The Fourth Luminous Mystery
One of our most favorite places in the world is Mt. Tabor in the Holy Land. Every time we would go there with our Pilgrimage groups, we felt as St. Peter when he told the Lord “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three tents, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elias.” We really believe he was telling the Lord he didn’t want to leave this place. It was so special, so spiritual. He felt he could touch Heaven from the top of Mt. Tabor.
That’s exactly the way we felt. We were so close to Heaven, we thought if we really stretched our arms out, we could touch It too. One of the most unusual things for us was to see the Valley of Armageddon below, where the Biblical last battle place in the world would take place. It was so peaceful, so beautiful, full of rolling hills, definitely a land of milk and honey. Yet this is where the last battle will take place. On the other side of the mountain, on the leeward side, it was desert. All was dry and dead. Mt. Tabor has much to teach us, and forgive us for getting ahead of ourselves and focusing on the beauty of the land, rather before we share the powerful teaching we received here.
It is well accepted that the Transfiguration represents a pinnacle in the life of Jesus, the pivotal point. It is after this that the Gospels focus on His Passion and death, His Resurrection and Ascension into glory. From this time on, He is preparing His Apostles and disciples to build the City of God, the New Jerusalem.
Two of the main participants in the Transfiguration, Sts. Peter and John, only make passing references to it in their writings. St. Peter uses the experience to affirm that there would be a second coming. St. John uses his eye-witness testimony to actually launch his account of the life of Jesus. “And we saw His glory - glory as of the only-begotten of the Father - full of grace and truth.”
However, when we read the opening of St. John’s first letter, we get the feeling he is referencing that experience on the mountain. Listen. See if you don’t get the same message.
“I write of what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have handled: of the Word of Life.
“And the Life was made known and we have seen, and now testify and announce to you, the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. What we have seen and have heard we announce to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that you may rejoice, and that our joy may be full.” (1John 1:1-4)
Pope John Paul I I, who instituted the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, calls this mystery, that of the Transfiguration, “the mystery par excellence, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to Him” (cf Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with Him the Agony of the Passion, so as to come with Him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.”
Our dear Pope mentions the parallel between the scene of the Transfiguration and that of the Agony in the Garden. In both instances, Peter, James and John were with Jesus. In both instances, they were sleeping. It is believed that the glory of Jesus as shown in His Transfiguration was given to the Apostles to offset the humiliation and shame connected with the Agony in the Garden, the agony and the ecstasy. But we get ahead of ourselves. Let us begin at the beginning.
Jesus and the apostles were on their way into Jerusalem, for the last time. Jesus knew He was going to His Passion and death, and He wanted to give His key apostles, Peter, James and John, an image they could hold onto when the degradation of the Passion and Death of the Savior took place.
In all the Synoptic Gospel writings, Jesus has tried to introduce the fact of His coming death at the hands of the chief priests and scribes to the Apostles, when He conferred on Peter the Primacy. Peter was the first to object to this possibility. He cried out to Him, “Far be it from Thee, O Lord; this will never happen to Thee.” Whereupon Jesus made the profound statement which has reverberated down through the ages, “Get thee behind Me, Satan, .... thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men.” (Mt 16:22-23)
And so He took them up on the mountain, Mt. Tabor. He had Peter, James and John come with Him, while He left the rest at the foot of the mountain. Matthew and Mark say nothing about the Apostles sleeping, but Luke states “He took Peter, James and John and went up the mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was changed, and His raiment became a radiant white. And behold, two men were talking with Him. And these were Moses and Elias, who, appearing in glory, spoke of His death, which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep. But when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him.
“And it came to pass as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, `Master, it is good for us to be here. And let us set up three tents, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias,’ not knowing what he said. But as he was speaking thus, there came a cloud and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, `This is My beloved Son; hear Him.’ And after the voice had passed, Jesus was found alone.” Lk 9:29-36
The Gospel writer was trying his very best to depict how bright an aura was around Jesus, Moses and Elias. Matthew and Mark use the expression “white as snow,” but Luke wanted to make it more intense, thus his use of the words, “radiant white.” There is also a parallel in the Transfiguration of Jesus and the account of Moses up on the mountain with God. The cloud came down on him and the mountain as God spoke to him. When he came down from the mountain, his face was so white he had to wear a veil.
In the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, around the back of the altar, there are four mosaics, all of which depict Angels in the life of Jesus. Two struck our hearts very much. One of them showed an Angel standing over the Pascal Lamb, with Its throat slit. The Angel’s eyes were looking towards Heaven. Tears were coming down his eyes. The other mosaic showed three Angels surrounding the baby Jesus, who was lying at the bottom of the mosaic. He was beautiful. But when we looked at His eyes, they looked like someone who had seen the whole world, and all the sadness in it. We haven’t returned to Mt. Tabor for almost twenty years, but that image remains vivid in our mind’s eye.
Ronald L. Conte Jr wrote a piece on the Luminous Mysteries in which he parallels each of the mysteries of Light with a corresponding Sacrament. In his view, the Mysteries of Light are meant to focus us more vividly on the Sacraments. He parallels them in this manner:
The Baptism in the Jordan River - Sacrament of Baptism
The Wedding Feast of Cana - Sacrament of Marriage
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Call to Conversion - Sacrament of Confession and Last Rites
The Transfiguration - Confirmation and Holy Orders
The Institution of the Eucharist - The Blessed Sacrament.
(Catholic Planet - www.catholicplanet.com)
For our purposes, we want to focus on the aspect of the Fourth Mystery of Light, that of the Transfiguration. The parallel the author speaks of is the Sacrament of Confirmation and Holy Orders. Our Pope points out that through the Transfiguration, we experience Our Lord’s agony and joy. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we take our place as adult Christians in the Church, eager to accept the joy of that position, and willing to live and to die if necessary for our Church. Possibly, even on a greater scale, those who are honored to take part in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, more fully participate in the agony and the ecstasy of their vocation lived out.
We believe our dear Pope John Paul the Great, was a mystic. He gave us the Year of the Rosary, followed by the Year of the Eucharist. Does that not appear like the Vision of Don Bosco, where the Pope stood at the helm of the ship of the Church, between the two great pillars that hold up our Church, the Eucharist and Our Lady, Help of Christians?
He gave us these Luminous Mysteries, to strengthen us, to help us through the battle which has been waged, and is being waged for our immortal souls. We believe our dear Saint in Heaven gave us ammunition in these Luminous Mysteries, and in particular, this, what he calls the Mystery par excellence. Take advantage of what our dear Pope has given us. Pray the Rosary. We love you.