Electronic Prayer Book

Second Sunday of Lent


St Matthew 17: 1 – 9

At that time, Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. And His face shone as the sun, and his garments became as white as snow. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah [Elias] talking with Him. Then Peter addressed Jesus saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You will let us set up three tents here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” As he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud, said, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; Hear Him.” And on hearing it the disciples fell on their faces, and were exceedingly afraid. And Jesus came near and touched them and said to them, “Arise and do not be afraid.” But lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, but Jesus only. And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus cautioned them saying, “Tell the vision to no-one, till the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”


Q.        On what mountain did this wonderful event take place?

A.         It is generally believed that it took place on Mount Tabor [Thabor], which is near the town of Nazareth, in the tribe of Zebulon [Zabulon] between the Mediterranean Sea and the Lake of Gennesaret [Genesareth]. From its summit one can see almost the whole of Palestine: to the east the River Jordan and the country beyond; to the south, the tribes of Issachar and Manasseh [Manasses]; to the west, the Mediterranean Sea; and to the north, a sweep of land reaching to the mountains of Lebanon.


Q.        Why did Christ wish His transfiguration to take place on a mountain and in the presence of His three apostles ?

A.         He wished it to take place on a mountain, and in a solitary place, to give us to understand that divine favours are reserved for those who, by their virtues, themselves above all things earthly, who retire into solitude and flee from the distractions and cares of the world. Now St. Peter represents those who are steadfast in their faith, St. James those who control their passions, St. John the chaste and pure. Hence Jesus selected them to enjoy so great a privilege in order that we might hope to receive His special favours we are firm in our faith like St. Peter, if we overcome our passions like St. James, and if we are pure in mind and body like St. John.


Q.        Why did Christ manifest Himself in His glory to these apostles?

A.         He did so for several reasons. First, by giving them a manifestation of the glory which was His own and which was not lost or diminished, but only hidden by the veil of humanity, He gave them a visible proof of His divinity. Moreover, He did so to strengthen them and sustain their faith when they would later on see Him in humiliation and suffering. Lastly, He was transfigured before them to encourage them and all future Christians to suffer voluntarily the trials of the apostleship and observe the Law, by permitting them to see a glimpse of that consolation which they will enjoy in the vision of God, which is the reward of all that love and obey Him here on earth.


Q.        What did Christ do to thus transform Himself?

A.         He permitted a ray of His divinity to manifest itself from His body, and this was sufficient to cause Him to appear to the eyes of the apostles as luminous as the sun and His garments as white as snow. Imagine the effect when the sun descends beyond a mountain whose summit is capped with snow. The crest of the mountain is covered with a border of light which dazzles and charms, and you perceive that as the rays of the sun pass over the snow they impart to it their light and thus reveal colours so various and charming to see. In like manner the light of the divinity illuminated the body and the garments of Jesus Christ.


Q.        Why did He cause Moses and Elias to appear instead of other renowned persons?

A.         Moses was the promulgator of the Law which God gave him on Mount Sinai, and Elijah [Elias] was considered by all as the prince of the prophets. The Mosaic Law prepared the way for the promised Messiah and all the sacrifices prescribed by it were but figures of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. All the predictions of the prophets pointed to Jesus Christ. In view of these facts you can easily see that Our Lord caused Moses and Elijah, and not others, to appear on either side of Him in order that the apostles, and all believers with them, could see how the figures of the Law and the predictions of the prophets were to be realised in Him, and that while He was pleased to manifest His glory He called to do Him homage those who by the law and by the prophecies had prepared the way for Him.


Q.        What is to be said of St. Peter, who wished to remain on the mountain enjoying that vision?

A.         The magnificence of the vision, the joy of soul, and satisfaction of heart had affected him to such a degree that, forgetting that he was a man subject to death, and desiring nothing more, he thought it good to remain there forever. But if a single ray of the glory of Christ could cause such profound emotions in St. Peter, what will our joy be when at the resurrection we shall arise immortal and see Him in the fulness of His majesty, sitting on the right hand of His Father amid the splendour of the saints?


Q.        What was the bright cloud?

A.         Let us not lose time inquiring what it was, but rather consider what it signified. Interpreters agree that in this, as in the baptism of Christ, the Blessed Trinity manifested Itself. The Eternal Father spoke, the Divine Word was present in the person of Christ, and the Holy Ghost appeared in the semblance of a bright cloud, as He appeared in the form of a dove at the baptism of Christ. In seeing this cloud that environed Christ, Moses, Elijah, the apostles, and the mountain, let us remember that Holy Spirit Who moved the lips of the prophets, Who made the Law fruitful, Who crowned the great work of redemption, Who transformed the apostles, and Who animates, governs, and sanctifies the whole Church of Jesus Christ.


Q.        Whose voice was it that issued from the cloud, and what was the import of the words?

A.         The voice was that of the Eternal Father, for He alone could say: ” This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased, 1isten to Him.” St. Leo the Great says that by these words the Eternal Father wished to proclaim to the whole world, This is My beloved Son, not adopted, but My own, not created, but generated; this is My Son, by Whom all things were made, in Him I am well pleased, Whose words bear witness of Me, Whose humility glorifies Me. Listen to Him because He is the Truth and the Way. He is My wisdom, He Who was foretold by the prophets and Who redeemed the world by His blood. He opens the way to heaven and by His cross gives us the means to enter into the kingdom of heaven. How unfortunate we shall be if we do not listen to this, the only Teacher of truth and of life everlasting!


Q.        What is to be said of the fear which possessed the apostles?

A.         It was quite natural that the apostles should have been awed by the unexpected voice of God, and we should in no way be surprised at it. We have reason, however, to be astonished that so many Christians are not frightened at hearing the menaces of the same God against those who follow not the teaching and the law of Jesus Christ.


Q.        Why did Our Redeemer forbid the apostles to speak of what they had seen until after His resurrection?

A.         St. Jerome says that this event was so great and wonderful that none would have believed it if the apostles had told them of it, and the ignorant especially would have been greatly scandalised at seeing Him so utterly humiliated in the time of His Passion after having manifested such great power and glory. The proper time to publish so wonderful an event was after the Resurrection, for then those who saw Him raised from the dead could have do difficulty in acknowledging Him to be the true God, and able to transfigure Himself as He did on Mount Tabor. Besides, to witness that glorious vision was a special privilege granted to the three apostle; alone, and Christ forbade them to speak of it that they might learn to hide from others the special favours they had received, in order not to expose themselves to vain-glory and perhaps to the envy of others. From this we should learn to conceal the secret consolations and graces which the Lord is pleased to grant us. When God grants us favours let us be thankful for them and correspond with them but let us keep all in the inmost recesses of our hearts.