Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Second Sunday of Lent —17 February AD 2008
“God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance
Psalm 90-Translated from the Old Latin

    As I have said earlier this Lent, the Preface of the Mass—the prayer just before the Sanctus and the beginning of the Canon—tells us that the objectives of the Lenten observance are to “extinguish our vices, elevate our understanding, and bestow upon us virtue and its reward.”  The theme for today’s Mass seems to be that, in part, we will achieve those objectives by allowing ourselves to appreciate God’s glory.  This morning’s Gospel allows us a glimpse of what only three of the Apostles—Peter, James, and John—were privileged to see, the Transfiguration of our Lord.  “His face shone as the sun, and His garments became as white as snow....  Moses and Elias spoke together with Him”[2]

    Moses and Elias represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament.  They also have the unique distinction, after Adam and Eve, of having personally encountered God, and having seen something of His glory.[3]  I say, “something” of His glory for “no man can see God and live”—Moses saw only His back;  Elias saw only God’s effects in the wind and the earthquake, and the fire, and in the whistling of gentle wind.[4]

    There is the suggestion here that the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament were soon to yield to Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and His Church—indeed, our Lord predicted His coming crucifixion both immediately before and after the Transfiguration.[5]  Today’s account comes in the midst of the establishment of the Church, with Peter and the Apostles receiving the power to have whatever they bind or loose on earth to be likewise bound or loosed in heaven.[6]

    There is also the suggestion that this Transfiguration was something to bolster the spirits of the Apostles.  Certainly they would be depressed and disheartened by these predictions of the Crucifixion, and all the more by actually being witnesses to it.  Something like the Transfiguration was necessary to assure them that our Lord would be triumphant, even over death on the Cross.  Otherwise they would be like those with no hope.  We, ourselves, can draw hope from this in the face of our own difficulties, for we know that by Baptism we are united in the Resurrection of Christ, and will someday share His glory in heaven if we but persevere in grace.

    Centuries ago Pope Saint Leo the Great explained that the glory seen by the Apostles was the splendor of our Lord as Christ the King.  It was the splendor of His glorified humanity, “not the Divinity itself.  That unutterable and inaccessible vision is reserved for the pure of heart in eternal life ... not for these men to look upon and see while they were still encumbered by mortal flesh.”[7]  “No man can see God and live”  but Jesus Christ, God, the Son of God, had become man precisely so that He could be seen by men and women;  to teach us and to redeem us by His words and His works.  They saw the Son of Man in His glory.

    We ought to recognize that the humanity of Christ is the very same humanity which we possess.  Again, Pope Saint Leo tells us that “Christ ... is at once the Only-begotten of God and a Son of man.  For one of these without the other would be profitless for salvation.”[8]  Now, we don’t shine like the sun, nor wear garments as white as the snow, but our humanity is glorified, as Christ’s was, when we are in the state of sanctifying grace.  This is true here on earth as it will be in heaven.  And let us not forget that the eternal life of heaven, in the beatific vision of God, must begin here on earth.  We cannot hope to become holy after we die, but must undertake holiness in the here and now.  “God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”

    Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the authors of the “synoptic” Gospels) each recount the events of the Baptism of our Lord and of His Transfiguration.  In each case the voice of God the Father is heard saying “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”  But at the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father bids us to “hear Him.”[9]  By the time of the Transfiguration, the teaching mission of our Lord was nearly complete.  It remained only for Him to travel to Jerusalem where He would be crucified.  Bolstered by the comfort of His glory, it remains for every one of us “to learn how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”  We have seen the glory of Christ the King, and now it is time to fall in behind Him, hearing Him and imitating His perfect example to the best of our abilities.

    We modern Catholics are twenty centuries and thousands of miles removed from Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place.  Only Peter, James, and John were privileged to be there with Jesus, Moses, and Elias.  That far-away brightness of the sun and the snow seem very dim to the eyes of the body.  The Lenten exercises will help the eyes of the mind to see what the eyes of the body do not—“extinguishing our vices, elevating our understanding, and bestowing upon us virtue and its reward.”  The glorified humanity of Christ the King is much easier to see when we are not weighed down with food and drink, and mindless entertainments, and a full social calendar.  Though we cannot be at Mount Tabor to see our Lord appear like the sun and the snow, we certainly can come to Holy Mass to see Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament—more privileged even than Moses and Elias, we can receive the Body and Blood, humanity and divinity of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.

    Lent continues, and we must be about the business of “extinguishing our vices, elevating our understanding, and receiving virtue and its reward.”  “God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”


[1]   Epistle:  1 Thessalonians iv: 1-7.

[2]   Gospel Matthew xvii: 1-9.

[3]   Exodus xxxiii: 9 ff;   3 Kings xix: 8-14.

[4]   Cf. ibid.

[5]   Matthew xvi: 21-28;   Mark viii: 31-39;   Luke ix: 22-27 (before)  Matthew xvii: 21-22;   Mark ix: 29-31;   Luke ix: 44-45 (after).

[6]   Cf. Matthew xvi: 19;  xviii: 18.

[7]   Lesson iii at Matins, Pope Saint Leo, homily on the Transfiguration.

[8]   Pope saint Leo the Great, ibid.

[9]   Matthew iii: 17;   Mark i: 11;   Luke iii: 22 (Baptism) and Matthew xvii;   Mark ix:6;   Luke ix: 35





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