Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew says Jesus “was transfigured before them. His face shone as the sun: his garments became white as snow”. (Mt 17:1-6)
The date for this feast – 6th August – seems to have been chosen in order to be exactly forty days before 14th September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, because of a tradition that the Transfiguration took place forty days before the crucifixion. This feast began to be celebrated in and around Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries. The feast probably reached Constantinople during the time of the great hymn-writer Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740), who was a monk at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from 675 until 685, when he moved to serve at the Great Church of Sancta Sophia, Constantinople. Later he became Archbishop of Gortyna in Crete. It was a major feast, which developed a magnificent series of hymns and readings.
The feast appeared in the West, first in Spain in the eleventh century, then at Cluny, when Peter the Venerable was abbot (1122-56). Its introduction to Rome is associated with the Christian defeat of the Turks at Belgrade on 22 July 1456. The news reached Rome on 6th August, so Pope Callixtus III (Alfons de Borja 1455-8), a Valencian sensitive to the memory of Moorish domination in Spain, decreed it as a feast for the Roman Church beginning on 6th August 1457.
All three synoptic Gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – give us an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus on top of Mount Tabor (Mark 9:1-8, Matthew 17:1-6, Luke 9:28-36). After Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent by God to redeem mankind, and Jesus prediction of His own passion and death, Jesus, together with three of His disciples – Peter, James, the son of Zebedee, and John – went up the mountain.
Jesus ordered the three not to tell others what they had seen until he had risen on the third day. Even if they did not fully comprehend what had happened on Mount Tabor, for the apostles Peter, James, and John, it was a glimpse of the glories of heaven and of sharing in the resurrection of Christ promised to all who believe in Jesus as the One promised by God. That event served as an inspiration for them to persevere and be steadfast in their faith in Jesus who would suffer and die but would be resurrected after three days. (2)
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
“O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine Only-begotten Son, didst confirm the mysteries of the Faith by the testimony of the fathers: and Who, in the voice which came from the shining cloud, didst wondrously foreshow our perfect adoption as sons: deign in Thy mercy to make us co-heirs with this King of Glory, and grant that we may be made partakers of that same glory”. Such is the formula which sums up the prayer of the Church and shows us Her thoughts on this day of faith and of hope.
We must first notice that the glorious Transfiguration has already been twice brought before us in the Sacred Cycle-on the second Sunday of Lent and on the preceding Ember Saturday. What does this mean, but that the object of the present solemnity is not so much the historical fact already known, as the permanent mystery attached to it; not so much the personal favor bestowed on St. Peter and the sons of Zebedee, as the accomplishment of the great message then entrusted to them for the Church? Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of Man be risen from the dead (Matt. 17: 9). The Church, born from the open side of the Man-God on the Cross, was not to behold Him face to face on earth; after His Resurrection, when He had sealed His alliance with Her in the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, it is on faith alone that Her love was to be fed. But by the testimony which takes the place of sight, Her lawful desires to know Him were to be satisfied. Wherefore, for Her sake, giving truce, one day of His mortal life, to the ordinary law of suffering and obscurity He had taken upon Himself for the world’s salvation, Jesus manifested the glory which filled His blessed soul. The King of Jews and Gentiles revealed Himself upon the mountain, where His calm splendor eclipsed for evermore the lightnings of Sinai; the covenant of the eternal alliance was declared, not by the promulgation of a law of servitude engraved upon stone, but by the manifestation of the Lawgiver Himself, coming as Bridegroom to reign in grace and beauty over hearts. Elias and Moses, representing the Prophets and the Law whereby His coming was prepared, from their different starting-points, met beside Him like faithful messengers reaching their destination; they did homage to the Master of their now finished mission, and effaced themselves before Him at the voice of God the Father: This is My Beloved Son! Three witnesses, the most trustworthy of all, assisted at this solemn scene: the disciple of faith, the disciple of love, and that other son of thunder who was to be the first to seal with His blood both the faith and the love of an Apostle. By His order they kept religiously, as well they should, the secret of the King, until the day when the Church could be the first to receive it from their predestined lips.
But did this precious mystery take place on August 6? More than one doctor of sacred rites affirms that it did. At any rate, it was fitting to celebrate it in the month dedicated to Eternal Wisdom (in the Scripture readings of the Divine Office). It is she, the brightness of eternal light, the unspotted mirror and image of God’s goodness (Wisd. 7: 26), who, shedding grace upon the Son of Man, made Him on this day the most beautiful amongst all His brethren. Seven months ago the mystery was first announced by the gentle light of the Epiphany; but by virtue of the mystical number seven, here revealed once more, the beginnings of blessed hope, which we then celebrated as children with the Child Jesus, have grown together with Him and the Church; and the latter, established in unspeakable peace by the full growth which gives Her to Her Spouse, calls upon all Her children to grow like Her by the contemplation of the Son of God, even to the measure of the perfect age of Christ. We understand, then, why the liturgy of today repeats the formulas and chants of the glorious Feast of Epiphany: Arise, be enlightened O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee (Resp. 1 of Matins from Is. 60: 1); it is because on the mountain together with Our Lord, the Bride is also glorified, having the glory of God.
While the face of Jesus shone as the sun, His garments became white as snow (Matt. 17: 2). Now these garments so snow-white, as St. Mark observes, that no fuller on earth could have bleached them so, are the just men, the royal ornament inseparable from the Man-God, the Church, the seamless robe woven by our sweet Queen for Her Son out of the purest wool and most beautiful linen that the Valiant Woman could find. Although Our Lord personally has now passed the torrent of suffering and entered forever into His glory, nevertheless the bright mystery of the Transfiguration will not be complete until the last of the elect, having passed through the laborious preparation at the hands of the Divine Fuller and tasted death, has joined in the Resurrection of our adorable Head.
These eternal words, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee, have had two echoes in time, at the Jordan and on Thabor; and God, Who never repeats Himself, did not herein make an exception to the rule of saying but once what He says. For although the terms used on the two occasions are identical, they do not tend, as St. Thomas says, to the same end, but show the different ways in which man participates in the resemblance of the eternal filiation. At the Baptism of Our Lord, where the mystery of the first regeneration (baptism) was declared, as at the Transfiguration which manifested the second (the resurrection of the dead), the whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice, the Son in His Humanity, the Holy Ghost under the form, first of a dove, and afterwards of a bright cloud; for if in baptism the Holy Ghost confers innocence symbolized by the simplicity of the dove, in the Resurrection He will give to the elect the brightness of glory and refreshment after suffering, which are signified by the luminous cloud.
But without waiting for the day when Our Savior will renew our very bodies conformable to the bright glory of His own Divine Body, the mystery of the Transfiguration is wrought in our souls already here on earth. It is of the present life that St. Paul says and the Church sings today: God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus (from 2 Cor. 4: 6). Thabor, holy and divine mountain, rivaling Heaven, how can we help but say with St. Peter: “It is good for us to dwell on thy summit!” For thy summit is love; it is charity which towers above the other virtues, as thou towerest in gracefulness, and loftiness, and fragrance over the other mountains of Galilee, which saw Jesus passing, speaking, praying, working miracles, but were not as privileged as thee. It is after six days, as the Gospel observes, and therefore in the repose of the seventh which leads to the eighth of the Resurrection, that Jesus reveals Himself to the privileged souls who correspond to His love. The Kingdom of God is within us; when, leaving all impressions of the senses as it were asleep, we raise ourselves above the works and cares of the world by prayer, it is given us to enter with the Man-God into the cloud: there beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, as far as is compatible with our exile, we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord (from 2 Cor. 3: 18). “Let us then,” cries St. Ambrose, “ascend the mountain; let us beseech the Word of God to show Himself to us in His splendor, in His beauty; to grow strong and proceed prosperously, and reign in our souls. For behold a deep mystery! According to thy measure, the Word diminishes or grows within thee. If thou reach not that summit, high above all human thought, Wisdom will not appear to thee; the Word shows Himself to thee as in a body without brightness and without glory.”
If the vocation revealed to thee this day be so great and so holy, “reverence the call of God,” says St. Andrew of Crete: “do not ignore thyself, despise not a gift so great, show not thyself unworthy of the grace, be not so slothful in thy life as to lose this treasure of Heaven. Leave earth to the earth, and let the dead bury their dead; disdaining all that passes away, all that dies with the world and the flesh, follow even to Heaven, without turning aside, Christ Who leads the way through this world for thee. Take to thine assistance fear and desire, lest thou faint or lose thy love. Give thyself up wholly; be supple to the Word in the Holy Ghost, in order to attain this pure and blessed end: thy sanctification, together with the enjoyment of unspeakable goods. By zeal for the virtues, by contemplation of the truth, by wisdom, attain to Wisdom, Who is the principle of all, and in Whom all things subsist.” (1)
On this day the pope at Mass uses new wine or presses a bunch of ripe grapes into the chalice; raisins are also blessed at Rome. The Greeks and Russians bless grapes and other fruit.
Image: Crop of Transfiguration of Christ. artist: Giovanni Bellini, circa 1487. (11)
Research by REGINA Staff