TSD 49: Transfigured

Body and spirit, man and God

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday of Lent. The readings at Genesis 12:1-4a, 2 Timothy 1:8b-10, and Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration.

Early in Lent, the focus remains on God’s promise and glory; we have not yet turned to the near anticipation of His Passion. And so we begin with the promise of temporal and spiritual power given to Abram:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Then we turn to St. Paul, who begs us to remember…

the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

This language of light and glory is, of course, brought to life in the Transfiguration. St. Jerome says of this extraordinary episode:

Such as He is to be in the time of the Judgment, such was He now seen of the Apostles. Let none suppose that He lost His former form and lineaments, or laid aside His bodily reality, taking upon Him a spiritual or ethereal Body. … For that His face is said to shine, and His raiment described to become white, does not take away substance, but confer glory. In truth, the Lord was transformed into that glory in which He shall hereafter come in His Kingdom. The transformation enhanced the brightness, but did not destroy the countenance, although the body were spiritual; whence also His raiment was changed and became white to such a degree, as in the expression of another Evangelist, no fuller on earth can whiten them. But all this is the property of matter, and is the subject of the touch, not of spirit and ethereal, an illusion upon the sight only beheld in phantasm.

This Transfiguration (c. 1865) by Carl Bloch is probably the closest to how I have always pictured the event in my head. Bloch’s Life of Jesus series is particularly favored by the LDS church, for reasons I have not sussed out.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday of Lent. The Epistle is 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 and the Gospel is also Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration. The tract is Psalm 105 (104):1-4. The St. Andrew Missal notes that the Transfiguration gospel is the same as the day before, the Lenten Ember Saturday, and its reason for being used is a bit more obscure: “The Gospel relates the meeting on Mount Tabor of the three who gave us the example of a forty days fast: Moses, Elias, and Jesus.”

If we were to reason a connection between the Epistle and the Gospel for Sunday, it would be purity rather than promise and glory. The reading from Thessalonians is an exhortation to upright conduct, concluding with: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification: in Christ Jesus our Lord.” On this entire chapter of the epistle, Haydock quotes Ambrose:

In this chapter the apostle begins to remind them of their obligation of always striving to increase in virtue. Though he praises them through the whole epistle, he still thinks it necessary to warn them not to be surprised in uncleanness. He repeats what he had taught them before; first, that there is vengeance awaiting the workers of evil; and secondly, that the favour of God is the reward of those who deal with the brethren in simplicity, and preserve themselves from the defilements of the Gentiles.

A more sedate Transfiguration, by Giovanni Bellini, c. 1490.

The gradual this week come from Psalm 24, and goes like this:

Tribulationes cordis mei dilatatae sunt: de necessitatibus meis eripe me, Domine. // Vide humilitatem meam, et laborem meum: et dimitte omnia peccata mea.

The troubles of my heart are multiplied: deliver me from my necessities, O Lord. // See my abjection and my labor, and forgive me all my sins.

Dom Johner says (p. 127):

[In the Epistle] the Apostle had cried: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” We are all aware how difficult is this life's task, how the heart, desirous of love, has to struggle, how arduous the conflicts of life really are. And we frequently feel exhausted and miserable, because we have often added our personal failings to the burden of life. At the sight of all these miseries, we address to the Lord this threefold petition: Deliver us, see our abjection, forgive us our sins.

Tuesday, March 10, is the Feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, Armenia. I knew nothing about this remarkable story until just now. It seems easiest to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, which follows a sermon by St. Basil the Great, at length:

According to St. Basil, forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant. One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and placed himself beside the thirty-nine soldiers of Christ. Thus the number of forty remained complete. At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. The Christians, however, collected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way the veneration paid to the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were erected in their honour.

This icon in ivory dates from tenth-century Constantinople. Wikipedia, quoting the Met: “Byzantine artists were fascinated with the subject that allowed them to graphically show human despair. The Martyrs were typically represented at the point when they were about to freeze to death, ‘shivering from the cold, hugging themselves for warmth, or clasping hands to their faces or wrists in pain and despair.’”

Thursday, March 12, is the Feast of St. Gregory the Great. We briefly discussed this magnificent man in TSD 22 for his modern feast, September 3. The Catholic Encyclopedia article begins with an epigraph from a non-Catholic writer that, it says, “will justify the length and elaboration of the following article”:

[Gregory] is certainly one of the most notable figures in Ecclesiastical History. He has exercised in many respects a momentous influence on the doctrine, the organization, and the discipline of the Catholic Church. To him we must look for an explanation of the religious situation of the Middle Ages; indeed, if no account were taken of his work, the evolution of the form of medieval Christianity would be almost inexplicable. And further, in so far as the modern Catholic system is a legitimate development of medieval Catholicism, of this too Gregory may not unreasonably be termed the Father. Almost all the leading principles of the later Catholicism are found, at any rate in germ, in Gregory the Great.

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A magisterial depiction (1626-1627) of St. Gregory by TSD favorite Francisco de Zurbarán.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, March 9, is the Feast of St. Frances of Rome. The patron of Benedictine Oblates, Frances was born into an aristocratic family who wished her to marry, against her own desire to enter religion. She relented, though, and had what was apparently a happy marriage of 40 years to Lorenzo Ponziani, a military man loyal to the pope and often off on campaigns. She bore him several children, then they agreed to live in continence while Frances expanded her life of prayer, healing, and charity. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes into more detail about her blessings:

Her visions often assumed the form of drama enacted for her by heavenly personages. She had the gift of miracles and ecstasy, we well as the bodily vision of her guardian angel, had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Western Schism. She could read the secrets of consciences and detect plots of diabolical origin. She was remarkable for her humility and detachment, her obedience and patience, exemplified on the occasion of her husband's banishment, the captivity of [her son] Battista, her sons' death, and the loss of all her property.

In 1425 she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary to serve the poor and sick of Rome, and on the death of her husband in 1436 she entered a monastery with her oblates—and was quickly named superior. She died four years later.

The Vision of Saint Francesca Romana (1610s) by Orazio Gentileschi. More information: “The painting illustrates one of the saint's visions, in which she sees the glory of Heaven, where the Virgin allows her to hold the Christ Child for a brief moment. The artist suppresses the glories expressed in the text as well as the saint's meditation on the symbolic meanings of the Child's features, focusing instead on the tenderness of the moment.”

Those Seven Days

There are several problems here, but let me take the opportunity to say again: The 1950s are not “traditional.”

I remember seeing a billboard for a local Catholic elementary school that advertised…tablets for every student.

It’s easy if you try.

I’d go door-to-door for Jeremy.

“Religion” “News” “Service.” The coronavirus and Communion stuff is really bringing out the worst in religion journalism.

Tip Jar

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Unfortunately the beginning of the baseball season in Pittsburgh is more an occasion of morbid curiosity than of excitement.


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