Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Dwelling

Moses did exactly as the LORD had commanded him. On the first day of the first month of the second year the Dwelling was erected.
Exodus 40:16,17

The Dwelling, or the Tabernacle as it is also known, was designed by God. Moses was given careful instruction in the making of the Dwelling so it would be exactly as God intended. Those particulars comprise a large portion of the book of Exodus. Why was God so meticulous? It is because our God does not just communicate to us through words, but also through pictures. He uses symbolism to draw our attention to deeper truths about Him and our faith.

The Dwelling itself is one such example. God intended for it to be a sign of what heavenly worship looks like. He was also setting the stage for the coming of Christ, and showing us a spiritual picture of the Church. Israel's calendar is now shaped by the finishing of the Dwelling. It will inform much of their concept of God and worship.

In Catholic theology, we also see another meaning. The Ark of the Covenant is at the center of the Dwelling. That is because it houses the Ten Commandments, or put another way, the Word of God. Israel does not worship the Ark. They worship God who has shown Himself through the Ark. Catholics relate this to the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith.

We refer to her by many names, one of which is the Ark. It is because our Lord Jesus, who is the Word of God, was housed (tabernacled) in her womb. Therefore, we ask for her prayers. We do not worship her, but rather we worship the One who dwelt within her. However, this still puts her at the center of so much that we do. It is in this sense that the Catechism states that such devotion to Mary is intrinsic to Christian worship. Just as the Ark which held the Word of God in the Dwelling was so central to Israel's worship, so Mary, who held the Word of God in her, is so central to our worship.

Why are so many so afraid of Mary? That is, why do these teachings seem so foreign and even evil to some? The truth is that the Church from its earliest days held such teaching to be a vital part of the Faith. Marian devotion begins early and becomes prevalent much before the Middle Ages. It is because the early Church in Jerusalem began at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Mary was there on that occasion. The Church prayed in her midst. They prayed with her. In the succeeding centuries we hear the Fathers of the Church making numerous pronouncements about her place in the Church. We also hear their prayers as they seek her intercession. It was only after the philosophy of rationalism had permeated the Church did so many draw back from these teachings about Mary.

I must confess that this has been an area of my faith that has been the hardest to deal with. My years of formation as a Protestant severely prejudiced me against her. But I have found in the short time since becoming Catholic that those I know with the strongest devotion to Mary are among the best examples of Christians that I have seen anywhere. It is not that they are perfect, or even theologically brilliant. It is that they lead quiet lives of humble peace and joy. In that, they are a shining example of the light of Christ in their lives. To them, there is no contradiction between a strong devotion to Mary and a vibrant adoration for our Lord.

For my Catholic readers I urge you to a recovery of this aspect of our faith. To those who are not Catholic, I urge you to a prayerful consideration of the teachings of the early Church regarding Mary. You will find in her a true and gentle mother whose only concern is to direct you to Jesus her Son, the Word of God. She is the Dwelling, but we seek the One who dwells within.

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