Friday, August 04, 2023

The Orations of the Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration of Christ, Lebanon, 14th c.
Lost in Translation #81

Like all mysteries of the Faith, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Matt, 17, 1-9) contains an inexhaustible treasury of meaning. Its immediate purpose was to fortify the Apostles (Peter, James, and John) who were to witness the demoralizing Agony in the Garden, which is why the Gospel is assigned to the Second Sunday of Lent as well. But the Transfiguration is much more than a morale booster, which is why it is meet that we celebrate it as a feast unto its own on August 6.

The Collect for today’s feast refers to other meanings in the mystery:
Deus, qui fídei sacramenta in Unigéniti tui gloriósa Transfiguratióne patrum testimonio roborasti, et adoptiónem filiórum perfectam voce delapsa in nube lúcida mirabíliter praesignasti: concéde propítius; ut ipsíus Regis gloriae nos coherédes efficias, et ejusdem gloriae tríbuas esse consortes. Per eundem Dóminum...
Which I translate as:
O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son didst confirm the divine signs of the Faith by the testimony of the Fathers, and who by Thy voice flowing down from the shining cloud didst wonderfully foreshadow the perfect adoption of sons: kindly concede that Thou wouldst make us coheirs with Him who is the King of glory, and grant that we may become partakers of that same glory. Through the same our Lord.
There are at least two things about the Transfiguration that are causes for rejoicing.
First, “the Fathers” – that is, Moses and Elijah – confirmed the authenticity of Jesus’ Transfiguration and indeed of His entire mission. The word I have translated as “divine signs” is sacramenta, which is, it seems to me, its primary meaning in this context: when Jesus was transfigured, it was a divine indication of His hidden identity as the Son of God. But sacramenta can also be translated as “mysteries” or “sacraments,” and these meanings should be kept in mind as well. The “divine signs” of the Faith also pair nicely with the use of “foreshadowing” later on, for the word there is “praesignasti – pre-signified.”
As for the Fathers, Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets, the two most important parts of the Old Testament. Representatives of the Old Covenant are appearing in order to confirm the validity of the New Covenant in the person of Jesus Christ.
Second, when a voice from the cloud declares, “This is My beloved Son: Hear ye Him,” it is not only a confirmation that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, but it is also an anticipation of our divine adoptions as sons of God. As we have discussed elsewhere, the doctrine of divine adoption is key to understanding our salvation; it is, so to speak, the Latin way of speaking about the Greek concept of theosis or the divinization of the believer. And if the adoption is “perfect,” it will grant the main petition of the prayer: it will make us coheirs with Jesus Christ, and we will participate in His glory – which, among other things, means that we too will have transfigured bodies after the Resurrection of the Dead, bodies with impassibility, agility, subtlety, and clarity. [1]
The Transfiguration, by Maestro Bartolome and Workshop, 1480-88
The Secret is:
Obláta, quǽsumus, Dómine, múnera, gloriósa Unigéniti tui Transfiguratióne sanctífica: nosque a peccatórum máculis, splendóribus ipsíus illustratiónis emunda. Per eundem 
Which I translate as:
Sanctify, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts we have offered in [memory of] the glorious Transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son; and by the splendors of His shining, cleanse us from the stains of sin. Through the same our Lord.
Splendoribus ipsius illustrationis, which I have translated as “By the splendors of His shining,” is difficult to capture. Illustratio is an illumination or shining, which certainly characterizes the Transfiguration, and it was obviously splendid. But it is curious that splendor is in the plural. The prayer presupposes that there were many splendid things about Christ’s illumination, not just one.
There is also a neat contrast between the dark spots on our souls (“the stains of sin”) and the shining of our transfigured Lord. We are essentially asking for a spiritual version of sun bleaching in order to participate worthily in the Sacrifice of the Lamb moments away.
The Postcommunion is:
Praesta, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut sacrosancta Filii tui Transfiguratiónis mysteria, quae solemni celebrámus officio, purificátae mentis intelligentia consequámur. Per eundem Dóminum...
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that with the intelligence of a purified mind, we may reach the sacrosanct mysteries of the Transfiguration of Thy Son, which we celebrate with with solemn liturgy. Through the same our Lord.
We hope that the petition of the Secret was answered and that our sinful stains were bleached away; and we certainly hope that our participation in Holy Communion has had a similar effect. And so, with this “purified mind,” we now ask that it be put to good use, namely, to understand the many “sacrosanct mysteries” of the Transfiguration. We thus return full circle to the petition of the Collect and its reference to the “divine signs” or mysteries of the Faith. And in seeking to understand the mysteries of the Transfiguration, we are essentially asking for what we are doing now: studying the Orations of our liturgical patrimony in order to be enlightened. [2]
[1] A final note on the language of the Collect. Voce delapsa in nube lucida, which I have translated as “by Thy voice flowing down from the shining cloud,” gives the impression of rain gently falling down to the earth. The verb, for example, can be used for flowing downstream.
[2] Speaking of our liturgical patrimony, I have translated officium as “liturgy,” whereas most translate it as “worship” (which is also valid). Officium is the Latin equivalent of the Greek leitourgia, a public service done on behalf of the community by a duly appointed official. (The Divine Office, for instance, is the Church’s equivalent of the Greek polis’ solemn festivities).

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