Source & Summit: Liturgical Q&A 3/12

Transfiguration by RaffaeloOn the Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is always the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration before Peter, James and John upon the mountain. Transfiguration is one of those church words we hear a few times a year perhaps without considering its meaning. So I googled it and this definition appeared: “transformation into something more beautiful or elevated.”

I always program the hymn “Beautiful Savior” on the Second Sunday of Lent because I feel it speaks poignantly to the Transfiguration. For instance, in the third verse, we sing, “Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels in the sky.” Last month I was able to catch the famous St Olaf College Choir perform as part of their annual tour at Baldwin Auditorium at Duke University. “Beautiful Savior” is their signature piece. They sing a wide variety of choral music during their concerts, over two hours worthy, but always finish with “Beautiful Savior“, arranged by by their founder and first director, F. Melius Christiansen (keep in mind the choir was founded in 1912). You can easily find recordings on online to listen to. After the choir hums the first verse, a solo alto sings the second verse, and the choir then sings the third and fourth verses in multiple parts. Put simply, both the hearing of and singing of this particular arrangement is transfiguring. It would be difficult to imagine someone experiencing the St Olaf Choir singing “Beautiful Savior” not being transformed somehow.

I think this is one of the reasons music is so integral to our worship. Whether we are singing music together, or listening to music offered by the musicians, the point of it is to transfigure us into something beyond ourselves. Just a few days ago Pope Francis addressed the subject of liturgical music saying that it must, “embody and translate the Word of God into songs, sounds, harmonies that make the hearts of our peers vibrate, creating even an appropriate emotional climate, that puts in order the faith and raises reception and full participation in the mystery that it celebrates.”

Perhaps music opens our minds and hearts to possibilities we wouldn’t normally consider, especially when it comes to how we live our life as faithful disciples. This Lent may we be transfigured as disciples of the Beautiful Savior.

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– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music