The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord became widespread in the West in the eleventh century and was introduced into the Roman calendar in 1457 to commemorate Christendom’s victory over Islam in Belgrade in 1456. In the battle, Muslim Turks were routed and the Islamic advance into Europe was halted; thus Pope Callixtus III elevated the Transfiguration to a feast of the universal Church and established August 6 as the date of its celebration. Before that, the Transfiguration of the Lord was already celebrated in the Syrian, Byzantine, and Coptic rites.
The Transfiguration prefigures the glory of the Lord as God, foretells his ascension into heaven, and anticipates the glory of heaven, where we shall see God face to face. Through grace, we already share in the divine promise of eternal life.
The feast of the Transfiguration of Christ celebrates the revelation of Christ’s divine glory on Mount Tabor in Galilee (Matthew 17:1-6; Mark 9:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). After revealing to His disciples that He would be put to death in Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21), Christ, along with Ss. Peter, James, and John, went up the mountain. There, St. Matthew writes, “he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow.”
The brightness was not something added to Christ but the manifestation of His true divine nature. For Peter, James, and John, it was also a glimpse of the glories of heaven and of the resurrected body promised to all Christians. As Christ was transfigured, two others appeared with Him: Moses, representing the Old Testament Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. Thus Christ, Who stood between the two and spoke with them, appeared to the disciples as the fulfillment of both the Law and the prophets.
At Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, the voice of God the Father was heard to proclaim that “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). During the Transfiguration, God the Father pronounced the same words (Matthew 17:5). (www.catholism.about.com)
Reflection on the Feast of the Transfiguration from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
PART ONE: THE PROFESSION OF FAITH
SECTION TWO: THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
CHAPTER TWO: I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY SON OF GOD
ARTICLE 3: “HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY”
PARAGRAPH 3. THE MYSTERIES OF CHRIST’S LIFE
III. THE MYSTERIES OF JESUS’ PUBLIC LIFE
A Foretaste of the Kingdom: The Transfiguration
554 From the day Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Master “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”290 Peter scorns this prediction, nor do the others understand it any better than he.291 In this context the mysterious episode of Jesus’ Transfiguration takes place on a high mountain,292 before three witnesses chosen by himself: Peter, James and John. Jesus’ face and clothes become dazzling with light, and Moses and Elijah appear, speaking “of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem”.293 A cloud covers him and a voice from heaven says: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”294
555 For a moment Jesus discloses his divine glory, confirming Peter’s confession. He also reveals that he will have to go by the way of the cross at Jerusalem in order to “enter into his glory”.295 Moses and Elijah had seen God’s glory on the Mountain; the Law and the Prophets had announced the Messiah’s sufferings.296 Christ’s Passion is the will of the Father: the Son acts as God’s servant;297 the cloud indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud.”298
You were transfigured on the mountain, and your disciples, as much as they were capable of it, beheld your glory, O Christ our God, so that when they should see you crucified they would understand that your Passion was voluntary, and proclaim to the world that you truly are the splendor of the Father.299
556 On the threshold of the public life: the baptism; on the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration. Jesus’ baptism proclaimed “the mystery of the first regeneration”, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration “is the sacrament of the second regeneration”: our own Resurrection.300 From now on we share in the Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Body of Christ. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”301 But it also recalls that “it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God”:302
Peter did not yet understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: “Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?”303