On the 2nd of the Lenten Sundays, in the Ordinary Form, the chants echo those of the feast of the Transfiguration, which is the Gospel of the day.
In the Introit, Tibi Dixit cor meum, we sing in the ethereal Mode 3, which Guido D’Arezzo called mystical, as we contemplate the majesty of the face of God revealed to us in Jesus transfigured on the mountain. The melody clearly portrays this with several sustained notes on the dominant do. We reach for the heights to which the transfigured Jesus calls us and which he shows us are our destiny, if we really hear Him. The words of the psalmist here are clear: it is my heart that seeks to contemplate God as he is. Heart is most often used in the Scriptures to represent the deepest dimensions of the human person, the font of life, the will, the desire, a type of understanding that surpasses that of the mind—although the liturgy tells us that the mind provides important underpinnings and support to the emotions of the heart that drive us and our behaviour. We keep our feet solidly on the ground, even though we are on holy ground and reaching for the One Who Is beyond us.
Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum, vultum tuum Domine requiram: ne faciem tuam avertis a me. Ps. Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea: quem timebo?
My heart said to You, I have sought Your countenance; I will seek Your countenance again, Lord. Do not turn Your face away from me. Ps. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom will I fear?
Here again, as we saw last Sunday, the chants have a very uplifting and positive thrust, despite the fact that we are in Lent, the season of penance and sorrow for sin. The Preface explains briefly why we need to hear this message today. Like the apostles, we will soon face the reality of the passion and death of the Lord. We must not forget that it leads to His resurrection. [in monte sancto suam eis aperuit claritatem, ut per passionem, etiam lege prophetisque testantibus, ad gloriam resurrectionis perveniri constaret. He showed them his brightness, so that it would be clear that he would come through to the glory of the resurrection, as the law and the prophets bear witness.] For a more thorough explanation of this, read the extract from a sermon of Pope St. Leo the Great found in the Office of Readings for the day. (An English version is available at www.universalis.com.)
The psalm verse in the Introit speaks to this very directly. Confronted by the startling gap between the glory of God revealed in Jesus and our own sinfulness, we do not need to fall down in fear, as the apostles did on the mountain. The cross and resurrection of Jesus, pre-figured in his transfigured body, are now a living reality in our world. Fear is driven away when we can see the Lord as our true light and our salvation. No wonder that the chant is triumphant; it is a chant to accompany our entrance onto our own holy mountain, as the priest goes before us to ascend the altar of sacrifice on our behalf: Jesus Christ going to the cross to offer Himself to the Father. It is a powerful reminder that our Lenten self-denial is not negative for its own sake, but as a means to transform ourselves into the fully human person we are called to be. Only by stripping away the false and transitory can we see what is true and enduring.
In recent decades, it’s become popular to think that our Lenten self-denial should generate monetary savings and that in turn will fund our almsgiving. Not a surprising way of thinking in an age when economic ‘quid pro quo’ measures loom large in our minds. But . . . well . . . ‘not exactly,’ as the popular expression goes. Eating less, drinking less, speaking less, shopping less, less media stimulation, or however else we might deny ourselves customary comforts, are all ways to provide more time for prayer and silence, and to strengthen us for the struggles we face. Then, in that quiet, we learn the transforming value of prayer and the liberating exhilaration of almsgiving. In their turn, praying and sharing change us; they make us richer. Just as we ask God to not turn his face from us, so we must not turn our face away from the needs of the poor, in whose face we behold Him. Or as the Collect succinctly says it: verbo tuo interius nos pascere digneris, ut, spiritali purificato intuitu, gloriae tuae laetemur aspectu. deign to feed us inwardly with Your word, so that, once our understanding has been purified, we may rejoice in the sight of Your glory.
In doing these things, we will be telling others of the great vision we have seen. And Christ is now raised from the dead, so it’s indeed time to tell the vision. Sing this Introit with gusto!