I'm still in the process of translating a work of John of Damascus concerning the Eucharist and the body of Christ, entitled Περὶ τοῦ ἀχράντου σώματος, οὗ μεταλαμβάνομεν.

In section 4, he writes,

Ἐκεῖ ἦν ἡ ἁγία Παρθένος ἡ τράπεζα, ἔχουσα τὴν ὕλην τοῦ σώματος.

My tendency is to translate this as, "There was the holy table, the Virgin, bearing the matter of the body." It's talking about the virgin Mary bearing Christ in her womb, and that Christ assumed flesh from her.

However, the phrase ἡ ἁγία Παρθένος ἡ τράπεζα puzzled me. Is Mary ever referred to as "the holy table" (ἡ ἁγία ἡ τράπεζα) in Catholic doctrine?

2 Answers 2


Part of the Litany of the Holy Name of Mary:

Mary, house of God, pray for us
Mary, sanctuary of the Lord, pray for us
Mary, altar of the Divinity, pray for us
Mary, Virgin Mother, pray for us
Mary, embracing your Infant God, pray for us

The Holy Table would be the altar. Calling the altar the Holy Table is mostly an Eastern Catholic and Orthodox thing. You might look up something like the History of the Christian Altar to help decide which translation is best, or see if he uses a different word for altar.

  • 1
    yeah, τράπεζα was used in Hebrews 9:2 to refer to the Altar.
    – Peter Turner
    Apr 30, 2013 at 4:28

One point I always like to stress to my Catechism class because I think it really shows a lot about who Jesus and Mary are is that she is, as the Litany of Loreto says, the

Ark of the Covenant

The Ark held God within it and physically held a few mementos of desert wanderings (According to the tradition the Book of Hebrews uses in 9:4)

which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

In a material way, the ark, contained the three items that represent Christ's three-fold office of Priest, Prophet and King. And Mary is called the Ark of the New Covenant because she held Christ within her.

Now, I don't know much about Greek, but is τράπεζα used in any other context to mean table? Is it a Latin cognate or something? If I put the word into Google, I just get a bunch of Greek banks (which isn't worth much)

If you go with the bank translation you've got

Spiritual vessel,

Vessel of honor,

Singular vessel of devotion,


House of gold,

and that might be a more likely starting point.

  • Nice answer (you beat me to it by just a few seconds!). The Ark of the Covenant is one of the really familiar titles that explains why she would be called something like that, and it's probably from the same sort of tradition (the tabernacle (the Ark) would be on the Holy Table).
    – Alypius
    Apr 30, 2013 at 4:32
  • What do you mean Ark on the Holy Table? The Ark was located in the Holy of holies. The table where the bread of the presence ("shewbread") was located outside the Holy of holies. There's no way the Ark was located on any table.
    – user900
    Apr 30, 2013 at 5:05
  • I want to +1 just for the rimshot, but that wouldn't exactly be a good reason... Apr 30, 2013 at 16:34
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 The Catholic tabernacle is like the Ark of the Covenant, but the details are a bit long for a comment.
    – Alypius
    Apr 30, 2013 at 19:29
  • I think @H3br3wHamm3r81 was pointing out that τράπεζα in Hebrews 9:2 is the table in the "outer Holy" in the Temple, which is not directly connected with the Ark. I wouldn't be surprised if both the outer Holy and the Holy of Holies are seen in Catholic tradition as types of the Eucharistic altar (just in different ways), but that's pure speculation on my part. In any case it still leaves the problem that τράπεζα in Hebrews 9:2 is at best a very indirect reference to the Ark of the Covenant.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Apr 30, 2013 at 21:37

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