This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, since August 6 falls on a Sunday. The gospel is one we associate more commonly with the Second Sunday of Lent each year, but the feast itself has roots in early Christianity.
The first recorded celebration dates to the fourth century in the Eastern church, but the date of the feast was chosen to coincide with the dedication of the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in the year 567 AD. It was added to the Western Church’s liturgical calendar in the eighth century.
The historical significance of this infrequent Sunday feast is a profound reminder of the depth of our faith. And outside of Lent, there is an opportunity to further highlight the meaning of the transfiguration.
The gospel narrative — in Matthew, Mark and Luke — tells of Jesus ascending Mount Tabor with the apostles Peter, James, and John. While there, Jesus is transfigured. His face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, who represent both the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. The event is a revelation of the divinity of Christ.
How do we support this musically? There are a number of “story songs” that draw specifically on the gospel events. The most common may be Sylvia Dunstan’s “Transform Us” (GIA). The simple and poetic text is set to the hymn tune PICARDY (GIA). You might know that tune sung to “Christians, Let us Love One Another” or “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” “Transform Us” references the mountaintop experience and asks Christ to “search us with revealing light” and “lift us from where we have fallen.”
While Bob Hurd’s “Transfigure Us, O Lord” (OCP) adopts the concept of transfiguration, it is less about the gospel event than the significance for us as followers of Jesus. It may, however, be better suited to the themes of Lent with its focus on healing, pardon for the sinner, and breaking the chains that bind us.
To focus on the divine nature of Christ in this feast of the Church, consider “Transfiguration” by Ricky Manalo (OCP) or any of the versions of “At the Name of Jesus.” “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” by Brian Doerksen (OCP) is a popular praise song that recognizes Christ’s divinity. Similar options are Sarah Hart’s “You Alone” (OCP) or Darlene Zshech’s “Shout to the Lord.”
Finally, songs reflecting the light of Christ would be good choices as well, such as Bernadette Farrell’s “Christ Be Our Light” and Trevor Thomson’s “Christ in Me Arise.”
Even if you’ve already planned your song selections for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, you might explore these as a prelude or to get a head start for when this gospel will reappear in Lent 2024.
Kathy Felong is a longtime music director and serves as director of liturgy at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Fairview, Pennsylvania.
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