Feast of the Transfiguration: Christians recall ‘greatest miracle’ on Mount Tabor

Transfiguration Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor, in Israel; the biblical site of the Transfiguration. Photo courtesy of Picryl

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6: An event revered by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the greatest miracle” is recalled by both Eastern and Western Christians today, on the centuries-old Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. (Note: Catholic and most Orthodox churches mark this feast on August 6, though many American Protestant congregations, among them United Methodist and some Lutheran churches, celebrated Jesus’s transfiguration much earlier this year as part of their Epiphany season.)

Transfiguration fresco

A fresco depicting the Transfiguration, by Fra Angelico. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

Three Gospels tell of Jesus taking three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with him on an ascent of a mountain. Once at their destination, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear. A voice in the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fall to their knees in wonder.

While heading back down the mountain, the Bible describes Jesus as telling his disciples not to speak of what they had seen until he has risen from the dead. The disciples—confused by the words “risen from the dead”—discuss the meaning of this puzzling experience.

Did you know? In 2002, Pope John Paul II selected the Transfiguration as one of the five Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.

Theologians have argued for centuries about the metaphysics of the transfiguration—whether Jesus’s garments became white and his face shone like the sun, or that, perhaps, the apostles’ senses were transfigured so that they could perceive the true glory of God. Nonetheless, Christian churches agree that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. The mountain represents the meeting point of human and God; of earth and heaven.

Did you know? In Byzantine theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul on the road to Damascus. 

For an Orthodox perspective on the holiday, learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

For a Western perspective, visit the Global Catholic Network.

Trinity Sunday, Pentecost: Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit and three persons of God

Holy Trinity stained glass Sunday

An interpretation of the Holy Trinity in stained glass. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 12: A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is observed by both Eastern and Western Christians today, calling to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—plays in Christianity. In the Western Christian church, white banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity, one week following the Pentecost holiday; in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the same day as the Sunday of Pentecost.

Did you know? Some Christians may be surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.

CUSTOMS & THE ATHANASIAN CREED

On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

Ascension of the Lord (Ascension of Jesus): Christians observe ancient feast

Stained-glass, Ascension of Jesus

A stained-glass image of the Ascension of Jesus. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 26: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. On this date—or, as some Roman Catholic churches will hold services on the Sunday following, along with some regional Ecclesiastical provinces—Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

Did you know? In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation; in the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.

MOUNT OF OLIVES & THE ASCENSION

On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop.

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ takes place on June 2, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).

Easter, Pascha: Christians worldwide revel in the Resurrection

Resurrection three crucifixes

Photo by geralt, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 17 and SUNDAY, APRIL 24: Raise the lights, ring the church bells and joyously sing “Alleluia”—it’s Easter! (For Eastern Orthodox Christians, who will celebrate this event on April 24 this year, the holiday is known as Pascha.) Christians the world over shout in exultation on Easter Sunday, as the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Western Christians across the globe revel in the Resurrection of Jesus today, rejoicing in the promise of new life. Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Christians awaken to a new day. Donning their finest clothing in pastel hues, more than 1 billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which often showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies.

Did you know? The week beginning on Easter Sunday is known as Easter Week, or the Octave of Easter.

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith, and on this grand day, crowds flow into and out of churches, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith.

Stone rolled away from tomb, Easter

Photo by BRBurton23, courtesy of Pixabay

A TOMB AND A HOLY MESSENGER

Gospel accounts say that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

For Christians today, meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also would typically feature lamb—a symbol of Christ, the Paschal Lamb. However, Easter hams now far outpace cuts of lamb.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

SECULAR EASTER: CANDIES & EGGS

Eggs for Easter

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer, courtesy of Flickr

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

EGGS: The springtime egg has symbolized the season’s new life since before the life of Jesus, drawing back to ancient civilizations. Nonetheless, the egg holds a place of prominence in many secular Easter traditions. Children around the globe search for hidden eggs, and decorating eggs can range from simple to elaborate—as much as the artist allows. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs, with the most exquisite replications selling for hundreds of dollars.

RECIPES & RESOURCES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network and AllRecipes.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

EASTER MONDAY NEWS: In the United States, the day following Easter Sunday—known as Easter Monday—has been host to the White House’s traditional Easter Egg Roll for more than 140 years; however, due to the pandemic, the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021. According to reports, President Biden’s administration will bring back the tradition once again, on Easter Monday in 2022. (Fox News has the story.)

Easter Triduum: Christians observe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

Easter Triduum

Photo by Bradiporap, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, APRIL 14; FRIDAY, APRIL 15; and SATURDAY, APRIL 16: Western Christians across the globe entered Holy Week on Palm Sunday, and begin the Easter Triduum—recounting the final days of Jesus’s life and Passion—on Thursday, with Holy (Maundy) Thursday.

Washing foot, Maundy Thursday

Washing feet on Maundy Thursday at Westminster Cathedral. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

MAUNDY OR HOLY THURSDAY

According to Christian tradition, the Last Supper that Jesus held on the night before his death was the establishment of the Eucharist—the foundation of the Christian sacrament shared by more than 2 billion Christians around the world. Even though specific liturgical customs do vary between the branches of this worldwide faith, the basic sacred tradition stems from the Gospel verses describing Jesus’s last meal with his followers. The New Testament also describes Jesus washing the feet of his followers on this night, so foot washing also widely practiced on Maundy or Holy Thursday.

As Jesus and his disciples left their upper room, they traveled out of the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Garden of Gethsemane. Before sunrise, Jesus would be betrayed and the events of Good Friday would begin.

Did you know? Most scholars believe that the term maundy derives from the Latin ‘to command,’ referring to Jesus’ command to the disciples that they love one another, announced when he washed their feet.

Each Maundy Thursday in the Catholic church, a daytime Chrism Mass takes place and a new stock of holy oil is blessed. Following the evening liturgy, the holy water is removed from all stoups—and all hangings and vestments are changed to black (or another Lenten color). Bells will remain silent until Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil.

GOOD FRIDAY:
PASSION PLAYS, STATIONS OF THE CROSS

The day laden with darkness and lamentation has arrived, as Christians recall the somber events of Good Friday—Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. Between two criminals sentenced to death by Roman authorities, Jesus hung on a crucifix for six excruciating hours. During the last three hours, Gospels account that darkness fell over the land; at approximately 3 p.m., Jesus gave up his spirit and died. Such dramatic natural events occurred that the centurion on guard at the site of the crucifixion announced, “Truly this was God’s Son!”

Close-up of Jesus on wooden cross

Photo by Didgeman, courtesy of Pixabay

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a strict fast day: only one full meal or two small meals is permitted, and the faithful abstain from meat and joyful activities. Many gather at church to pray the Stations of the Cross, painfully recalling each step on Jesus’ path to the crucifixion site. Some devotees attend a prayer service known as the Three Hours’ Agony, and it’s not uncommon for Passion plays and processions to reenact the day’s events. In Rome, the Pope or Vatican representatives will lead meditations on the Stations of the Cross while a crucifix is carried to the Colosseum. Good Friday is a public or government holiday in many countries of the world, and the stock market is closed.

By tradition dating to 1361 CE, currant-filled, glazed hot cross buns are eaten for breakfast on Good Friday morning. The glaze forms a cross on the bun, signifying the day’s focus. (You can find a wonderful hot cross bun recipe in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.)

HOLY SATURDAY:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Terms and traditions for this Saturday vary widely across Christianity. For millions of American Protestants, this Saturday is simply a good occasion to clean the house and prepare treats for Easter dinner. Very little is said about this day in the vast majority of mainline Protestant and evangelical churches. However, Holy Saturday liturgies are ancient traditions in the Catholic church, Orthodox churches and others around the world.

In Eastern tradition, one of the most beautiful and unusual of icons is used in Saturday liturgies, called the Epitaphios. This icon is made of fabric and represents a kind of burial shroud, showing Jesus’s body being prepared for burial. On “Great and Holy Saturday,” the Epitaphios is carried in a procession around the church.

THE EASTER VIGIL—In the evening on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light; statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled, and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar will observe Holy Week one week after the Western Christian Holy Week in 2022, with the Eastern Pascha (Easter) falling on April 24.

Palm Sunday: Christians begin Holy Week with processions and palms

Palm branches, crowd

Palm branches on Palm Sunday, in the Philippines. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 10: With Easter on the horizon and the Passion of Jesus at hand, Western Christians begin preparations for the pivotal week to come on Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’s ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, and according to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path.

EASTERN CHRISTIANS will mark Palm Sunday one week later, on April 17, in 2022.

THE PALM BRANCH: A MULTI-FACETED SYMBOL

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branch symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Every year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips:

Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

St. Patrick’s Day: Wear green, embrace Irish culture and honor a fourth-century saint

St. Patrick, stained glass

St. Patrick. Photo by James Walsh, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MARCH 17: As pandemic restrictions continue to lift and more cities return to the parades and festivals that often signify St. Patrick’s Day, revelers around the world remember the legendary Saint Patrick of Ireland—while embracing the Irish culture through food, music, costuming and more.

WHO WAS THE REAL ST. PATRICK?

The legendary patron saint of Ireland began life c. 385 CE, in Roman Britain. With a wealthy family whose patron was a deacon, the young man who would become known as St. Patrick led a comfortable life until his teenage years, when he was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years in Ireland, Patrick gained a deeper Christian faith. When he dreamed that God told him to flee to the coast, Patrick did so—and traveled home to become a priest. Following ordination, however, another dream prompted Patrick to do what no one expected: to return to Ireland.

As a Christian in Ireland, Patrick worked to convert the pagan Irish. With a three-leaved shamrock in hand to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, St. Patrick converted many. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 at Downpatrick.

Surprisingly, the most widely known saint from Ireland was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. Since no formal canonization process existed in the Church’s first millennium, St. Patrick was deemed a saint only by popular acclaim and local approval.

PATRICK’S ‘BREASTPLATE’

St. Pat’s Day may be a secular bash in many communities, but it also has deep religious roots that matter to millions. The purest forms of religious expression, each year, occur—naturally—in Ireland. One of the most popular posts in the decade-long history of ReadTheSpirit is a collection of three versions of the famous prayer known as The Breastplate:

Versions 1 and 2: Here is St. Patrick’s Breastplate in English prose and in 19th Century lines of a hymn.
Version 3:
We also have St. Patrick’s Breastplate in Gaelic.

You probably remember some of the most famous lines from St. Patrick, such as:
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

And also:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

But, there is so much more to this classic prayer!

corned beef for St. Patrick's Day

Corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Larry Hoffman, courtesy of Flickr

A CHRISTIAN FEAST DAY—AND AN EPIC FESTIVAL

St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day by the early 17th century, observed by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and members of the Church of Ireland. Today, countries the world over offer citizens and tourists Irish-themed foods, drinks and culture on March 17. Dances, processions, performances and more illustrate the vibrancy of Irish history—all set against the very Irish color of green.

In 1996, the Republic of Ireland began the St. Patrick’s Festival to highlight everything Irish to other world citizens; today, the festival lasts five days, attracts more than 1 million visitors and requires 18 months of planning. (Check out the St. Patrick’s Festival website for more.)

RECIPES, CRAFT IDEAS & MORE

Got dreams of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, too):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from Parenting.com.