6 August 2017, Transfiguration of the Lord

6 August 2017, Transfiguration

Introit: Tibi dixit

Alleluia: Candor est

Offertory (Schola): Gloria et divitiae

Offertory (All): Jesu dulcis memoria, PBC, p. 101. [N.B. This is today’s hymn at Lauds.]

Communion: Visionem

Recessional: All hail the power of Jesus' name, p. 225,

Mass XI, Credo III, Solemn Ite.

The celebration of the Transfiguration of Christ, also celebrated as the feast of the Holy Savior, is perhaps as old as the fourth century. It is found in the early ninth-century Marble Calendar of Naples, and is said to have become widespread in the Latin West in the twelfth. In 1457, in commemoration of the arrival at Rome on this day in the prior year of news of the victory of the Hungarian led by St. John Capistran and George Hunyadi over the Turks at Belgrade, Pope Callistus III mandated the feast for all churches of the Roman observance.

The Introit Tibi dixit is also sung on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, and is also found in the new Graduale in various common and proper sanctoral formularies, notably that of the Feast of St Mary Magdalen (22 July). The antiphon has two phrases.

  1. Tibi dixit cor meum; quaesivi vultum tuum
  2. (a) vultum tuum, Domine, requiram
    (b) ne avertas faciem tuam a me.

No one can see God and live, Ex 33:20 warns. Yet the melody here immediately confirms what the text makes plain: the high point of this antiphon is vultum tuum, the face of God that our hearts so earnestly seek. In fact, to behold the face of God is our life's goal. 'Our hearts are made for You alone, and will not rest until they rest in You,' as St Augustine put it so well. A frighteningly impossible task, except for the fact that we know God's grace goes before us and makes it possible for us to behold the face of God in the person of Jesus. This is why the Tranfiguration accounts are such a high point in the public ministry of Jesus, and prepare for its culmination in his death and resurrection. The upward arcs of the melody and the long tristrophas over dixit and vultum tuum, with c rather than b as the high note of recitation, connect the longing of our hearts and the rest we find in beholding the divine presence. We only descend again when we beg God not to turn away from us.

The Alleluia-verse has three phrases:

  1. Candor est lucis aeternae
  2. speculum sine macula
  3. et imago bonitatis illius

The shining countenance and the transfigured appearance of Jesus on Tabor were irradiations of the divinity which dwelt in Him. This divinity, in turn, was naught but the reflected splendor of the eternal light of the Father. The Father sees in the Son the reflection of His own Being, the brightness of His own eternal light, His own overflowing goodness and endless perfections which suffer neither diminution nor decrease. And then, as if in recognition, He exclaims: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." These same words are in a certain sense also directed to us, for by them, as the Collect of the day indicates, we are assured of our perfect adoption as sons. Would that we might show ourselves worthy of this distinction and become spotless children of light, true images of divine goodness! The borrowed melody (cf. Corpus Christi) is well adapted and gives it a lucid and joyful signification.

The Offertory has two phrases:

  1. Gloria et divitiae in domo eius
  2. et justitia eius manet in saeculum saeculi. Alleluia.

Our divine Lord was very fond of speaking about His Father's house. The treasures and riches of this heavenly mansion and the grandeur of His own glory are celebrated today, especially by St. Peter in the Epistle: 'We were eye-witnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory; this voice coming down to Him from the excellent glory: This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear Him.' (2 Pet. 1: 16-19). With these words the heavenly Father spoke His solemn approbation and canonization of the Son of man and of the works He would perform. In the display of His zeal for justice and for the honor of His Father, Christ will even suffer death and thus merit for His human nature endless riches and glory. And those who tread with Him the path of justice will, as the Collect says, become His co-heirs and the sharers of His glory.

            The melody of the first phrase is simple, giving prominence to the word-accents only. The second phrase is more developed and utilizes the florid melismas taken from the Offertory Desiderium over the words coronam.... The latter Offertory is found in the Common for holy Abbots. In older manuscripts it is assigned to the feast of St. Eusebius.

The Communion antiphon is also that of the 2nd Sunday of Lent. It has a single phrase:

            Visionem quam vidistis, nemini dixeritis, donec a mortuis resurgat Filius hominis.

The event on Mount Tabor was only a type of the beauty which the transfigured Saviour displayed on Easter morning, which henceforth needs to be kept secret no longer. Easter morn has come, and today we make public the experience of our Lord on Tabor. Holy Comunion, which gives us a foretaste of the happiness of Tabor, is the seed of our own transfiguration and the pledge of our glorious resurrection at the end of time. The melody is practically syllabic throughout and duplicates the Magnificat antiphon of the first and second Vespers for the second Sunday of Lent. The only difference lies in the pes over (ho)-mi-(nis); the antiphon—somewhat repititously—signs all three syllables of the word on the tonic d. 

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