I wanted to take a moment to point out one of the top ten holidays in the Christian year: the feast of the Transfiguration is today, August 6th. It commemorates that mystical mountain-top experience when the Apostles Peter, James, and John saw Jesus undergo a “transfiguration” or “metamorphosis,” revealing his true divine glory. I thought this might be a nice opportunity to share a little about the Scripture-reading plans that often end up being prepared “behind the scenes,” when it’s meant to be part of the church-community life.
In historic practice, every holiday and commemoration – big and small – has a set of “Propers.” Propers are a set of scripture readings and a brief prayer (called a collect) that are proper to the day; in other words, together they display, summarize, or support themes that pertain to whatever is being celebrated. In current contemporary Anglican practice, the typical propers for a holiday includes three lessons from Scripture (OT, NT, and Gospel), an excerpt of prayer from a Psalm, a Collect of the Day, and sometimes a preface, which is one of the pieces of the Eucharistic prayers.
The Eucharistic Propers for Transfiguration Day in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer are on page 924: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Peter 2:13-21, and Luke 9:28-36. When read together, each of these readings shed light on one another: Luke’s account reports the event, Peter’s epistle reflects back on it, and the Exodus story is a “type” or foreshadowing of it. The Psalm invites us to worship God “on his holy mountain” in response to his speaking from the cloud – hinting at the beginning of how we are invited to enter into the transfiguration event and praise Christ for his glory.
For major holidays like this, though, Anglican practice gives us even more immersion into the day’s observance: there are Proper readings for this holiday in the Daily Office as well! Normally, the Scripture readings of the Daily Office, each morning and evening, simply walk us through the Bible every year or two (depending on the lectionary, or reading plan, that you’re using). But on special holidays, the continual reading (lectio continuo) is interrupted in order to give us readings that focus in on the holiday more extensively.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that this is a very intentional feature of historic lectionaries. One of the major issues in the Reformation was the regular reading of Scripture. To this day, in the Preface of the Prayerbook, you will find this intention clearly stated: too many holidays takes away from the reading of the majority of the Bible, and therefore there must not be too many interruptions! Therefore, when the Prayerbook offers unique Daily Office readings for a holiday, it’s been deemed important enough to interrupt the regular flow of Bible reading.
To that end, if you would like to dig deeper into observing the feast of the Transfiguration, here are the readings from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (page 998).
At Evening Prayer the day before: Psalm 84, 1 Kings 19:1-12, 2 Corinthians 3:1-9,18,
at Morning Prayer: Psalms 2 & 24, Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6,
and at Evening Payer: Psalm 72, Daniel 7:9-14, John 12:27-36a.
To sum up, here’s the Collect of The Transfiguration (BCP page 243), to “collect” all these scriptural thoughts into one prayer: 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, forever and ever.