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Feastday Highlights: The Transfiguration

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Aug 05, 2014

Interspersed throughout the Season of the Year (Ordinary Time) are feasts of Our Lord that are not directly connected to the Temporal Cycle, but integrated in the Sanctoral Cycle. There are two cycles within the Liturgical Year, Temporal (or Proper of Time) and Sanctoral. The Temporal Cycle celebrates the mystery of the redemption and takes preeminence over other celebrations outside of the cycle. It is not just composed of the Easter and Christmas cycles of feasts, but the 33 or 34 weeks of Ordinary Time are also an integral part of the Temporal Cycle. The Sanctoral Cycle consists of the feasts of devotion of Our Lord and Our Lady and feasts and memorials of the saints through the year.

The Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th is an example of this type of feast of Our Lord. The placement of this feast within the Liturgical Year has no relation to any other feasts or seasons. This feast was established early in the East Syrian Church in the 5th century, and then it appeared in the 10th century in the Western church and quickly spread due to the enthusiasm and interest in the Holy Land and the sites related to the events of Jesus' life. Pope Calixtus III added the feast to the Universal Calendar in 1457 in gratitude for the victory of the Franciscan monk John Capistran and John Hunyadi of Hungary had over the Turks the preceding year.

Feast of Theophany

This is one of two feasts of theophany: the Baptism of Our Lord, and Transfiguration. (In the Eastern rite the Epiphany is also known as the Theophany.) Theophany is from the Greek meaning "appearance of God." The Old Testament has many theophanies, but these two feasts are Christocentric and from the Gospels. They also mark the explicit presence of all three persons of the Blessed Trinity.

The first three evangelists tell the story in detail (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:1-7; Luke 9:28-36) but only St. Luke explains that the purpose: they "went up the mountain to pray." Peter, James and John were witnesses of Jesus briefly moving aside the human veil and revealing His heavenly splendor. The whole scene of the Transfiguration echoes Moses at Mount Sinai. The appearance of Moses and Elijah symbolize how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, with Moses being the Law and Elijah as the Prophets.

Feast of Booths

Some Scripture scholars theorize that the Transfiguration occurred during the Feast of Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This was a biblical Jewish feast that fell sometime within September or October (in the Jewish calendar this was the 15th day of the month of Tishrei) commemorating the 40 year sojourn in the desert and remembrance of dwelling in tents, including the temporary tabernacle for the dwelling of God (Holy of Holies) until the permanent Temple was built by Solomon.

If this wasn't during the actual feast, the whole scene does hearken back to wandering in the desert and the revelation of the Covenant with the Jewish people. Understanding the context of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles helps understand why Peter would even suggest erecting tents.

A Harvest Feast

It is often thought that the date also coincides and replaces or "baptizes" an earlier pagan harvest feast. That might be the case, but the Feast of Tabernacles was also one of the Jewish harvest festivals. For the Catholic feast on August 6, this is one of several harvest feasts, the first was August 1, the traditional Lammas Day (St. Peter in Chains). August 15, the Assumption, is tied in with the blessing of fruits, flowers, and herbs. For the Transfiguration, older traditions in both the Eastern churches and in Rome have the blessing of grapes, raisins and other fruits, wine and also blessing and incorporating the wheat grains in the celebration.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is the time of summer where the gardens start producing their bounty and so the season does echo these harvest feasts. My tomatoes are finally ripening, and the grapes next door are almost ready to pick. There are several blessings from the Roman Ritual for grapes and the harvest that could be prayed for today's feast. I couldn't find a blessing for wine that was not associated with St. John's feast day, but a general blessing of wine would also be appropriate for this feast.

Wheat pilaf is the traditional Eastern dish for today, but we will serve rice pilaf due to wheat allergies in our household. Although not traditional, the serving of white foods as a reminder of Christ's brilliant white garments is also a wonderful visual reminder of the scene of the Transfiguration.

Jesus in the Tabernacle

Meditating on this feast can take us back to the Tabernacle where Jesus resides on earth. Our foods can remind us of the grapes and wheat that will be used as the gifts of bread and wine that will be transformed into His Body and Blood. Remembering the tabernacles in the desert helps us see the foreshadowing of the Jesus in the Tabernacle. We do not see His glory here on earth, but we look forward to heaven when the veil will be removed and we enjoy the beatific vision of God.

Until that day, this feast is another reminder of how we should unite ourselves to God in prayer. We ask Jesus for help in coming closer to Him and transforming our lives.

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