Opening the Word: Holy dwelling place

“Should you build me a house to dwell in?” 

This question, asked of King David by God, seems simple, yet is bursting with implications and suggestions that only come to completion many centuries later with the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. Having settled into his palace, King David recognized how inappropriate it was to live in comfort while the ark of the covenant remained in a tent. The significance of his sensitivity to the situation should not be overlooked. This was the same man who expressed deep reverence for the ark (2 Sm 6:9), who danced in exultation as it was brought into Jerusalem, and who offered sacrifices as “he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts” (2 Sm 6:12-19). 

Dominican Father Yves Congar, in “The Mystery of the Temple” (Newman Press, 1962), wrote that David had a “sensitive and profound religious spirit” and that, for him, “the religious motive was paramount, all-inclusive, and absolutely pure.” So it is understandable that David wished to build a temple, and it is no surprise that the prophet Nathan thought well of the idea. But God responded with a word of recollection and word of promise. First, he reminded David of the past: It was God who chose David, who protected and guided him, and who conquered his enemies. “I have been with you,” he said, “wherever you went.” The ark and the tent did not contain God, but were visible signs of God’s presence with his people. God “makes his own temple by dwelling in the midst of his people,” wrote Father Congar, “and his presence cannot fail to be supremely active.” 

Then God pointed to the future, when he would build and establish the house of David from which would come an heir and a kingdom. The perfect fulfillment would not come through military might and physical conquest, but through humility and holiness, through a virgin “betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.” 

God was still with his people; he was especially with Mary in a most unique way: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Blessed John Paul II, in the 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), noted, “The fullness of grace announced by the angel means the gift of God himself” (No. 12). God was with his people at Mount Sinai and throughout their 40 years in the desert. Now, the angel told the maiden, the Holy Spirit will come and the “power of the Most High will overshadow you,” just as, in the words of Pope John Paul, “at the time of Moses and the Patriarchs the cloud covered the presence of God.” This overshadowing is the same manifestation of God’s presence that is described in Exodus 40:35: “Moses could not enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” 

Mary, then, is the new Tabernacle. Through her perfect humility and faith, she became the Mother of God and our Mother in“the order of grace.” “For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among men” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 721).  

In the words of an Eastern hymn: “Mary, Mother of God, honorable tabernacle of sweet ointments, make me through your prayers a chosen vessel that I may receive the sanctification of your son.” 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of