The Catholic Defender: Transfiguration of the Lord
The Transfiguration is a theophany: a manifestation of God, especially of the divinity of Christ, through a display of His uncreated, divine energy. Many churches of Christianity celebrate the Transfiguration as a major feast day.
All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36). With remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. Peter’s eagerness to erect tents or booths on the spot suggests it occurred during the week-long Jewish Feast of Booths in the fall.
The transfiguration narrative acts as a further revelation of the identity of Jesus as the Son of God to some of his disciples.
According to Scripture scholars, in spite of the texts’ agreement it is difficult to reconstruct the disciples’ experience, because the Gospels draw heavily on Old Testament descriptions of the Sinai encounter with God, and prophetic visions of the Son of Man. Certainly Peter, James, and John had a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity strong enough to strike fear into their hearts. Such an experience defies description, so they drew on familiar religious language to describe it. And certainly Jesus warned them that his glory and his suffering were to be inextricably connected—a theme John highlights throughout his Gospel.
The transfiguration is a preview of the future, when the Son of Man will come in glory to consummate his kingdom. But this future kingdom can only come through his death and resurrection, which is why Jesus warns the three disciples to “tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9).
Tradition names Mount Tabor as the site of the revelation. A church first raised there in the fourth century was dedicated on August 6. A feast in honor of the Transfiguration was celebrated in the Eastern Church from about that time. Western observance began in some localities about the eighth century.
This incident also takes place up a mountain and a cloud symbolises the presence of God. Moses and Elijah appear and stand beside Jesus. This symbolises that Jesus is their successor and has fulfilled both. He is now bringing a new covenant from God for all people.
On July 22, 1456, Crusaders defeated the Turks at Belgrade. News of the victory reached Rome on August 6, and Pope Callistus III placed the feast on the Roman calendar the following year.
One of the Transfiguration accounts is read on the second Sunday of Lent each year, proclaiming Christ’s divinity to the Elect and baptized alike. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, by contrast, is the story of the temptation in the desert—affirmation of Jesus’ humanity. The two distinct but inseparable natures of the Lord were a subject of much theological argument at the beginning of the Church’s history; it remains hard for believers to grasp.
Living Word and shining Sun of God, in your presence we see the face of holiness. Overshadow us with your power and grace, so that we may keep your commandments and speak your truth with courage and love; all for the dazzling glory of your holy name. Amen.