August 6: Transfiguration of Our Lord, Class II

Aelbrecht Bouts, c15th

At an Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the significance of the Transfiguration:

"...After Jesus had foretold his Passion to the disciples, “he took with him Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Mt 17:1-2). According to the senses the light of the sun is the brightest light known in nature but, according to the spirit, the disciples briefly glimpsed an even more intense splendour, that of the divine glory of Jesus which illumines the whole history of salvation. St Maximus Confessor says that “[the Lord’s] garments appear white, that is to say, the words of the Gospel will then be clear and distinct, with nothing concealed” (Ambiguum 10: PG 91, 1128 B).

The Gospel tells that beside the transfigured Jesus “there appeared... Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Mt 17:3); Moses and Elijah, figure of the Law and of the Prophets. It was then that Peter, ecstatic, exclaimed “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mt 17:4). However St Augustine commented, saying that we have only one dwelling place, Christ: “he is the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word of God in the Prophets” (Sermo De Verbis Ev. 78:3: PL 38, 491).

In fact, the Father himself proclaims: “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5). The Transfiguration is not a change in Jesus but the revelation of his divinity: “the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself ‘light from light’” (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Doubleday, New York, 2007, p. 310).

Peter, James and John, contemplating the divinity of the Lord, are ready to face the scandal of the Cross, as it is sung in an ancient hymn: “You were transfigured on the mountain and your disciples, insofar as they were able, contemplated your glory, in order that, on seeing you crucified, they would understand that your Passion was voluntary and proclaim to the world that you are truly the splendour of the Father” (Κοντάκιον είς τήν Μεταμόρφωσιν, in: Μηναια, t. 6, Rome 1901, 341)."

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