This article gives a brief overview of the necessary relation between Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her role as the New Ark—Bearer of the Bread of Life, the True High Priest, and the Word of God. Jason Evert, a Catholic Apologist with Catholic Answers, holds a Graduate degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He specializes in the Catholic Church’s teaching on chastity, giving seminars and talks to thousands of young people each year. – Assistant Editor
From the foundation of the world, St. Paul tells us, we have been chosen to become children of God (Eph. 1:4-5). By the same measure, the Virgin Mary had been chosen from all eternity to become the mother of God. As Psalm 132:14 says, “The Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath chosen her for his dwelling.”
While other verses, such as Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28, are commonly used to explain the Immaculate Conception, the Sacred Scriptures offer a wealth of other references that add weight to the dogma.
For starters, it should always be noted that Mary’s selection as the dwelling place of God was not random. She had been prepared for him, as the Ark of the Covenant had been specially created to enshrine its sacred contents (Ex. 25:9). The Ark of the Covenant was made of incorruptible acacia wood, and was laden in and out with the finest gold. A golden lid was placed upon it, and golden angels were mounted atop this. On the lid were gold rings, and golden poles were placed through them so it could be carried by sanctified priests, and for good reason: it was a sacred dwelling.
In it was to be found the bread from heaven, the word of God in the commandments, and the staff of Aaron, which was used as an instrument for Israel’s redemption.
However, these were only signs pointing towards the reality fulfilled in Christ. He was the true bread from heaven, the actual Word of God, and the true instrument of our redemption. If God commanded that such a lavish dwelling be created for bread, stone tablets and a stick, how much more would he splurge to make fitting the dwelling of the second person of the Trinity!
Being the New Ark of the Covenant, how could Mary be a worthy dwelling place for the Second Person of the Trinity if she were, as John calls sinners, “of the devil”? (1 Jn. 3:8). If nothing unclean can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27), how could the very holiness of heaven enter something unclean? The Old Testament tells us, “wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,” or dwell “in a body under debt of sin” (Wis. 1:4). Since Jesus is Wisdom incarnate, it was not fitting that he dwell in a body under debt of sin.
When all is considered, it would seem that to place Jesus in a vessel of sin would be like keeping the contents of the Ark of the Covenant in a shoebox. It is no wonder, then, that Our Lady revealed to Sr. Lucia that the rejection of her Immaculate Conception is one of the greatest offenses against her Immaculate Heart.
Just as the dignity of the Ark was due to the holiness of its contents, Mary’s holiness is a compliment to Christ, who sanctified her. It should be added that Mary’s sanctification in the womb is a privilege that John the Baptist also shared (though without being immaculately conceived). According to Luke 1:15, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”—upon the arrival of Jesus living in Mary. This serves as a clear example of Jesus applying the graces of his sacrifice back in time in order to sanctify one he loves, even before his own birth. Now if St. John was sanctified in the womb because he was the precursor of Christ, how much more should the Mother of Christ have been prepared in grace to be his very dwelling?
Some object to the doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness on the grounds that it “makes her equal to God.” However, we must remember that God originally created man to be without sin. The angels and all souls in heaven are without sin—yet that does not make them equal to God, or detract from his glory. On the contrary, God’s goodness is manifested when he sanctifies his creation. It is sin that detracts from the honor that he deserves. When Adam and Eve sinned, they acted in a manner that was beneath their dignity as beings made in the image and likeness of God. In light of the perfection to which God calls everyone, it is not human to sin—it is less than human.
When God cleanses a person from all sin, he is making them most fully human—most fully what he intended for them to be.
Archbishop Sheen explained this well when he wrote:
There is, actually, only one person in all humanity of whom God has one picture, and in whom there is a perfect conformity between what He wanted her to be and what she is, and that is His own Mother. Most of us are a minus sign, in the sense that we do not fulfill the high hopes the Heavenly Father has for us. But Mary is the equal sign. The ideal that God had of her—that she is, and in the flesh. The model and the copy are perfect; she is all that was foreseen, planned, and dreamed. The melody of her life is played, just as it was written. Mary was thought, conceived, and planned as the equal sign between ideal and history, thought and reality, hope and realization.
So, the question should not be, “was Mary conceived without sin?” but “how could Jesus not have made her so?” As the Protestant poet William Wordsworth described, Jesus made her “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Or in the words of the book of Judith, “You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race” (Judith 15:9).
If Jesus is the sun of Justice, Mary is the woman clothed with the sun.