August 6, 2019: TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS
August 6, 2019: TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
Rank: Double of the II Class.
“Christ Jesus, the brightness of the Father, and the figure of his substance, supporting all things by his mighty word, and cleansing away sin, vouchsafed this day to appear glorious on the high mountain.”
O God, who, by the testimony of the Prophets, didst confirm the mysteries of our faith in the glorious transfiguration of thy holy Son, and by a voice from heaven, shewedst us, that we are thy adopted children: mercifully grant, we may be heirs to the King of glory, and partakers of his bliss. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
According to St. Matthew, Ch. xvii. 1-9.
At that time: Jesus took Peter, and James, and John his brother, and led them up into a high mountain apart; and he was transfigured before them. And his face became bright as the sun, and his garments white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias, discoursing with him. And Peter answering said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And, lo, a voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear you him. And his disciples hearing it, fell on their faces, and were very much frighted. And Jesus coming to them, touched them, and said: Arise, and be not afraid. And lifting up their eyes, they saw nobody, but only Jesus. And, as they went down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell not this vision to any, till the son of man rise again from the dead.
All that desire with Christ to rise,
To Thabor’s Mount lift up your eyes;
See there what bliss, what charming rays
Of Glory God in heaven displays.
We see an object bright, sublime,
That knows no bounds of place or time,
Gloriously high and infinite,
Elder then heaven and Chaos-night.
This is that King whose
The Gentiles and the Jews obey,
Promis’d to Abr’ham and decreed,
To rule his num’rous faithful seed.
The law and prophets him unfold,
And sign the truth by them foretold;
Him God the Father from his Throne,
Commands the world to hear and own.
Glory to Christ, whose light displays
To little ones his saving ways;
To God the Father let’s repeat
The same, and to the Paraclete. Amen.
V. Thou didst appear glorious in the sight of the Lord.
R. Therefore the Lord clothed thee with beauty.
The Transfiguration of our Lord.
Our Divine Redeemer, in order to show us that the sufferings of his servants are usually intermingled with frequent spiritual comforts, and to give us a sensible demonstration of the truth of his promises of an eternal glory reserved for us in the world to come, was pleased to manifest a glimpse of his majesty in the mystery of his Transfiguration. Being in Galilee, about a year before his sacred passion, he chose to be witnesses of his glory the same three beloved disciples who were afterwards to be witnesses of his bloody agony in the garden, namely, St. Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, SS. James and John. He took three, that their evidence might be unexceptionable; but he would not publicly discover his glory, to teach his followers to love the closest secrecy in all spiritual graces and favours. All pretences contrary to this rule are suggested by blind self-love, not by the Spirit of God; they are a disguised pride, and a dangerous illusion. Every true servant of God loves to be hidden and concealed; his motto in the divine gifts, even when he most ardently invites all creatures to magnify the Lord with him for all his unspeakable mercies, is, “My secret to myself, my secret to myself.” (Isaias, xxiv. 15) He fears lest he should even be considered or thought of in what purely belongs to God alone. Jesus, therefore, would exhibit this miracle in retirement, and he led these three apostles to a retired mountain, as he was accustomed to repair often to some close solitude to pray. The tradition of the Christians in Palestine, of which St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Damascen, and other ancient fathers are vouchers, assures us, that this was Mount Thabor, which is exceeding high and beautiful, and was anciently covered with green trees and shrubs, and was very fruitful. It rises something like a sugarloaf, in a vast plain, in the middle of Galilee. This was the place in which the Man-God appeared in his glory. He was transfigured whilst at prayer, because it is usually in this heavenly commerce that the soul receives the dew of divine consolations, and tastes how infinitely sweet and good God is to those who sincerely seek him. Many Christians indeed are strangers to this effect of that holy exercise, because they do not apply themselves to it with assiduity and fervour, or neglect to disengage their affections from creatures by perfect humility, self-denial, and mortification of the senses. Without a great purity of heart no man shall see God. A little birdlime entangles the feathers of a bird, and holds down the strongest pinion from being able to raise the body in the air. So the least earthly dust clogs the wings of the soul, the least inordinate attachment to creatures is a weight which hinders the perfect union of her affections with God, and the full flow of his graces upon her; but a Christian worthily disposed and fitted by the Holy Ghost to receive the spirit of prayer, by assiduity in that holy exercise purifies his love more and more, transforms his affections, and renders them more and more spiritual and heavenly. Of this, the Transfiguration of our Divine Redeemer was, among other transcending prerogatives, a most noble and supereminent prototype.
Whilst Jesus prayed, he suffered that glory which was always due to his sacred humility, and of which, for our sake, he deprived it to diffuse a ray over his whole body. His face was altered, and shone as the sun, and his garments became white as snow. By this glorious transfiguration of his flesh he has animated our hope, that even our bodies will share with our immortal souls in the bliss which he has promised us, and will inherit his glory. Do we often bear in mind this comfortable truth? Can we believe it, and not always be employed in the thoughts of it? Can we think of it, and not be ravished out of ourselves with holy joy? Yes: this heavy lumpish flesh, these infirm corruptible bodies, at present so often subject to sickness, pain, and wants, will one day be raised from the dust glorified, impassable; no more liable to heat, cold, diseases, torment, or tears; beautiful, transcending in lustre and brightness the sun and stars; endued with swiftness beyond that of light, and with strength equal to the angels; with the power of penetrating all bodies, as Christ did the stone of the sepulchre, and the doors when shut; with dazzling glory, with unspeakable pleasure in every part or organ; in a word, with all the communicable gifts and qualities of spirits, resembling the body of Christ glorified after his resurrection, which, as St. Paul tells us, is the model upon which ours shall be raised in glory. A glimpse of all this appeared in the splendour wherewith his adorable humanity was clothed in his Transfiguration.
Moses and Elias were seen by the three apostles in his company on this occasion, and were heard discoursing with him of the death which he was to suffer in Jerusalem. Moses represented the ancient patriarchs, and the first saints who lived under the law; Elias the later prophets; and they showed by their presence that all the just inspired by God from the beginning had given testimony to Christ as the true Messias. They had both been remarkable for their sufferings in the cause of virtue, Elias having been exceedingly persecuted by the wicked, and Moses having chosen rather to be afflicted with the people of God than to enjoy the greatest honours and pleasures of Pharaoh's court; and the cross being the constant object of the most ardent desires of our blessed Redeemer out of the excess of his love for us, they spoke to him of nothing but of the stripes, thorns, reproaches, and cruel death which he was to suffer. Our loving Saviour, in part to moderate his ardour to complete his sacrifice by the triumph of his love in his death on the cross, had made it frequently the subject of his conversation with his disciples, and even in this joyful mystery, would entertain himself and the witnesses of his glory upon it. If we truly consider and understand the spiritual fruits and glory of mortification and suffering for Christ, we shall rejoice in wearing the livery of our crucified Redeemer. The three apostles were wonderfully delighted with this glorious vision, and St. Peter cried out to Christ, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias.” This he spoke, not knowing what he said, being out of himself in a transport of holy admiration and joy; desiring never to be drawn from the sight of so glorious an object, and never to lose that sweetness and delight with which his soul was then overwhelmed. He truly knew not what he said, or he would never have desired that for the time of trial on earth which is reserved only for heaven. Neither would he have contented himself with beholding only the glorified humanity of Christ, which vision can bear no proportion to the beatific contemplation of the divinity itself. He tasted only a single drop of that overflowing river which inebriates the heavenly Jerusalem, and all its blessed inhabitants; yet was so much transported by it. What would he then have said if he had received into his soul the whole impetuous torrent of heavenly delights? He who has once tasted that spiritual sweetness which God sometimes bestows on souls in this life to strengthen their weakness, and to attract them to his love by the sweet odour of his ointments, must ever after live in bitterness, alleviated only by resignation and love, till he arrive at the fountain itself, which is God. No wonder, therefore, that St. Peter, after this foretaste, was unwilling to return again to the earth. How little do the lovers of the world know the incomparable sweetness of divine love, or they would despise from their hearts those toys for which they deprive themselves of so great a good! Yet so depraved is the taste of many by their passions, that they would be content, were it possible, always to live here, and never think of the joys of heaven. “How can it be good for us to be here,” cried out St. Bernard, “where every thing in worldly pursuits is tedious, empty, or dangerous? Here is much malice, and very little wisdom, if even a little. Here all things are slippery and treacherous, covered with darkness, and full of snares; where souls are exposed to continual danger of perishing, the spirit sinks under affliction, and nothing is found but vanity and trouble of mind.” To the just this life is the time of trials and labour; heaven is our place of rest, our eternal sabbath, where our patience and tears will find their reward exceeding great. Why do we seek repose before the end of our warfare?
Whilst St. Peter was speaking, there came, on a sudden, a bright shining cloud from heaven, an emblem of the presence of God's majesty, and from out of this cloud was heard a voice which said:— “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” By this testimony the Father declared Christ his only begotten and co-eternal Son, sent by him into the world to be the remedy of our sins, our advocate and our propitiation, through whom alone we can find access to his offended majesty. If through him we approach the throne of his mercy, we cannot be rejected, he being in his humanity the object of the infinite complacency of the Father: through him we are invited to apply with confidence for mercy and every good gift. By the same voice the Father also declared him the perfect model of our virtues, and commands us to hear him, and attend to his example, in order to square by it our lives, and to form in our souls a new spirit grounded upon the pattern he hath set us of humility, meekness, charity, and patience. He commands us also to listen with the utmost respect and docility to his saving and most holy doctrine, which is the word of eternal life. The apostles that were present, upon hearing this voice, were seized with a sudden fear, and fell upon the ground; but Jesus, going to them, touched them, and bade them to rise. They immediately did so, and saw no one but Jesus standing in his ordinary state. This vision happened in the night. As they went down the mountain early the next morning, Jesus gave them a charge not to discover to any one what they had seen till he should be risen from the dead. The Jews were unworthy to hear what many among them would have only blasphemed, and they had sufficient evidence by his miracles, to which they willfully shut their eyes; but Jesus would by this give us a fresh lesson of humility, and teach us that secrecy with regard to divine graces, and the exercise of all extraordinary virtues, is the guardian of those gifts.
From the contemplation of this glorious mystery we ought to conceive a true idea of future happiness; if this once possess our souls, it will make us not to value any difficulties or labours we can meet with here, but to regard with great indifference all the goods and evils of this life, provided we can but secure our portion in the kingdom of God's glory. Thabor is our encouragement by setting that bliss before our eyes, but Calvary is the way that leads to it. When Christ shall let us into the secrets of his love and cross, and make us taste that interior sweetness and secure peace which he hath hidden therein, and which the world knoweth not, then we shall find a comfort and joy in our sufferings themselves, and, with St. Paul, we shall think of nothing but of loving and suffering in what manner it shall please God to make us tread in the footsteps of his divine Son, being solicitous only to walk in the continual exercise of pure lore. The ninety-fourth sermon of St. Leo, which is on this mystery, shows this festival to have been observed at Rome in the middle of the fifth century. Pope Calixtus III made it more universal and solemn by a bull dated in 1457.
Origin of the Feast of the Transfiguration
“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 bright cloud, didst in a wonderful manner fore-signify our adoption as sons: mercifully vouchsafe to make us fellow-heirs of that King of glory, and the sharers of his bliss.” Such is the formula which sums up the prayer of the Church and shows us her thoughts on this day of attestation and of hope.
We must first notice that the glorious transfiguration has already been twice brought before us on the sacred cycle, viz.: on the second Sunday of Lent, and on the preceding 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 favour bestowed on Simon 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 (St. Matth, xvii. 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 him for the world's salvation, he allowed the glory which filled his blessed soul to transpire. The King of Jews and Gentiles revealed himself upon the mountain, where his calm splendour eclipsed for evermore the lightnings of Sinai: the covenant of the eternal alliance was declared, not by the promulgation of a law of servitude engraven 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 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 beseemed them, 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 the 6th August? 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. It is she, the brightness of eternal light, the unspotted mirror and image of God's goodness (Wisd, vii. 26), who, shedding grace upon the Son of man, made him on this day the most beautiful amongst all his brethren, and dictated more melodiously than ever to the inspired singer the accents of the Epithalamium: My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the king (Ps, xliv. 2, 3).
Seven months ago, the mystery was first announced by the gentle light of the Epiphany; but by the virtue of the mystical 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 with 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 to-day repeats the formulas and chants of the glorious Theophany: Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee (Isaias, lx. 1): it is because on the mountain together with our Lord the Bride also is glorified, having the glory of God.
While the face of Jesus shone as the sun, his garments became white as snow (St. Matth, xvii. 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 for ever 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. O Face of our Saviour that dost ravish the heavens, then will all glory, all beauty, all love shine forth from thee. Expressing God by the perfect resemblance of true Son by nature, thou wilt extend the good pleasure of the Father to that reflection of his Word, which constitutes the sons of adoption, and reaches in the Holy Ghost even to the lowest fringes of his garment which fills the temple below him. According to the doctrine of the Angel of the schools, the adoption of sons of God, which consists in being conformable to the image of the Son of God by nature, is wrought in a double manner: first by grace in this life, and this is imperfect conformity; and then by glory in patria, and this is perfect conformity, according to the words of St. John: We are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is (I St. John, iii. 2). The word of eternity, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee, has 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 was declared, as at the Transfiguration which manifested the second, 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 this Holy Spirit confers innocence symbolised by the simplicity of the dove, in the Resurrection he will give to the elect the brightness of glory and the refreshment after suffering, which are signified by the luminous cloud.
But without waiting for the day when our Saviour 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 to-day: 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 (II Cor, iv. 6). Thabor, holy and divine mountain rivalling heaven, how can we help saying with 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 prodigies, but did not know him in the intimacy of the perfect. 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 (II Cor, iii. 18). “Let us then,” cries St. Ambrose, “ascend the mountain; let us beseech the Word of God to show himself to us in his splendour, 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 deification, 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.”
The feast of the Transfiguration has been kept in the East from the earliest times. With the Greeks, it is preceded by a Vigil and followed by an Octave, and on it they abstain from servile work, from commerce, and from law-suits. Under the graceful name of ROSE-FLAME, rosӕ coruscatio, we find it in Armenia at the beginning of the fourth century, supplanting Diana and her feast of flowers, by the remembrance of the day when the divine Rose unfolded for a moment on earth its brilliant corolla. It is preceded by a whole week of fasting, and counts among the five principal feasts of the Armenian cycle, where it gives its name to one of the eight divisions of the year. Although the Menology of this Church marks it on the sixth of August like that of the Greeks and the Roman Martyrology, it is nevertheless always celebrated there on the seventh Sunday after Pentecost; and by a coincidence full of meaning, they honour on the preceding Saturday the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, a figure of the Church.
The origin of to-day's feast in the West is not so easy to determine. But the authors who place its introduction into our countries as late as 1457, when Callixtus III promulgated by precept a new Office enriched with indulgences, overlook the fact that the Pontiff speaks of the feast as already wide spread and “commonly called of the Saviour.” It is true, that in Rome especially the celebrity of the more ancient feast of St. Sixtus II, with its double Station at the two cemeteries which received respectively the relics of the Pontiff-Martyr and those of his companions, was for a long time an obstacle to the acceptation of another feast on the same day. Some Churches, to avoid the difficulty, chose another day in the year to honour the mystery. As the feast of our Lady of the Snow, so that of the Transfiguration had to spread more or less privately, with various Offices and Masses, until the supreme authority should intervene to sanction and bring to unity the expressions of the devotion of different Churches. Callixtus III considered that the hour had come to consecrate the work of centuries; he made the solemn and definitive insertion of this feast of triumph on the universal Calendar the memorial of the victory which arrested, under the walls of Belgrade in 1456, the onward march of Mahomet II, conqueror of Byzantium, against Christendom.
Already in the ninth century, if not even earlier, martyrologies and other liturgical documents furnish proofs that the mystery was celebrated with more or less solemnity, or at least with some sort of commemoration, in divers places. In the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, under whose government Cluny took possession of Thabor, ordained that “in all the monasteries or churches belonging to his Order, the Transfiguration should be celebrated with the same degree of solemnity as the Purification of our Lady;” and he gave for his reason, besides the dignity of the mystery, the “custom, ancient or recent, of many Churches throughout the world, which celebrate the memory of the said Transfiguration with no less honour than the Epiphany and the Ascension of our Lord.”
On the other hand at Bologna, in 1233, in the juridical instruction preliminary to the canonization of St. Dominic, the death of the Saint is declared to have taken place on the feast of St. Sixtus, without mention of any other. It is true, and we believe this detail is not void of meaning, that a few years earlier, Sicardus of Cremona thus expressed himself in his Mitrale: “We celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord on the day of St. Sixtus.” Is not this sufficient indication that while the feast of the latter continued to give its traditional name to the eighth of the Ides of August, it did not prevent a new and greater solemnity from taking its place beside it, preparatory to absorbing it altogether? For he adds: “Therefore on this same day, as the Transfiguration refers to the state in which the faithful will be after the resurrection, we consecrate the Blood of our Lord from new wine, if it is possible to obtain it, in order to signify what is said in the Gospel: I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father (St. Matth, xxvi. 29). But if it cannot be procured, then at least a few ripe grapes are pressed over the chalice, or else grapes are blessed and distributed to the people.”
The author of the Mitrale died in 1215; yet he was only repeating the explanation already given in the second half of the preceding century by John Beleth, Rector of the Paris University. We must admit that the very ancient benedictio uvӕ found in the Sacramentaries on the day of St. Sixtus has nothing corresponding to it in the life of the great Pope which could justify our referring it to him. The Greeks, who have also this blessing of grapes fixed for the 6th August, celebrate on this day the Transfiguration alone, without any commemoration of Sixtus II. Be it as it may, the words of the Bishop of Cremona and of the Rector of Paris prove that Durandus of Mende, giving at the end of the thirteenth century the same symbolical interpretation, did but echo a tradition more ancient than his own time.
Taken from: The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901.
Glory and riches are in his house, and his righteousness abideth for ever and ever. Alleluia.