Monday, August 8, 2016
The Transfiguration to the Holy Cross: The Forgotten 40 Days

On the Feast of the Transfiguration, I attended a solemn Vespers service as sung by the Brothers of the Holy Cross at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago.  If you have never attended Solemn Vespers sung here, these beautiful Latin prayers will uplift your soul and bring much needed spiritual relief.  The Solemn Vespers are part of the Monastery's Schola Laudis program, and I encourage you to read more on it through their website.

The abbot, Fr. Peter Funk, OSB, wrote the following piece for the Vespers Service.  His insightful commentary is certainly worth spreading, especially as it concerns the forgotten 40 Day Period of the Transfiguration to the Feast of the Holy Cross.  For us Catholics, 40 Days is especially important (e.g. the length of Lent, the number of days from Easter til the Ascension, the number of days from Christmas til the Purification).
In His Transfiguration, the Lord Jesus Christ reveals the glory of the Uncreated Light, His own by His Divine Nature.  The Lord revealed this to his closest disciples so that they might be strengthened for the coming trial of His arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus is not taken unwillingly, but voluntarily, "lays down His life for His sheep." 
The connection between the Transfiguration and the Cross is one that is already present in the Gospel accounts.  In the liturgical calendar, it is represented by the significant period of forty days between this feast and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14. 
For historical reasons not easy to decipher, these two feasts have not received a lot of attention since the Renaissance.  Even so, with the calendric reforms after Vatican II, the Transfiguration underwent a slight demotion, being downgraded to the ranking of a "feast" from former being a Class I "solemnity" (The Exaltation previously held the rank of a Class II). Both feasts have maintained great prominence in the Churches of the East. 
One suspects that the Transfiguration is less interesting to a "theology from below," the effort to understand Christ first from His human nature.  There have been some genuine fruits from this shift in emphasis, but it also suffers from some serious limitations, as we see from the inclusion of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration.  They are alive, and illuminated from within, not by their own nature, but by the fulfilling presence of the divine as a gift.  We see, in all three figures the final goal of the human person, the transfiguration into a child of God. 
We live in a curious time when many have lost all sight of the goal of humanity.  And where the goal is lost, the nature of the thing is also lost.  When we forget what a knife is for, we are welcome to use it in all kinds of activities, to turn screws, pry open a package, or reflect light.  But a knife is "happiest" when it is performing the task for which it was made, cutting things. 
The human heart is restless until it rests in God.  This is so precisely because we are most human when we experience the transforming power of God in our minds and hearts.  A knife is for cutting, a human being is for knowing God.  We of all creatures are capable of this, and when we put ourselves to other uses, if they are not directed toward this knowledge, we suffer alienation, loss of direction, loss of purpose. 
So the demotion of the Transfiguration would seem to be connected with the banishment of God from the cosmos in order to focus on a purely scientific vision of the physical world, imagined as somehow apart from God.  The good news is that the Church continues to proclaim the truth about the human person, and the Transfiguration is a celebration that beckons us back to our true home, to faith in God the Father, to trust in the saving words spoken by the Son, and to love with the Spirit that is poured into our hearts.

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