Not all Anglicans in Canada are aware that the most recent printing of the BAS has been revised to include the Revised Common Lectionary (1992). These are the readings given in the annual McCausland’s Order of Divine Service “in response to a directive from the House of Bishops”.
On Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the option is given of using either the readings of Proper 7 or the readings of the Last Sunday after Epiphany with the proper prayers of the Feast of the Transfiguration (p. 418). This seems to be one of the points at which the Revised Common Lectionary is overtaken by confusion. The Roman Church, on the other hand, keeps the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time rather than the Transfiguration (see http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/readings/022209.shtml), but reads the Gospel of the Transfiguration on Lent II. This last is an option in Canada (BAS p. 288). Notwithstanding the provisions of the BAS, the Montreal RCL Commentary site provides notes only for the Last Sunday after Epiphany. According to the RCL site of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, this Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday” and the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany is “not observed this year”. This differs from the Canadian use.
I am still looking for an official explanation of the keeping of the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday afer Epiphany. If pressed for a reason, I would guess that it is meant —at least to some extent —to parallel the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday after Pentecost. If so, then the shining light of the Tansfiguration sums up the Epiphany’s the me of manifestation. The reason might also be that, as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent states: Christ “was revealed in majesty before he suffered death on the Cross” (BAS p. 288). In that case, the Transfiguration theme is appropriate to what is not so much the Last Sunday after Epiphany as “The Sunday next before Lent” (we could ask then, why not call it Quinquagesima? but let that pass).
If anyone knows of an official explanation (that is, one found in an authorized service book or document, and not the private opinion of individuals, be they never so learned), I should be glad to hear it.
Guessing that the intention of the BAS is that one is to read the Transfiguration Gospel either this Sunday or on Lent II, I have decided that at St Columba and All Hallows we will do so this Sunday.
Quinquagesima and Shrovetide
Quinquagesima, by the way, merely means "fiftieth", since it is approximately fifty days before Easter. This is a highly apt title for the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday. It has also been known as Shrove Sunday. Shrove is from "Shrive", meaning to make one's confession, which is a laudable custom before the beginning of Lent. For Shrove Tuesday, see http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/feb/9.htm. Many countries keep festival on this day before the fast begins, and have Carnival (farewell to meat) or Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday); the English managed to begin their discipline a day early by eating pancakes. The Handbook of Dates for Students of English History says that a name for Shrove Monday was "Collop Monday", the Book of Days explains that this is from the practice of eating collops of salted meat and eggs on that day.
The First reading (2 Kings 2.1-12) tells of the assumption of the Prophet Elijah. This reading is clearly linked to the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration because of Elijah’s presence with our Lord and Moses on the Holy Mountain. The story itself is quite straightforward. Elijah, to whom it has obviouly been intimated that his departure is nigh, keeps saying to Elisha, “You stay here”. This may have been to give Elisha a chance to show his loyalty, as the RCL Commentary seems to suggest, or it may be, as Rashi said, that Elijah wanted to drive Elisha away because of his [Elijah’s] humility, so that he would not see him being taken away.
Note that the “company of prophets” have been interpreted in different ways. The RCL Commentary says “they are communities of followers, disciples, of Elijah”; Rashi, on the other hand, says that the fact that they refer to Elijah as “your master” “teaches us that they were equal to Elijah”.
On a light note, I'll mention that when I was reading this text in the Vulgate I thought taht it would be amusing to render the opening words, “Factum est autem cum levare vellet Dominus Eliam per turbinem in caelum,” as “Now when the Lord wanted to lift Elijah into heaven by means of a turbine.” I thought better of it.
That may be all I have time for this week; if I get a chance I will add further comments on the readings.
Some further comments:
Although in its original context Psalm 50 is a psalm of judgement, in which the Lord calls on heaven and earth to witness his charges against Israel for violating the covenant, the verses selected for this Sunday are in a new context, the Transfiguration of Christ. In particular these verses evoke the voice of God speaking from the cloud at the Transfiguration, for the cloud is a symbol of the divine glory. So we remember the pillar of cloud that led Israel out of Egypt and descended on the tabernacle, the thick cloud on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19.16), and the cloud that filld the temple (1 Kings 8.10, cf. Isaiah 6.4).
In 2 Corinthians 4, St Paul is apparently responding to complaints that he has not made the Gospel clear, and has not been efective in his preaching, and here he is conrasting his open preaching of the Gospel with the cunnung and underhanded methoids of his oppponents. In this Sunday’s context of the Transfiguration, this passage points to the glory of Christ. In reading of the Transfiguration we declare with Paul that we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.