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The Feast of the Transfiguration
FIGURING OUT THE TRANSFIGURATION
This year the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord falls on a Sunday, displacing the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The feast has a chequered history. It dates from about the 5th century in the Eastern Church and the 10th in the West. However it wasn’t until the 16th century that it was added to the calendar of the universal Church as a mark of thanksgiving for a Christian victory over the muslim Turks near Belgrade on August 6.
August 6 is also commemorated around the world as Hiroshima Day, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the terrifying new technology of atomic weapons was used for the first time, altering the course of history. Petitions for peace should certainly be included in our liturgies and private prayers on this day.
In the Eastern tradition the first subject that icon painters tackle on entering into their calling is the transfiguration, using brilliant gold colours to depict Jesus as Light from Light, true God from true God. The light from Christ’s robes is always shown cascading onto the clothes of the apostles as a sign of their (and our) share in Christ’s glory.
There’s something unusual about the readings for the feast day. Normally we hear a particular passage from scripture only once every three years at Sunday Mass, but the Gospel passage for the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-10) was read just a few months ago, on the second Sunday of Lent. On that occasions it was preceded by the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, whereas this time the first reading is an apocalyptic passage from the Book of Daniel which speaks of the splendour of the Son of Man.
As with all solemnities and feasts, and in contrast to most Sundays of the year, the second reading for today is chosen to fit with both the first reading and the Gospel. The second letter of Peter was written in times of persecution and false teaching. The writer encourages his readers to be faithful to Jesus and his way until he comes again.
The readings for the Transfiguration offer us hope. At the end of his time on earth Jesus went up a mountain and there was nailed to a cross. The earlier events on a mountain, however, foretold that death is not the last word. As we journey through suffering and death, we too have already been shown what awaits the faithful disciple – transfiguration into glory. We can take up the cross of discipleship with courage because we have the promise of resurrection and know that by “listening to him” we help establish the kingdom of God.
All of this is expressed succinctly in the prayer texts of the feast:God our Father,in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son,you strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of your prophets,and show us the splendour of your beloved sons and daughters.As we listen to the voice of your Son,help us to become heirs to eternal life with him. (Opening prayer).
He revealed his glory to the disciplesto strengthen them for the scandal of the cross.His glory shone from a body like our own,to show that the Church,which is the body of Christ,would one day share his glory. (Preface).