The Light and Hope of the Transfiguration

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B.

I distinctly remember my first full week here at St. Charles. And that’s because I actually wasn’t here at St. Charles; I was down in St. Louis with our teens on our summer mission trip. The trip was an amazing experience and I returned with many wonderful memories. But one memory in particular stands out to me in light of today’s gospel. The Friday night of the mission trip our teens gathered for a time of Eucharistic Adoration. During that time, the priest invited various groups of teens forward to the altar to be closer to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist: “Come to the altar if you’ve ever felt this,” and a group of teens would come forward, and then return to their seats. “Come to the altar if you’ve ever struggled with that,” and another group would come forward, and then return to their seats. And this went on for some time, with various sized groups coming forward, some larger, some smaller. It was an incredibly moving experience. But one altar call in particular moved me the most. “Come to the altar if you are in need of hope.” And almost every single teen in that room—to a T—stood up and came forward to the altar.

Teens today—and really all of us today—are in great need of hope. And it was to fill them with hope, that Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain apart by themselves to be transfigured before them. You see, Jesus would later take these same three apostles apart by themselves when He ascended another mountain, the Mount of Olives. But this time it would not be to reveal the glory of His Divinity, but the anguish of His humanity. After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and while He took all his apostles with Him to the garden, except Judas who has gone off to betray Him, Jesus took Peter, James, and John apart by themselves to be with Him in His anguish. It was to give them hope in that moment of anguish that Jesus was transfigured before them earlier in the gospel. Jesus wanted to show them by His transfiguration that there was light at the end of the tunnel even before they had entered the tunnel. He wanted to show them the light of His resurrection even before they saw the darkness of His passion and death.

It is to show us this same light, it is to give us this same hope, that Jesus has given us the great gift of the Mass. Every Mass, Jesus leads us up a high mountain apart by ourselves and is transfigured before us. Jesus does this by gathering us around this sanctuary. The reason why our sanctuary is elevated from the rest of the church is not just so that we can better see and hear what is happening at the ambo and altar, but so that the sanctuary can more effectively symbolize what it’s meant to symbolize: the holy mountain of God. And on this mountain, there are two events which take place in the Mass which are meant to closely resemble the events which happened in our Gospel.

The first moment is the proclamation of the Gospel. When the Gospel is proclaimed, the priest or deacon stands in the middle and there are two servers with candles, one on either side of him. The Church has traditionally interpreted these candles as representing Moses, the greatest Lawgiver, and Elijah, the greatest Prophet, in the Old Testament. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and so He stands in the middle. Every time the Gospel is proclaimed, the priest or deacon can also use incense. And so there you have it: almost an exact replica of what happened in our Gospel: Jesus, represented by the priest or deacon, is in the middle with Moses and Elijah on either side, represented by the two candles. There is a cloud, a cloud of incense, and we are commanded by God the Father to listen to the voice of His Son that we hear proclaimed in the Gospel.

The second moment that resembles the transfiguration is the moment of the consecration. We don’t see this as often at St. Charles—although we do do it on High Holy Days like Christmas, Holy Thursday, and Easter Sunday—but it’s possible to have two servers with candles and one server with incense kneeling at the foot of the sanctuary during the consecration. And as the Host and Chalice are lifted up, we once again have Jesus in the middle, Moses and Elijah on either side, the cloud from the incense, and the bells serve as the voice of God the Father telling us, “Pay attention, this is my beloved Son.” To take this a step further, the practice of Eucharistic Adoration is simply an extension in time of this moment of elevation from the Mass. The priest only holds up the consecrated Host for a short time at Mass, but in Eucharistic Adoration this moment is prolonged. In Eucharistic Adoration, we get to do what Peter wanted to do in our gospel: build tents and stay with Jesus in His Transfigured Presence on the mountain for a longer period of time. Additionally, there is sometimes a small golden table that is used to elevate the monstrance off the altar during Eucharist Adoration. And that table is called a Tabor, the traditional name of the mountain that Jesus is transfigured upon.

Jesus has given us the Mass, and especially these two moments in the Mass, to give us light and hope. We all have our Gethsemanes that we are going through in life. We all have our moments of anguish, of worry and anxiety. That’s one of the reasons why we need the Mass. We need the light and hope that come from the Mass. Like Peter, James, and John, we need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we need the hope of the resurrection to make it through our own sufferings. Each of us has brought the darkness of our Gethsemanes to this Mass. May we leave this Mass having encountered the light and hope that come from the Transfigured Presence of Jesus on this holy mountain. Amen.