<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1906385056278061&ev=PageView&noscript=1" />
Skip to main content Accessibility feedback

Insights from Christ’s Transfiguration

Audio only:

Father Hugh Barbour takes us on a tour of the role of Christ’s Transfiguration in the life of the Church. Starting with what happened, and explaining where the feast originated, he helps us grasp the relationship of the Transfiguration to our own spiritual lives.


Cy:

What’s the deal with Christ’s transfiguration? Father Hugh is next. Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending the Catholic faith. Remember to subscribe, to Focus on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. That way we’ll get a reminder to you when a new episode is available. And also, please give us that five-star review, that helps to grow the podcast. This month, the church celebrates the feast of the transfiguration, and the story of how we got this celebration in August, is fascinating.

Cy:

So, we asked Father Hugh Barbour to share that story with us today. Father Hugh, as you probably know, is the former Pryor of St. Michael’s Abby in Orange County, California. That’s a community of Norbertine priests. He also has served as our beloved chaplain here at Catholic Answers. More than learning, just about how we got the summer feast of the transfiguration however, I also wanted to ask Father Hugh about the transfiguration itself. It’s obviously a moment of tremendous importance in the ministry, in the life of Jesus, and in His communication of Himself to His apostles, so what is it? What exactly is happening in the transfiguration? And why is that happening?

Cy:

In answer, as Father Hugh usually does, he uncovers some very helpful nuggets on the relationship between the transfiguration of Jesus and our own spiritual lives.

Cy:

So with the feast of the transfiguration approaching, I just wanted to start out by asking you Father, what is the transfiguration? We have it described to us, but what actually is happening there? Is it a vision? Is it an epiphany? What would we call it? What’s happening in the transfiguration of Christ?

Fr. Hugh

Well, certainly a vision or an epiphany, which means, epiphany is a revelation. But in the case of transfiguration, it is our Lord’s principle miracle, of all the miracles that He worked during the course of His earthly life, up until this glorious resurrection. Because what it means is that, in His body capable of suffering, He ordered the revelation through His body, of the glory of His divinity. So His divine nature and His soul cooperating, let the glory that flows from His divine nature and soul, His beatified soul, show forth in His body.

Fr. Hugh

So it wasn’t the permanent glory of His risen body, which would be, actually inhabiting the body regularly, but it was a transient revelation of what was hidden, to be revealed in the resurrection. So, it was a miracle with regard to Christ Himself. I mean, you might say He worked a miracle on Himself. He let the constituents of His natures work together to reveal the glory of God in His human body. So it’s a mystery the incarnation. Consequently is just like in the Baptist of the Lord, it’s also a miss a revelation of the Trinity.

Fr. Hugh

Because you hear the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved son, in whom I’m well pleased, listen to Him.” And then there is the luminous cloud, the light, which the lights of cloud, which covers everyone, which is of course a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And so you have this revelation of the Trinity and the revelation of the final glory, or perfection of the savior. So it’s a very, very great miracle, first of all, worked by Him.

Cy:

And-

Fr. Hugh

And so, does that [inaudible 00:03:43] worked miracles on spiritual substances, like the demons and like human souls. He worked miracles on the heavenly bodies, like the sun and the moon going dark. He worked miracles on irrational creatures like with the pigs running, and all kinds of things that are in the gospels. He worked miracles on every level of creation, but with the bread, the multiplication of the loaves, but this is a miracle He worked for Himself.

Cy:

I see, yeah.

Fr. Hugh

To reveal Himself to His apostles in a special way.

Cy:

And what are Moses and Elijah doing there?

Fr. Hugh

Well, our Lord is revealing that He is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And so He has Moses appear with Him, and also Elijah appear with Him. And of course the tradition is that Elijah is to come before the final coming of the Messiah. So this is also a coming of Elijah, who of course, ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, we just celebrated his feast. Or no, we’re just about, his is I think the 26th, but any way, of July, and this is going to be for the transfiguration in August. We have a lot of neat things going on in these weeks of Midsummer, late summer.

Fr. Hugh

And so it was to show that the law of the prophets, both were witness to the Messiah, the Christ, just as the Father and the Spirit did, and also to show that, as the evangelist tell us, they were discussing His passion in Jerusalem. And so the mystery, the passion is hidden in this glorious revelation because, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are talking about His upcoming passion, while the apostles are there amazed by the whole scene. So practically everything is there.

Fr. Hugh

His divine son ship, His incarnation, His future suffering, His being the fulfillment of the prophets-

Cy:

It’s all there.

Fr. Hugh

… And the law of Moses, it’s all there, it’s a summary of everything practically.

Cy:

And does Peter get it right, or does Peter get it wrong when he wants to build booths there?

Fr. Hugh

Well boosts is one transaction, tabernacles and tents. Tents, in other words. So it’s an evocation of the tabernacle in the desert, before they had the temple, as they were traveling to the promised land. It was just, make a place of worship right here. And so it was a natural tendency, and in fact, of course, Christians did eventually build a church there on Mount Tabor in the north there, to commemorate the transfiguration. But, it wasn’t … It was an expression of his enthusiasm and appreciation of the experience, there’s nothing to criticize in his expostulation, you might say, his outburst. He just was, he was taken by this marvelous scene.

Cy:

Right, right, okay. And so now what am I, or you, or any other contemporary believer who comes to Christ at a late date, I mean after the resurrection, what are we to make of the transfiguration? Is this meant to instruct us? Is this meant to inspire us? Are we meant to … How are we meant to kind of integrate this into our faith?

Fr. Hugh

Well the way we have access to it is, of course at first it was a miracle to encourage the apostles in view of His coming death. And it’s right after that, that He gives to Peter the keys, the kingdom of heaven and his headship over the church. And also Peter’s dismay expressed to our Lord, that He should not suffer. And so our Lord gives Him that famous line, “Get behind me Satan.” So, it’s a very important event for the apostles. Strengthening them, but also revealing the fact that the passion part, as opposed to the triumph, messianic triumph part of the incarnation was not yet fully in their minds.

Fr. Hugh

So, it was for them in the first place, but for us, we have access to this mystery through the liturgy of the church, because we celebrate the transfiguration as a feast, every 6th of August. And that’s in the churches of both East and West, right? All the Eastern rights of the Catholic church, and the Roman right or Latin right of the Catholic church, and all the Orthodox churches and other Eastern churches, they all celebrate the feast of the Lord’s transfiguration on August 6th.

Fr. Hugh

And so in the summertime, we’re led to the consideration of this mystery. Why August 6th? There are very many theories about it, but one very attractive one is that, it’s parallel with September 14th, which is the feast of the Holy cross. And when you go back to lent, you find that on one of the first Sunday of lent, for us it’s the second Sunday and the Byzantine, right? I think it’s the third Sunday, the gospel is of the transfiguration. And then you have practically 40 days later, our Lord’s death and resurrection.

Fr. Hugh

So, in the midst of the summer, you also have these two fixed feast, one of the Lord’s glorious transfiguration, and then one of His saving passion. And so there’s a fixed version of that relation, and it’s 40 days later also, and there’s a moveable one. So there’s a little parallel of the calendar and the two parts of the year, and there are evidences that that was sort of the idea, they just counted back from the feast of the Holy cross, which was an older feast. They just counted back 40 days as though it were lent. And so … Because they thought to themselves, well now when is the other time in the year when we always commemorate the transfiguration? Oh, the second Sunday of lent or the third, whichever one it is.

Fr. Hugh

And then they just counted back-

Cy:

Oh I see.

Fr. Hugh

They counted back from the cross and passion 40 days, and then stuck the feast there. That’s one explanation.

Cy:

And its relationship with the cross of Christ is that, in a certain sense, it’s a reminder to us of what’s actually happening on the cross. That this is not just another Roman crucifixion, that the who here is the important thing.

Fr. Hugh

Right. And that even more deeply you might say, or more comprehensively our Lord in St. John’s gospel, constantly refers to His passion as His glory.

Cy:

Yeah.

Fr. Hugh

As His glory. And even though John’s gospel does not have the account of the transfiguration, only the Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the transfiguration, still, unless you count John’s little reference to having seen His glory, the glory is only be gotten with the Father full of grace and truth, right at the beginning, some seeing that a reference to transfiguration. But, our Lord refers to His passion as His glorification. And so, that’s that again, what you’re just saying, that the true identity and power of the one suffering, is revealed in the transfiguration to encourage us.

Fr. Hugh

But I think that, in the church’s tradition, the feast of transfiguration has been attached to something else rather interesting, that unites the prayer traditions of Eastern and West very interestingly. So would you like to know about that?

Cy:

I would very much like to know about that, yes, Father, thank you for the set up.

Fr. Hugh

Well, I know I was going on for a while, so I figured we needed a break. So, just in case you have anything you want to say. So, well what’s particularly beautiful and significant to us, but you won’t catch it unless you’re praying the divine office of the church, or aware of this tradition already. And in fact, the divine office, and this is even the new post conciliary divine office. If you don’t do it in Latin, I think you miss it. Maybe if you use some of those other vernacular versions, like the [inaudible 00:11:46], which has the actual hymns in English, based on the real hymns in the bravery, you might catch it.

Fr. Hugh

But on this feast day, we sing the hymn, Jesu dulcis memoria, which is the heaven honor of the Holy name of Jesus by St. Bernard. And it’s all about the Holy name of Jesus and how sweet it is, how beautiful it is, how consoling it is, what a precious possession it is, all of that. It’s this whole pan to the Holy name of Jesus. Now in the 12th century, in the Latin West, the devotion of the name of Jesus was very, very strong. It came through the Cistercian monasteries and into all the others.

Fr. Hugh

And, that was at the same time when the feast of the transfiguration was being, beginning to be celebrated, under Eastern influence, because of the crusades, they realized, oh, we don’t have this in our calendar, we need to have this. And so they put it there in August. Now, move forward a little bit with this devotion to the Holy name, which is then picked up out of the monastic context by the Franciscans, and taught by St. Bernardine of Siena and his disciple, John of Capistrano. And so they were the great preachers of the Holy name.

Fr. Hugh

Well, here’s the tail. So this is devotion continues and it’s, a very powerful one in the life of Christians, the invocation of the name, the Holy name of Jesus. And at the time of the crusades, it was something that was uniting East and West, because at the same time, this devotion was increasing in the West, it was at its high point of development in the East and the monasteries, with the Jesus prayer and the invocation of the Holy name.

Cy:

Right, right.

Fr. Hugh

And so [inaudible 00:13:29] spirituality that’s just very similar and occurring at the same time, but from different sources, different persons and different traditions. Well, when the Turks who were determined to take over all of the ancient Roman empire and more, had finally taken the great city, the new Rome called Constantinople, and had turned the Cathedral of Holy wisdom, Hagia Sophia into a mosque, sound familiar?

Cy:

Yeah it’s in the news a lot lately.

Fr. Hugh

They’ve just re turned it into a mosque, it was a museum, but they turned it back into a mosque so it shows how important it is, and how even though Christians forget any historical importance at all, American Catholics or Christians barely know anything about world history. But it’s still quite alive in those places so we need to pay attention to it. So they re turned it into a mosque now. But, when he had conquered the Eastern Rome, the capital of the Roman empire, which had lasted all the way from the eighth century BC until 1453 with a continuous line of emperors, because people say the fall of the Roman empire.

Fr. Hugh

Well, it never really fell until the 15th century, until the Renaissance practically, people don’t realize that. In fact if you count the Holy Roman empire in the West, it doesn’t fall until Napoleon, in the early 19th century. But anyway, that’s another question. They’re always, the progressive historians are always very anti Roman. So, whether East to West. So when Mehmet II, the conqueror of the Turks had gotten Constantinople, then he wanted to move forward to the Balkans, that’s that South Eastern part of Europe, Greece, and Northern Macedonia, and Serbia-

Cy:

Rumelia.

Fr. Hugh

… Serbia, Albania. No, not Rumelia. Serbia, Albania-

Cy:

Not Rumelia? Oh okay.

Fr. Hugh

Serbia, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, a little bit the Croatias don’t like you to say that, but part of it is in the Balkans, and so on, that whole little peninsula. They wanted to take over that and they did, they did take over eventually. But, they attack the city of Belgrade. Now Belgrade is on a promontory where the Danube and the Salu rivers meet. And there was a great Turkish fleet that came to take over the Christian city of Belgrade. And so, this was a major issue because if they took the Belgrade, they’d be able to take over the whole Balkans, and then the next step would be Vienna.

Fr. Hugh

Which they, as we know from history, they made it to the gates, but because of the great Polish Prince, they were kept back. So that was already in the 1600s. Well, but in 1453, he takes Constantinople. And makes it the capital of the new Ottoman empire, succeeding the Roman empire. In 1436 they tried to take Belgrade and modern day Serbia. And, then the whole Christian world reacted, but not as powerfully as it should have. The Pope kept begging people to get together and help, but of course it didn’t always happen. But in any case, the Turks came, their fleets through the ocean on those rivers and they besieged the city.

Fr. Hugh

Well St. John of Capistrano, the successor of St. Bernardine of Siena, had a little motley crew of Christian troops rounded up from the Western parts of Europe, to go and descend the bulwark of Christianity as Croatia and Serbia were called. They were the wall, the murale of Christianity because they were the last, they were the first defense before they would get into the rest of Europe, into Italy and France, and Germany, and so on. So, they had this enormous siege, and the Turks are absolutely militarily superior in every way. With hundreds of ships, tons of soldiers and so on.

Fr. Hugh

And so the Christian troops under the Hungarian, great Hungarian admiral Hunyadi, they were the principal fighters in this battle. But St. Juan of Capistrano had his own little group who were trying valiantly, they took around, they went around with the Ottomans from the rear, that is from around the Turks from the rear, and they shouted out the Holy name of Jesus continually as they went forward. This unaccountably for any human reason, terrified these Ottomans, and they literally picked up and fled. They just got out of there.

Fr. Hugh

And no one could explain how they had given up so easily, having so much power and strength. And of course, the victory was described to the power of the Holy name of Jesus. Well, the news of the victory reaches Rome on what day?

Cy:

August 6th.

Fr. Hugh

On August 6th, feast of transfiguration. So Pope Callixtus III, established the feast of the transfiguration in thanksgiving for the victory Belgrade, which saved Europe for a while, for a few hundred years, from another attempt at Islamic conquest. So, it’s a very … So that’s the connection to the Holy name. Because immediately, in the minds of the people, the Holy name had saved the city and Europe, from this onslaught, and so the transfiguration was associated with the Holy name. And so, all over Europe, especially in England, the North, churches named St. Savior dedicated to Jesus, their feast day was on August 6th.

Fr. Hugh

Another interesting factoid, very important is that Pope Pope Callixtus III, ordered that the bells be rung in Christendom, at three times a day, praying the Angelus, to pray against this particular onslaught of the Turks. And so the Angelus, which we normally pray at noon, and we can pray early morning, noon, and evening, the origin of the Angelus is the Pope’s ordered for prayers against this very attack on the city of Belgrade. And so even our custom of that, which of course includes the Holy name, recitation of the rosary, remembering the incarnation, that goes back to that occasion.

Fr. Hugh

So, after the victory was won, the custom was continued of praying the Angelus against the enemies of Christendom. So when you prepare the Angelus, it’s important to remember, we’re not only meditating on the Lord’s incarnation and the blessed mother, but we’re also praying to be defended against the enemies of our faith and our culture.

Cy:

These are-

Fr. Hugh

There you go. That’s a whole big picture-

Cy:

I know, I love that big picture-

Fr. Hugh

… Of the transfiguration.

Cy:

… Though, because these are … We’re living in times that are very vexing to people. And it’s always good to remember that throughout history, the name of Jesus prevails, and it gives us a little bit more serenity, I think.

Fr. Hugh

Absolutely. And it’s a very … It’s the most perfect prayer, the Holy name of Jesus, and prayers that contain it. That’s why we end our colleagues [inaudible 00:20:49] mass, through Jesus Christ and we … Our Lord tells us to pray in His name. So, it’s the most powerful prayers.

Cy:

Well, thanks for preparing us for the feast of the transfiguration this year. that’s a lot, that’s a lot more than I would have brought to the celebration. I’m glad I have it now. Thanks for that.

Fr. Hugh

Well, yeah so you think, the mystery revealed in the gospels, which includes the mystery of the Trinity, and the Old Testament as well. And then moving from that to the reality of the feast to celebrate in the church, so our devotion to the Holy name, our defense from enemies, by the power of the Holy name, and you’ve got it all. It’s a great feast day.

Fr. Hugh

(silence).

Cy:

We could really use a bit of divine epiphany right now, 2020 feels like a perfect moment for some kind of transfiguration. And that’s part of the point of the liturgical calendar of the church. In the life of Christ, and in the history of the church, there are these moments, things that we need to be regularly reminded of. This year being reminded of the glory of God, present in Christ feels like a particularly welcome thing. He chose this life, He chose to endure all the venality and the drudgery, and even the cruelty of this life.

Cy:

And if the glorious son of God did this, then it must be something with great glory in it. This is just what we need to remember this year, and maybe probably every year, but it seems like we particularly need to remember it this year. Hey, send us an email at focus … No. Send an email to [email protected] That’s the way I should say that otherwise it gets confusing. [email protected] is our email address. If you want to maybe suggest a future episode or comment on this episode, subscribe to Focus so you’ll be notified when new episodes are available. And we have this wonderful young man named Zach who runs the video department, and he really wants you when you go to YouTube to like, or subscribe it there, this makes Zach’s life a lot better because it makes the numbers go up. We’ll see you next time, God willing right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

Cy:

And you said, not Rumelia because Rumelia is the name that the Turks gave the place? Is that why? Do you remember?

Fr. Hugh

Well, yeah, kind of. Well Romania, Rumelia, no, I mean, it’s fine. In fact modern Greeks, modern Greeks in Greek call themselves Rome, they call themselves Romans. Because of course it was the Roman empire from … That’s why, when everyone always says, “Oh, Latin right. Byzantine right.” Okay, you can say that if you want, but actually there’s an East Roman right and a West Roman right. The East Roman right is the Byzantine right. And the Western Roman right is the Roman right and it’s variations. But it was all Roman, it was all Roman and … Because it was the Roman world, that’s why Romania, which is mostly Byzantine right is called Romania.

Cy:

Yeah, exactly.

Fr. Hugh

Because they were roman veterans who were given land there to, to settle so. And that’s why they have a Latin based language. So the word Rome applies to both edges. And that’s why modern Islamic terrorists, they call us Romans. Everybody’s Roman.

Cy:

Well, we should-

Fr. Hugh

The Greeks are Roman.

Cy:

… We should be proud of in that. But it is a little bit vexing to hear some of the reporting on the Hagia Sophia now, when it’s called an Eastern Orthodox, it was an Eastern Orthodox church and all of that. In a certain sense I know that that’s true but, it’s a Catholic church for all of us. For, I mean Eastern Orthodox and Roman, because it was made long before any of those divisions came in.

Fr. Hugh

Right. It was built by the emperor Justinian already in the sixth century, and it was definitely, you know, it was built before the-

Cy:

The separation.

Fr. Hugh

… [inaudible 00:24:42] between the East and West. I better to say separation because, yeah the separation between East and West. But, it’s perfectly understandable if you call it the Eastern Orthodox cathedral, because it’s the-

Cy:

Yeah, right.

Fr. Hugh

It was separated from the West for several centuries before the Turks. But actually the last liturgy celebrated in Hagia Sophia was a Catholic one. Which you had the council of Florence in the 15th century, which unites the East and Western churches again. When the Greek bishops get back to the East, it’s largely, the union’s largely rejected by the spiritual lead, the monastics of the East, and so it doesn’t get very far. But at the end, the emperor, the last emperor Constantine 12th, who died fighting on the walls of Constantinople, defending the city against all hope, he promulgated the union of Florence and accepted the union of the two churches and-

Cy:

So he sold-

Fr. Hugh

… And so the last liturgy celebrated in Hagia Sophia, before the Turks took over it, was a Catholic … It was in communion with the Holy See, the very last one.

Cy:

It was the last one so far. The future.

Fr. Hugh

Yes, yes, right.

Cy:

again-

Fr. Hugh

Well there’s always that prophecy that it’ll come back. The Greeks have, in the Greek folk tradition, there’s a prophecy that the priest celebrating a liturgy disappeared into the Eastern wall, and that when the church is once again belongs to the Christians, he will reappear and finish the liturgy.

Cy:

And all of us together will praise the Holy name of Jesus when that happens.

Fr. Hugh

Amen.

Cy:

Thank you, Father.

 

Related

Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission! Donate