FIGURE OF THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
"Frame an ark of setim wood:... and over it thou shalt make a golden crown round about." (Exod. 25:10)
In the Office of the Crown of Thorns the Church brings before our eyes the famous Ark of the Covenant, which among the Jews was the most precious and sacred object used in their religious worship. "God said to Moses: Frame an ark of setim wood, the length whereof shall be of two cubits and a half, the breadth a cubit and a half, the height likewise a cubit and a half. And thou shalt overlay it with the purest gold within and without; and over it thou shalt make a golden crown round about." (Exod. 25:10-11) In due time the two tables of the Decalogue, the golden urn that had manna, and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed, were enclosed in this venerated ark. This we learn from St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. (Heb. 9:4) The angelic doctor, St. Thomas, says that the three sacred objects enclosed within the ark, or at least placed close to it, mystically signified the three divine attributes of Wisdom, Power, and Goodness. In fact, the law is the work of God's wisdom, the miraculous rod is both the emblem and the proof of His divine power, and the manna was the figure and the effect of His goodness. (St. Thomas, I. 2. Quaest. 102, art. 4)
1. This celebrated ark was also a beautiful figure of our Saviour's Incarnation. The setim wood, by its natural soundness and incorruptibility, represents the sinless nature of our Lord's assumed humanity, and the incorruptibility of his sacred and glorified body. For the royal Prophet, David, quoted by St. Peter, says "that God will not suffer His most holy One to see corruption." (Acts 2:27) Again, this ark, formed of incorruptible wood, was overlayed within and without with the purest gold. This gold represents the Person of the Eternal Word inseparably united at His Incarnation with the soul and body of our Lord Jesus Christ. The two tables of the Decalogue were by the command of God enclosed in this ark, to signify that the law of God was deeply impressed in the most holy and most loving heart of our Blessed Lord. From the first moment of his Incarnation our unborn Saviour could say: "Sacrifice and oblation Thou (O Father) didst not desire; but a body Thou hast fitted to me. In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do Thy will. O my God, I have desired it, and Thy law is in the midst of my heart." (Ps. 39:7; Heb. 10:7)
2. The manna was in the ark as a proof of God's goodness, and of His providential care of His people. The Incarnation, however, is the most astonishing manifestation of God's goodness and mercy towards mankind. Moreover, the manna was a very expressive figure of the Eucharistic Bread through which we are fed with the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the divine Lamb of God. Hence our Lord said to the Jews: "Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and they died...Ifany man eat of this Bread he shall live forever: and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." (Jn. 6:49-52)
3. The miraculous rod of the high Pontiff Aaron was also with this ark. The history of this famous rod will be found interesting and pregnant with meaning in this age of infidelity, when the sacred character of the Christian priesthood is despised by the infidel and degraded by the heretic. Two hundred and fifty leading men of the synagogue, enticed by Core, a Levite, and by Dathon, Abiron, and Hor, caused a schism among the Jews, because in their pride and ambition they aspired to the dignity of the priesthood. Their sacrilegious presumption was punished by God in a terrible manner. By command of Moses, the whole Jewish nation was summoned to witness the most awful chastisement recorded in sacred history. In the sight of all Israel, Core, Dathon and Abiron, with their entire families, were swallowed up alive in the earth, "and fire coming out from the iMrd destroyed the two hundred and fifty men that offered the incense " (Num. 16)
Then, by the command of God, twelve rods were selected, and upon each of them was written the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel and lastly another rod had the name of Aaron. These thirteen rods were placed by Moses side by side upon a table in the Tabernacle of the Lord and shut up for the entire night, with the express understanding that the dignity of the priesthood should be considered awarded by God to the tribe or person whose rod should be found miraculously blossomed on the following morning. Early in the morning, an immense multitude gathered in front of the tabernacle, anxiously awaiting the miraculous manifestation of the divine will. Moses entered the tabernacle fully impressed with the importance of the occasion, and brought out before the people the thirteen rods, when, to the general amazement, it was found that, whilst the twelve rods were perfectly dry, that of Aaron alone had not only blossomed, but had also produced almonds. Thus, by divine interposition Aaron and his sons were publicly confirmed in the priestly dignity, for the priesthood is essentially a divine institution. Hence St. Paul teaches "that no man should presume to take this honour and dignity upon himself, except he be called by God, as Aaron was." (Heb. 5:4) For the future remembrance of this prodigy, Moses commanded that the miraculous rod of Aaron should be preserved in the tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant.
4. A crown of the purest gold surrounded the lid of this holy ark, as a figure of the Crown of Thorns that was to be placed by his enemies on the head of our dear Saviour. Gold being among metals what charity is among virtues, the golden crown of the ark signified the ardent love of our blessed Lord in permitting himself, for our sake, to be subjected to the cruel torture of the Crown of Thorns.
The lid, being the uppermost extremity of the ark, indicates another mystery. It shows that our Savior had to endure the Crown of Thorns on his head in order that the Divinity may extract the thorns of sin from our guilty humanity: for his human nature could suffer, but his Divinity only could cure us of our sins. According to St. Paul, the head of Jesus is the figure of his Divinity. "/ would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (1 Cor. 2:3) Hence, Theophilatus says, the head of Jesus indicates his Divinity. "Per caput enim Deltaspresignatur." It therefore follows that our Lord Jesus Christ, by consenting to have his head transfixed by the thorns of our sins, and by undergoing the pain and ignominy of this cruel and humiliating torture, consumed and destroyed our guilt by the power of his Divinity. The Crown of Thorns, says Theophilatus, is our sins, which Christ consumed by his Divinity. "Corana ex spinis peccata sunt, quae Christus sua Deitate cousumit." (Theophil. comment, in St. Matt. 27:29.)
Here we discover another meaning in the golden crown round the lid of the ark. As gold is precious in the estimation of worldly men, so devotion to the Crown of Thorns should possess for us a high value. If all the members of our Saviour's body, on account of their union with the Person of the Eternal Word, are sacred and deserve our profound adoration, how much more profound should be our worship of his most holy head — the throne of his divine intelligence, the noble figure of the Divinity, and the august representative of the Godhead? Oh, how sublime and instructive is the mystery of the Crown of Thorns!
5. The more deeply we dig into this golden mine, the richer treasures we draw out of it. Gold brought out of the mine must pass through the crucible and be purified by intense fire. Had this precious metal sensitive faculties, it would, under the action of fire, feel an excruciating pain. The pain, however, is intended not for its destruction, but for its purification and refinement, and for the increase of its worth and value. Our Lord had the most refined and sensitive feelings. Though he had no need to suffer for himself, because he was essential holiness, yet, having assumed our human nature, he had to suffer for our purification, in order to remove from our fallen humanity the dross of sin, and to impart to our moral actions and sufferings the value of supernatural merit, which is infinitely more precious than gold. Our merciful Saviour procured for us these two advantages in a high degree through the sufferings and humiliations of the Crown of Thorns. Because as life and action are communicated to the members of the body from the head, so the supernatural life of grace and the power of meriting is communicated to the faithful from the divine Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. "For God hath made him Head over all the Church, which is his body, and the fullness of him, who is filled all in all. " (Ephes' 1:22)
All virtuous actions performed for God's sake, and all the sufferings and humiliations endured for the promotion of His honour and glory, are richly rewarded by God. Great must be the reward given by the Eternal Father to His divine Son for having endured the sufferings and humiliations of the Crown of Thorns to promote His glory and the eternal salvation of mankind. In fact, the Church sings with the royal Prophet: "Thou, 0 Lord, hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness: Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones." (Ps. 20:14)
Every soul saved will form a brilliant jewel in the diadem of glory of our blessed Lord, and increase the joy of his loving heart. Moreover, according to St. Bernard, God turned the very malice of His Son's executioners to His actual honour and glory. "Though those cruel men (says the Saint) press a Crown of Thorns on the head of Jesus, in derision and mockery, yet contrary to their intention, and in spite of their malice, they proclaim him their crowned Sovereign. For upon bended knees they salute him. King of the Jews. Hence, in their harsh and cruel treatment of our Lord, their words and actions proclaim him to be their King." (St. Bern. de Pass. Dom. cap. 19) Head of Jesus, pierced with thorns, open the intelligence of our minds, and make these sublime truths penetrate deeply into our soul. May all Christians be moved to meditate upon them and induced to offer to their suffering King their sincere homage and profound adorations.