06 August 2011

6 August - Transfiguration; Saint Sixtus

Weather: As the weather is on Transfiguration, so it will be the rest of the year.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, commemorating the day when Christ ascended Mount Tabor with His disciples Peter, James, and John, and there showed himself as both God and Man, the Messiah recognized by the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).

And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart.  And he was transfigured before them.  And his face did shine as the sun; and his garments became white as snow.  And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.  And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.  And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them.  And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.  Matthew 17:1-5

You can find the same account in Mark 9:1-8 and Luke 9-28-36.

While it has been celebrated in both the eastern and western churches from an early day, it was not universally celebrated until after 1456, when Pope Callistus III decreed that it should be kept in commemoration of raising of the Siege of Belgrade and the repulsion of the Ottoman armies by the Hungarians under General Janos Hunyadi.

Grapes in their many forms are the symbol today.  Traditionally, the Pope would press a bunch of ripe grapes into the chalice at Mass, and raisins and grapes are blessed today.

Prior to the universal establishment of this day as the Feast of the Transfiguration, today was the feast of Saint Sixtus II, Pope and martyr, who was beheaded c. 258 in Rome during the persecution of Emperor Valerian.  Four deacons died with him in the cemetery where the faithful had met to avoid discovery; two more died that same day.

He is perhaps best known from the story of Saint Lawrence, whose feast will be celebrated on the 10th.  According to this, Deacon Lawrence met Sixtus as the Pope was being led away to the Mamertine prison, and said, "Father, whither goest thou without thy son?"  Sixtus replied that Lawrence would follow him in three days, but before that, the deacon was to distribute the treasures of the church.  It was while Sixtus was being led away to execution that Lawrence said in front of everyone that he had distributed the treasures, thus leading the soldiers to believe that he had gold and precious objects hidden away.  But more of that anon.