal High Priest of the New Covenant (Heb 3:1; 4:14-15; 6:20; 9:11). In the Old Covenant, the Ark was “overshadowed” by the presence and power of God (Exod 40:34-35), but the Ark of the New Covenant was “overshadowed” by the presence and power of the Most High (Lk 1:35). The Hebrew verbal root shakhan used in the Old Testament to describe the glorious cloud of God’s visible presence (Shekinah), is equivalent to the Greek verbal root episkiazō which is rightly used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Greek of the New Testament uses the same verbal root episkiazō to describe the “overshadowing” of Mary by the presence and power of God (cf. episkiasei – Lk 1:35).

By way of location, both the Ark and Mary were in the hill country of Judah. The King, David and all the people went to Baale in Judah, to bring up the Ark of God, “from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill” (2 Sam 6:1-3). After the annunciation, Mary arose and went “into the hill country, to a town in Judah” (Lk 1:39). For those who have gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it is not difficult to notice that both Abu Ghosh (where the old Ark resided) and Ein Kerem (where Elizabeth lived) are only a short walk apart. So both the Old Ark and Mary the New Ark made a journey to the same hill country of Judah.

Both King David who went with all the people to bring up the Ark from the hill country and Elizabeth whom Mary went to visit in the hill country made similar exclamations issued in the form of a question. In fear, David exclaimed: “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9); with great awe and excitement, Elizabeth exclaimed: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43). When King David leaped and danced joyfully before the Ark of the Old Covenant, he was dressed like a priest (2 Sam 6:14-16); John the Baptist who while still inside the womb leaped with joy before Mary the New Ark of the Covenant was from a priestly lineage (Lk 1:41, 44; cf. Lk 1:5).

In all the six times the Greek word anephōnēsen meaning “exclaim” is used in the Bible, it is only in reference to Mary and the Ark. Elizabeth anephōnēsen (exclaimed) with a loud shout (kraugē megalē) when she encountered Mary (Lk 1:42), just as David and the people of Israel did with shouts and the sound of the trumpet (2 Sam 6:15). While the Ark of the Old Covenant “remained in Obed-Edom for three months” (2 Sam 6:11), the New Ark of the Covenant “stayed with Elizabeth for three months” (Lk 1:56). The place that housed the Ark of the Lord for three months was blessed. And when we read Luke 1:41-45, we would notice that Elizabeth uses the word “blessed” (eulogēmenē in Greek) three times in that short paragraph. Significantly, conjugated forms of the Hebrew verb bērē, which is equivalent to the Greek eulogēmenē is also used three times by the narrator of the Ark episode in 2 Sam 6:11-18.

The last time the Old Ark of the Covenant was ever mentioned is in the second book of Maccabees. Shortly before the Babylonians attacked and burnt down the Jerusalem temple, Jeremiah had received a vision and oracle of the Lord immediately after which he took the Ark to the mountain where Moses encountered God. And there, he hid the Ark in a cave and sealed up its entrance (2 Macc 2:4-5). Responding to the discovery that some people had followed him to mark the place where the Ark was, even though they could not find it, Jeremiah said: “The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.” (2 Macc 2:7-8).

And thus the Psalmist declares: Arise, O Lord, and go into your resting place, You and the Ark of your might” (Ps 132:8). Indeed, the Lord arose and went into his holy heavens (cf. Mk. 16:19; Acts 1:9-11). After centuries without seeing the Ark of the Old Covenant, its location was revealed to St. John. But now it is no longer the Ark of the Old Covenant, rather the New One: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his Covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 11:19-12:1). The “Woman” who is referred to in the text is “Mary”, the Mother of Jesus, for “She gave birth to a male child, who is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter”, and indeed “her child was carried up to God and to his throne” (Rev 12:5). By this chain of divine-planned events, we see how the declaration in Psalm 132:8 cited above is graciously fulfilled.

All through history, the Church has not failed to teach the truth based on Divine Revelation. Through her leaders, as well as the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, this fact the Mary is the Ark of the Covenant has been clearly proclaimed. Some of them wrote extensively about it, highlighting clearly the new and significant reality that emerges with New Ark of the Covenant. In the words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373): “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Ark of the Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides.” (cf. Homily of the Papyrus of Turin). According to St. Ambrose of Milan (c.339-397), “The Prophet David danced before the Ark. And what shall we say is the Ark, but Holy Mary? The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament. But Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself. The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel. The one had the Voice of God, the other His Word. The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but the Holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity. The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly gold.” (cf. Sermon XLII. 6).

Of course, even to this day and forever, the Church by her authority and in her wisdom proclaims the abundant love of God for His people whom he chose to be close to in a special way. The Church teaches: “The prayer of the people of God flourished in the shadow of the dwelling place of God’s presence on earth, the ark of the covenant and the temple, under the guidance of their shepherds, especially King David, and of the prophets” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2594). And when the covenant was renewed and sealed with the Blood of Christ, God continues to be close to his people of the New Covenant in a special way. And so again the Church declares: “Mary, in whom the Lord Himself has just made His dwelling, is the Daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the Glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God with men’.” (Rev 21:3; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2676).