Sunday Sermon for August 6, 2017, the Feast of the Transfiguration, Year A
Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9
Today we celebrate one of those rare occasions when the regular Sunday Mass is replaced by a different feast. Even though the Transfiguration is, liturgically speaking, a Feast rather than a Solemnity, the fact that it is celebrated even on Sunday tells us just how important the Church sees this event to be. In this way, one can understand how important the profession of faith in the resurrection by St. Thomas has been for so many people throughout history, so too, the Transfiguration has been instrumental in helping people to believe in our Lord’s divinity.
In saying this, we have to understand that for St. Peter and the early Christians, their faith was in the person of Jesus and the Scriptures which foretold Him. In the second reading, St. Peter himself testifies to the Transfiguration, but then points his readers to the prophecies contained in the Old Testament. He was not going to allow his own personal experience to determine his faith; rather, his experience verified what he knew as a Jewish man regarding the prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament.
However, since St. Peter was not aware that the letter he was writing was divinely inspired, and since there was no New Testament at the time, he could only look at what was absolute in his day. For us, we now know the Gospels are inspired as are the letters of St. Peter, so we have the prophecies of the Old Testament, the personal witness given by St. Peter, and the Gospel accounts of this event that shine like a lamp in a dark place.
With this as background, we ask why the Feast of the Transfiguration takes precedence over a Sunday in Ordinary Time? First of all, we have to understand that only celebrations which have something to do with salvation take the place of a Sunday Mass. In this case, it is the truth of our Lord’s divinity. Our Lord took only three Apostles with Him to Mount Tabor, and afterward, told not to talk about what they had seen until after His resurrection. In other words, this was not done to bolster the faith of the Apostles.
In the early Church there were many controversies regarding the Person of Jesus. Is He God? Is He man? Did He have a human body, but not a human soul? Was He both a divine Person and a human person? Knowing the struggles that would befall the Church, our Lord provided these kinds of events so the people of God would come to know that Jesus is one Person with two natures, and He is the second Person of the Holy Trinity: He is God!
At the Transfiguration and His baptism, we have the Father and the Holy Spirit being revealed as well. At our Lord’s baptism the Holy Spirit was seen in the form of a dove. Now, however, He is shown in the form the Jewish people would have recognized immediately: the Shekinah. Many times in the Old Testament God is called Shekinah, but the word is never translated into English as such, so we do not notice it. The Shekinah is the glory, most often the glory cloud. We see this glory of God when it filled the meeting tent where Moses spoke with God, led the people of Israel through the desert as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, filled the Temple Solomon had built and, most importantly, overshadowed our Blessed Lady at the Annunciation.
In the first reading we are given a glimpse of the glory of God with thousands upon thousands ministering to Him and myriads upon myriads attending Him. But then we see one like a Son of Man being presented Who also receives dominion, glory, and kingship. In the Transfiguration, this glory is now revealed through the radiance of our Lord. To show the Jewish people this is not a false image put forward by the devil, but the same glory revealed in the Old Testament, we see Moses and Elijah with Jesus. These two represent not only the Law and the Prophets, both were also privileged to witness the glory of God, the Shekinah.
Now, in our turn, we must also know how important this Feast is for us. Perhaps we have grown accustomed to the fact that Jesus is God and, therefore, pay it little attention. God allows us to see His glory revealed through His Son, but like the Apostles on Mount Tabor, God is awakening us to greater faith because we are not merely spectators beholding this event from a distance. No, you and I are brought into this mystery: allow the Shekinah to overshadow you, hear the voice of the Father, and believe in Jesus Christ, God made man!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.