The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB.

The Second Sunday of Lent

TransfigurationThe subject offered to our consideration, on this Sunday, is one of the utmost importance for the Holy Season of Lent. The Church applies to us the lesson which our Savior gave to three of His Apostles. Let us endeavor to be more attentive to it than they were.

Jesus was about to pass from Galilee into Judea, that He might go up to Jerusalem and be present at the feast of the Pasch. It was the last Pasch, which was to begin with the immolation of the figurative lamb, and end with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world. Jesus would have His disciples know Him. His works had borne testimony to Him, even before those who were, in a manner, strangers to Him; but as for His disciples, had they not every reason to be faithful to Him, even unto death? Had they not listened to His words, which had such power with them that they forced conviction? Had they not experienced His love, which it was impossible to resist? And had they not seen how patiently He had borne with their strange and untoward ways? Yes, they must have known Him. They had heard one of their company, Peter, declare that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16: 16). Notwithstanding this, the trial to which their faith was soon to be put was of such a terrible kind, that Jesus would mercifully arm them against temptation by an extraordinary grace.

The cross was to be a scandal and a stumbling block (1 Cor. 1: 23) to the Synagogue, and alas! to more than it. Jesus said to His Apostles at the Last Supper: All of you shall be scandalized in Me this night (Matt. 26: 31). Carnal-minded as they then were, what would they think when they should see Him seized by armed men, handcuffed, hurried from one tribunal to another, and doing nothing to defend Himself! And when they found that the high priests and Pharisees, who had hitherto been so often foiled by the wisdom and miracles of Jesus, had now succeeded in the conspiracy against Him, what a shock to their confidence! But there was to be something more trying still: the people, who, but a few days before, greeted Him so enthusiastically with their Hosannas, would demand His execution; and He would have to die, between two thieves, on the Cross, amidst the insults of His triumphant enemies.

Is it not to be feared that these disciples, when they witness His humiliations and sufferings, will lose their courage? They have lived in His company for three years; but when they see that the things He foretold would happen to Him are really fulfilled, will the remembrance of all they have seen and heard keep them loyal to Him? Or will they turn cowards and flee from Him? Jesus selects three out of the number, who are especially dear to Him: Peter, whom He has made the Rock, on which His Church is to be built, and to whom He has promised the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; James, the son of thunder, who is to be the first Martyr of the Apostolic College; and John, James' brother, and His own beloved disciple. Jesus has resolved to take them aside, and show them a glimpse of that glory, which, until the day fixed for its manifestation, He conceals from the eyes of mortals.

He therefore leaves the rest of His disciples in the plain near Nazareth, and goes in company with the three privileged ones towards a high hill called Tabor, which is a continuation of Libanus, and which the psalmist tells us was to rejoice in the Name of the Lord (Ps. 88: 13). No sooner has He reached the summit of the mountain, than the three Apostles observe a sudden change come over Him; His Face shines as the sun, and His humble garments become white as snow. They observe two venerable men approach and speak with Him upon what He is about to suffer in Jerusalem. One is Moses, the lawgiver; the other is Elias, the prophet, who was taken up from earth on a fiery chariot without having passed through the gates of death. These two great representatives of the Jewish religion, the Law and the Prophets, humbly adore Jesus of Nazareth. The three Apostles are not only dazzled by the brightness which comes from their divine Master; but they are filled with such a rapture of delight, that they cannot bear the thought of leaving the place. Peter proposes to remain there forever and build three tabernacles (tents), one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elias. And while they are admiring the glorious sight, and gazing on the beauty of their Jesus’ Human Nature, a bright cloud overshadows them, and a voice is heard speaking to them: it is the voice of the Eternal Father, proclaiming the Divinity of Jesus, and saying: This is My Beloved Son!

This Transfiguration of the Son of Man, this manifestation of His glory, lasted but a few moments: His mission was not on Tabor; it was humiliation and suffering in Jerusalem. He therefore withdrew into Himself the brightness He had allowed to transpire; and when He came to the three Apostles, who, on hearing the voice from the cloud, had fallen on their faces with fear, they could see no one save only Jesus. The bright cloud was gone; Moses and Elias had disappeared. What a favor they have had bestowed upon them! Will they remember what they have seen and heard? They have had such a revelation of the Divinity of their dear Master! Is it possible that, when the hour of trial comes, they will forget it, and doubt His being God? And when they see Him suffer and die, will they be ashamed of Him and deny Him? Alas! the Gospel has told us what happened to them.

Agony in the GardenA short time after this, Our Lord celebrated His Last Supper with His disciples. When the supper was over, He took them to another mount, Mount Olivet, which lies to the east of Jerusalem. Leaving the rest at the entrance of the garden, He advances with Peter, James, and John, and then says to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here and watch with Me (Matt. 26: 38). He then retires some little distance from them, and prays to His Eternal Father. The Heart of our Redeemer is weighed down with anguish. When He returns to His three disciples, He is enfeebled by the agony He has suffered, and His garments are saturated with Blood. The Apostles are aware that He is sad even unto death, and that the hour is close at hand when He is to be attacked: are they keeping watch? are they ready to defend Him? No: they seem to have forgotten Him; they are fast asleep, for their eyes are heavy (Ibid. 43). Yet a few moments, and all will have fled from Him; and Peter, the bravest of them all, will be taking his oath that he never knew the Man.

After the Resurrection our three Apostles made ample atonement for this cowardly and sinful conduct, and acknowledged the mercy wherewith Jesus had sought to fortify them against temptation, by showing them His glory on Tabor a few days before His Passion. Let us not wait till we have betrayed Him: let us at once acknowledge that He is our Lord and God. We are soon to be keeping the anniversary of His Sacrifice; like the Apostles, we are to see Him humbled by His enemies and bearing, in our stead, the chastisements of Divine Justice. We must not allow our faith to be weakened, when we behold the fulfillment of those prophecies of David and Isaias, that the Messias is to be treated as a worm of the earth (Ps. 21: 7), and be covered with wounds so as to become like a leper, the most abject of men, and the Man of Sorrows (Is. 53: 3, 4). We must remember the grand things of Tabor, and the adorations paid Him by Moses and Elias, and the bright cloud, and the voice of the Eternal Father. The more we see Him humbled, the more must we proclaim His glory and divinity; we must join our acclamations with those of the Angels and the twenty-four Elders, whom St. John, one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration, heard crying out with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction! (Apoc. 5: 12)

The Second Sunday of Lent is called, from the first word of the Introit, Reminiscere; and also Transfiguration Sunday, on account of the Gospel which is read in the Mass. The Station at Rome is in the Church of Sancta Maria in Dominica, on Monte Celio. Tradition tells us that in this basilica was the diaconicum of which St. Laurence had charge, and from which he distributed to the poor the alms of the Church.

The Church in the Introit, encourages us to confidence in God, Who will deliver us from our enemies, if we ask it of Him with fervent prayer. There are two favors which, during Lent, we ought to beseech Him to grant us: the pardon of our sins, and His help to avoid a relapse:

Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions, and Thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world, lest at any time our enemies rule over us: deliver us, O God of Israel, from all our tribulations. To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed (Ps. 24).

In the Collect, we beg of God to watch over us in all our necessities, of both body and soul. If our prayer be humble and earnest, it will be granted. God will provide for us in our corporal necessities, and will defend our souls against the suggestions of our enemy, who strives to sully even our thoughts:

O God, Who seest how destitute we are of all strength, preserve us both within and without, that our bodies may be free from all adversity, and our souls purified from all evil thoughts. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ…

The Epistle is taken from St. Paul to the Thessalonians:

Brethren: Even as you have learned from us how you ought to walk and please God—as indeed you are walking—we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus to make even greater progress. For you know what precepts I have given to you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from immorality; that every one of you learn how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no man transgress and overreach his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all these things, as we have told you before and have testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness, in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

Here the Apostle shows what manner of life should be followed by Christians; and the Church, by repeating his words, exhorts the faithful to profit by the present season of grace, and regain all the beauty of the image of God, which the grace of Baptism first gave them. A Christian is a vessel of honor, formed and enriched by the hand of God; let him, therefore, shun whatsoever would degrade his noble origin, and turn him into a vessel of dishonor, fit only to be broken and cast with the unclean into the sink of Hell. The Christian religion has so far ennobled man, that even his very body may share in the soul's sanctity; on the other hand it teaches us that this sanctity of the soul is impaired, yea altogether effaced, by the loss of the body's purity. The whole man, therefore, both body and soul, is to be reformed by the practices of this holy season. Let us purify the soul by the confession of our sins, by compunction of heart, by the love of God; and let us give back its dignity to the body, by making it bear the yoke of penance, that so it may be, henceforth, subservient and docile to the soul, and, on the day of the general resurrection, may partake in her endless bliss.

In the Gradual, man cries out to his God to deliver him from the evils that threaten him, and give him victory over the invisible enemy, who so cruelly humbles and insults him:

The distress of my soul is increased: deliver me, O Lord from my necessities. V. See to what I am reduced, see what I suffer: and forgive me all my sins (Ps. 24).

The Tract is both a canticle of confidence in the divine mercy, and a prayer addressed by the Church to Her Savior, beseeching Him to visit and save Her faithful children on the great Feast, which is still so far off, but which each day brings us nearer:

Give glory to the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever. Who shall declare the powers of the Lord? Who shall set forth all His praises? Blessed are they that keep judgment, and do justice at all times. Remember us, O Lord, in favor of Thy people: visit us with Thy salvation (Ps. 105).

TransfigurationThe Gospel is taken from the 17th Chapter of St. Matthew:

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 white as snow. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking together with Him. Then Peter addressed Jesus, saying, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If Thou wilt, let us set up three tents here, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias. 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.

Thus did Jesus encourage His Apostles, when the time of temptation was near; He sought to impress them with His glory, that it might keep up their faith in that trying time, when the outward eye would see nothing in His Person but weakness and humiliation. Oh, the loving considerateness of divine grace, which is never wanting, and which shows us in so strong a light the goodness and the justice of our God! Like the Apostles, we also have sinned; like them, we have neglected to profit by the help that was sent us from Heaven; we have shut our eyes against the light; we have forgotten the fair vision that was granted us, and which made us so fervent and happy; and we fell. We have not, then, been tempted above our strength (1 Cor. 10: 13), and it is indeed our own fault that we committed sin. The three Apostles were exposed to a terrible temptation, when they beheld their divine Master robbed of all His majesty; but how easy for them to resist the temptation, by thinking of what they had seen, but a few days before! Instead of that, they have lost courage and forgot prayer, which would have brought their courage back; and thus the favored witnesses of Tabor became cowards and deserters in the garden of Mount Olivet. There was but one thing left for them to do: throw themselves upon the loving mercy of their Jesus, as soon as He had triumphed over His enemies; they did so, and His generous Heart pardoned them.

Let us imitate them here too. We have abused the grace of God and rendered it fruitless by our want of correspondence. The fountain of this grace is not yet dried up; as long as we are in this world, we may always draw from this source, which comes from the Blood and merits of our Redeemer. It is grace that is now urging us to the amendment of our lives. It is given to us in abundance during the present time, and it is given mainly by the holy exercises of Lent. Let us go up the mountain with Jesus; there we shall not be disturbed by the noise of earthly things. Let us there spend our forty days with Moses and Elias, who long ago sanctified this number by their fasts. Thus, when the Son of Man shall have risen from the dead, we will proclaim the favors He has mercifully granted us on Tabor.

In the Offertory verse, the Church bids us meditate on the commandments of God. Would that we might love them as fervently as the royal prophet, whose words these are:

I will meditate on Thy commandments, which I have loved exceedingly: and I will lift up my hands to Thy commandments, which I have loved (Ps. 118).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a source of devotion; as the Church prays in the Secret that we may profit by our assistance at it today, let us strive to do so. Holy Mass contains the pledge and price of our salvation, and, if we put no obstacle in the way, it will complete our reconciliation with Our Lord:

Do Thou favorably regard these sacrifices, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that they may profit us both unto devotion and salvation. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth...

The penitent soul, having seen how this ineffable mystery has given her to enjoy the presence of Him, Who is her Savior and her Judge, offers to Him her prayers with all the fervor of confidence. She says to Him these words of the psalmist, which form the Communion antiphon:

Understand my cry: hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God: for to Thee will I pray, O Lord (Ps. 5).

In the Postcommunion, the Church prays especially for those of Her children who have partaken of the Victim She has just been offering. Jesus has nourished them with His own Flesh; it behooves them to prove themselves worthy of Him by the renewal of their lives:

We suppliantly beseech Thee, almighty God, grant that they whom Thou refreshest with Thy Sacraments, may also serve Thee by a manner of life pleasing to Thee. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

We close by recounting the following beautiful prayer for this 2nd Sunday of Lent, taken from the Mozarabic Breviary (the Mozarabic Liturgy was that of the Hispanic countries prior to and during the Islamic invasion of the 7th century. It was finalized by St. Isidore of Seville):

O Jesus, our God, eternal first Beginning of light, Who didst will that Thy servants should devote the seventh day (Sunday) to sanctification, rather than to work: lo! we come, seeking how we may find Thee, but we are prevented by the habitual darkness of our conscience; we make efforts to arise, but we fall back again and are dejected. Therefore, we beseech Thee, cast not away from Thy face them that seek Thee, for Thou didst deign to show Thyself to them that did not seek Thee (the Apostles, who were not expecting the Transfiguration). Now is the season of the year when we are offering to Thy Holy Name a tithe of our days (the days of Lent); and of these days, seven have passed (Lent formerly began on the 1st Sunday): grant us Thy assistance in the path of this fatiguing journey, that so our proffered homage may be without blemish. Sweeten our toil by filling us with an ardent love of Thy Majesty, and awaken us from the sluggishness of the body, by the fervent abundance of Thy charity. May our life, being thus in Thee, know no faltering, and our faith find its reward. Amen.

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