Saturday, August 04, 2012

For the Feast of the Transfiguration: Quicumque Christum Quaeritis

The beautiful Quicumque Christum Quaeritis is the (August 6) Feast of the Transfiguration hymn for Vespers and Matins in the Roman Breviary (although not in the Sarum).

It consists of vv. 1-4, 37-40, 41-44, and 85-88 of Aurelius Prudentius' Hymnus Epiphaniae found here, along with a dozen or so others of his hymns, originally compiled and translated by Martin Pope (with thanks to Project Gutenberg).  Prudentius was a Roman Christian and poet born in the year 348.

 

Here are the words to Quicumque Christum Quaeritis, in Latin and English:

Quicumque Christum quæritis,
oculos in altum tollite:
illic licebit visere
signum perennis gloriæ.

Inlustre quiddam cernimus,
quod nesciat finem pati,
sublime, celsum, interminum,
antiquius caelo et chao.

Hic ille rex est gentium
populique rex Iudaici,
promissus Abrahae patri
eiusque in aevum semini.

Hunc et prophetis testibus
isdemque signatoribus,
testator et sator iubet
adire regnum et cernere:

Gloria Tibi, Domine
Qui natus es de virgine
Cum Patre et Samcto Spiritu,
in sempiterna sæcula.

Lift up your eyes, whoe'er ye be
That fare the new-born Christ to see:
For yonder is the shining sign
Of grace perennial and divine.

Sure 'tis the sign most reverend
Of Being that doth know no end:
Of One in state sublime arrayed
Ere sky and chaos yet were made.

This is the King of Israel,
Of all in Gentile lands that dwell:
The King to Abram and his seed
Throughout all ages erst decreed.

The prophets witnessed to the bond
Which sealed to Him the realm profound:
The Father's Kingdom He received
And the vast legacy perceived.

All glory be to you O Lord,
Son of the Virgin, the blessed Word,
With Father and Blest Spirit One
Until the ages’ course is done.
Amen.

(The doxology above is not correct, in the second line; I can't quite make out the text in the video, though.)

Pope's notes for this hymn (and for others!) are interesting; the first points out that

This poem has given four hymns to the Roman Breviary:--

(1) For the Feast of the Transfiguration, Vespers and Matins consisting of ll. 1-4, 37-40, 41-44, 85-88.
(2) For the Epiphany at Lauds, beginning O sola magnarum urbium, ll. 77-80, 5-8, 61-72.
(3) For the Feast of Holy Innocents at Matins, beginning Audit tyrannus anxius, ll. 93-100, 133-136.
(4) Also the Feast of Holy Innocents at Lauds, beginning Salvete flores martyrum, ll. 125-132.

Quicumque Christum quaeritis, says New Advent, is "the opening line of the twelfth (in honor of the Epiphany) and last poem in the 'Cathemerinon' of Prudentius." Further:

This twelfth poem or hymn contains 52 iambic dimeter strophes, and an irregular selection from its 208 lines has furnished four hymns to the Roman Breviary, all of which conclude with the usual Marian doxology ("Jesu tibi sit gloria" etc., not composed by Prudentius), slightly varied to make the doxology appropriate for the several feasts employing the hymns. The four centos are:

Quicumque Christum quaeritis (Matins and first and second Vespers of the feast of the Transfiguration), comprising sixteen lines (I-4, 37-44, 85-88) and the doxology (which changes its second line): Jesu, tibi sit gloria, Qui to revelers parvulis, etc.

Although written for the Epiphany, the lines forming the cento apply well to the Transfiguration, as Daniel notes (Thes. Hymnol., I, p. 136).

The Transfiguration is celebrated twice each liturgical year:  on August 6, its own feast day, and also on the Last Sunday after The Epiphany, when it's the subject of the Lectionary reading. The story appears in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke); for this past year, Year B, the telling of the tale at the last Sunday after Epiphany is from Mark:

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

On the August 6 Feast of the Transfiguration, the Gospel reading is from Luke:
Luke 9:28-36

About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Old Testament reading for today is the story of Moses on Mt. Sinai, and of his experience of "close encounter" with God:

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.


The Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration is:

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
. about which Hatchett's Commentary says:

This is a slightly revised version of the collect the Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington wrote for the day, based on the Lukan story of the transfiguration.  It was first included in the 1892 Prayer Book.

Here's the full Transfiguration entry from the wonderful Full Homely Divinity:
The Feast of the Transfiguration is of great antiquity, though it was not established as a feast of universal observance in the West until 1457 in the pontificate of Callistus III. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that there are few special customs associated with the feast. The feast always seems to have been observed on August 6th in the East. It is likely that this is the date of the fourth century dedication of a church on Mount Tabor, the traditional site of the biblical event. However, the earliest Western liturgical reference to the feast is found in the fifth century, when Matthew's account of the Transfiguration was the Gospel for the Ember Saturday in Lent. To make a long story short, it was the 15th century before English Benedictines were keeping it as a major feast in its own right on August 6th and it finally made its way into the Sarum Kalendar. Even so, it had not caught on too strongly since, in spite of its clear biblical warrant, it was dropped in 1549. It appears in some subsequent Prayer Book Kalendars, but without a proper collect and readings. Its full restoration in the American revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1892 may be attributed to the influence William Reed Huntington. In addition to its celebration on August 6th, the Transfiguration is also commemorated on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday in some recent Prayer Books, such as the 1979.

The feast commemorates a truly startling event, shortly before Jesus went up to Jerusalem to enter into his Passion. Going up to the top of a mountain with Jesus, the inner circle of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, are overwhelmed with a brilliant and unearthly manifestation of their Lord in glory as he converses with Moses and Elijah about the things that are to come. For a moment, the humanity of Jesus is infused with light and it is as if his divinity has become palpable. In fact, the disciples are dumbfounded,  and can barely find words with which to respond. Although they have been with Jesus constantly for three years, they still do not really understand who he is, but a voice from heaven removes any uncertainty when it proclaims, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

Orthodox Christians have focused on the light that was manifest on this occasion. The thirteenth century Archbishop of Thessalonica, St. Gregory Palamas, taught that the light which infused this scene was not natural, created, or material light, but was the uncreated light of God who is unapproachable in his Essence, but who can be perceived by his energies. St. Gregory taught that the light of Tabor was a particular manifestation of those energies which are also sometimes perceived by those who are deeply immersed in a particular method of prayer known as hesychastic prayer. Hesychastic prayer has evoked some interest among Western Christians in recent years as a result of interest in the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), which is at the heart of hesychast ascetical practice. The Russian spiritual classic, The Way of the Pilgrim, has popularized the Jesus Prayer among many Western Christians who seek new ways of entering more deeply into the spiritual life.

This extraordinary approach to the light of Tabor is one way of understanding the Transfiguration, but it is dependent on a theology with which most Westerners are not particularly at home. Dr. Marianne Dorman, an Anglican educator offers this meditation on the light of Tabor. Noting that the Orthodox do indeed seem to take this feast more seriously than the Western Church does, she draws on Orthodox liturgical texts and goes on to explore other aspects of this event which can both trouble and transform us in deep and powerful ways. For in the Transfiguration we are taken back in time to creation when God was the only Light, as well as forward to the City of the Lamb where, once again, God is the only Light. The Transfiguration reveals in an unmistakable way the "true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world" (John 1:9) and also foreshows the light of the Resurrection, by which all believers are raised to the light and life of the Kingdom in the Day when he shall come again in glory. Occurring as it does on the way to Jerusalem, the Transfiguration centers all of this in the Cross when even death itself is unable to quench the Light. In short, we may say that the Transfiguration is the Gospel in sum: manifesting the glory and power of God as he renews the whole creation and redeems his people from darkness and sin.

William Reed Huntington was one of the giants of the 19th century Episcopal Church. A leader and a reconciler in critical times, rector of Grace Church, New York City, and a member of the House of Deputies of the General Convention for 36 years, he was known, unofficially of course, as "first presbyter of the Church." Summers usually found Dr. Huntington on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where he was active in the church of St. Mary-by-the-Sea, which had been founded by William Croswell Doane, the Bishop of Albany, who also summered there. It was Dr. Huntington who proposed to revise the Prayer Book and he contributed two collects: the Collect for Monday in Holy Week, and the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration. That feast was first observed at St. Mary's in 1887 and it was while climbing nearby Sargent Mountain that he found the inspiration for the Collect, which originally read:

O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Like Jesus, Dr. Huntington sought out a lonely mountaintop for prayer. It can hardly be imagined that Peter and James and John found the experience anything but disquieting, and Jesus himself, speaking with Moses and Elijah about the trials to come, must also have had some ambivalence about the experience. Nevertheless, it is through such a transforming experience that we are at last permitted to see the vision glorious--the uncreated Light of Tabor which is the King himself in all his beauty. In view of this, time apart, on a mountaintop if possible, but wherever we may withdraw for undisturbed prayer and meditation, is surely the most suitable way of extending this feast beyond the Liturgy into our personal and family festal observances.

Just as Lammas Day marks the beginning of the wheat harvest with a special blessing of bread, the Transfiguration has traditionally marked the beginning of the harvest of fruit, particularly the fruit of the vine. The transformation which takes place as fruit develops from the bud, to flower, to ripened fruit is a natural transfiguration. The symbolism here is even more pointed with grapes which continue to be transformed from fruit, to juice, to wine, and then, sacramentally, to the Blood of Christ received in the Eucharist. In the East, it is customary to bless a variety of fruits at the conclusion of the Liturgy on the Feast of the Transfiguration. In the West, however, only grapes are blessed and it was the custom, at one time, for a handful of grapes to be squeezed directly into the Chalice, mingling the fresh juice with the already consecrated Wine of the Eucharist. Here is a blessing that may be used to bless grapes for distribution at the conclusion of the Eucharist.

Blessing of Grapes on Transfiguration

Bless, O Father, this new fruit of the vine, which has grown and ripened through good weather, warm sunshine, and drops of rain and dew: may it bring refreshment and joy to us who partake of it. As the buds of the vine have been transformed into ripe and delicious fruit, and as the juice of the fruit is transformed by thy grace into the pure Blood of Christ, so may we be transformed into the mature likeness of him who shed his Blood for us and quenches our thirst with the Cup of Salvation, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

While Full Homely Divinity is not a political website, it would be unthinkable to omit mention of the fact that on August 6th, 1945, the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. However one chooses to characterize the reasons for that act, it is unarguable that the world was transformed for ever by its blinding light. As we reflect on the meaning of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, surely this is a day when, each year, we must give thought to the stark contrast between those two transforming events, between the power that is now in our hands and the ways in which we use it, and the power that belongs to God alone and the ways in which he uses it.
Yes, exactly:  "As we reflect on the meaning of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, surely this is a day when, each year, we must give thought to the stark contrast between those two transforming events, between the power that is now in our hands and the ways in which we use it, and the power that belongs to God alone and the ways in which he uses it."

This icon of the Transfiguration is "an early-15th century icon from the Tretyakov Gallery, attributed to Theophanes the Greek":


This one is a "Trasfiguration-fresco, in St. George Church in Kurbinovo, Macedonia," and is from, the page says, the 12th C.:


I'd wanted to include something from the 20th Century here; you'd think that the Transfiguration would have been an almost irresistable subject for some of the artists in the past century. Couldn't find anything, though - so I include this Duccio di Buoninsegna rendering from "between 1250 and 1260":


Love the Ducc, anyway. And there's also this beautiful "Gothic altarpiece of Transfiguration, by Bernat Martorell, at Cathedral of Barcelona," from 1445 or so:


You should go have a look in detail at that last one, I think.

I'm hoping for another post, shortly, about another aspect of the Feast of the Transfiguration: its association, especially in the chant propers, with Wisdom.

There will be more to come, too, about Prudentius' poems.

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