Transfiguration, Donald Jackson with contributions from Aidan Hart, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
On the mountain You were transfigured, O Christ God, and Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold You crucified, they would understand that Your suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that You are truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion for the Transfiguration).
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, as testified to in Divine Revelation shows us our ultimate destiny as Christians: the ultimate destiny of all men and all creation to be transformed and glorified by the splendor of God Himself.
On the feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th, is a summer celebration and expectation of Great Lent, of the Eucharist, the Cross, and the Resurrection. The Church blesses grapes, as well as other fruits, on the Transfiguration is a beautiful sign of our final transfiguration of all things in Jesus Christ. We bless grapes because we bless God! The gesture of bringing and blessing of grapes points to the ultimate flowering and fruitfulness (generativity) of all creation in the Paradise; here we all will be transformed in the garden by the glory of the Lord.
Bunches of grapes are symbols of completion —especially experienced in the completion of the growing season— which has finally brought things to fruition. Christians see in the grapes the biblical image of Jesus as the Vine.
In the Bible we read of the custom of bringing fruit to the temple for consecration (Genesis 4:2-4; Ex 13:12-13; Numbers 15:19-21; Deuteronomy 8:10-14). In the New Testament the 12 Apostles brought this tradition to the Church (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Later in the early centuries of Christianity, the faithful brought to the Church fruits and vegetables of the new harvest: bread, wine, oil, incense, wax, honey, etc. Some of the offerings were taken to the altar, and the balance made available to needs of the clergy and the poor.
Hence, grapes ought to remind us that by our life we are known for our service to others. Thus, the grapes remind us that we should not be sour grapes for others.
In 1999, Saint John Paul preached this idea: “In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”
The faith requires our openness to the surprising work of God. Today we hear the call of the Lord in the narrative of the Transfiguration; this biblical datum is given to us twice in the liturgical year. For those interested not only in the theology of the feast but also in language we should consider the origins of the word. In the Greek, the word is metamorphoo, from which our English “metamorphosis” comes, and connotes transformation. This word is used in speaking of the transfiguration in Matthew and Mark, but also appears in Paul’s letters, usually translated as “transformed” or “changed.” While secularism pushed the notion of life-changing events as important and a marketable commodity, the Lord and his Apostle have something else to offer us. Today as we tackle the meaning of the Lord’s own transfiguration and our own, we too have to climb the mountain with Jesus to witness the intimacy of his glory and to see the Father’s power at work in Jesus. This event, like that of the Baptism of the Lord, reveals Jesus’ belovedness and divine sonship. At this time in the summer we see caterpillars becoming beautiful butterflies. In Romans 12:2, Saint Paul urges us to “be transfigured by the renewing of our minds.” Turn from sin to grace.
St. Cyril of Alexandria makes an experiential connection with change in theological terms. “He who receives Communion is made holy and Divinized in soul and body in the same way that water, set over a fire, becomes boiling. … Communion works like yeast that has been mixed into dough so that it leavens the whole mass: … Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with Him by this Communion, and the soul finds that he is in Christ and Christ is in him.”
So we come to believe as John Paul II taught: “we are made for eternity and eternity begins at this very moment, since the Lord is among us and lives with and in his Church.”
Jesus takes them up Mount Tabor, “to show them the full truth about himself, about his divinity, so that they can have hope in eternal life and they remember this experience of divinity, of bliss, of eternity, when it comes time to suffer through the passion. In considering this scene at Tabor, we try to go to Jesus, to look at him, so that we may be enlightened. So that whether we are ill, suffering or dying– or sick and tired– we actually try to discover the Tabors behind the Calvaries” (Fr Javier del Castillo).
This gospel reading is reading twice per year: today on the second Sunday of Lent and in August on the feast of the Transfiguration. Do we recognize that Jesus is the center of our life of faith? Do we recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate gift given to us that is foretold with this great of event personally experienced by Peter, James and John?
Detail of Raffaella’s “Transfiguration.”
For an instant on the summit of Tabor, Christ unveils the splendor of his divinity, manifesting to his chosen witnesses what he really is: the Son of God, “the radiance of the glory of the Father and the imprint of his substance”; but he also makes visible the transcendent destiny of our human nature, which he took on to save us as something likewise destined, because it is redeemed by his sacrifice of irrevocable love, that we too might participate in fullness of life in the “fellowship of the saints in light.” That body, transfigured before the astonished eyes of the apostles, is the body of Christ our brother, but it’s also that of our body called to glory; the light which floods inside of it is and will be our inheritance and our splendor. We are called to share that glory because we are “partakers of the divine nature.” An incomparable lot awaits us if we have honored our Christian vocation: if we have lived in the logical consequences of word and deed what the responsibilities of our Baptism demand of us.
Blessed Paul VI
Excerpt, Angelus address for 6 August 1978, only to never deliver it –he died that day.