Four Quarantines, Clothing, and Nakedness

While the word dozen comes from the Latin for twelve, quarantine comes from the Latin for forty.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began more than two years ago, we’ve used the word quarantine far more often.

Though in this pandemic we have not isolated the sick for a full forty days, we still call a period, state, or place of isolation a quarantine.

At different points in the Catholic Church’s Roman calendar, there are four quarantines, four special stretches of forty days each, even though only one of the four has its own name.

The named one is Quadragésima, Latin for fortieth.

Languages descending straight from Latin use derivatives of the Latin name: Italian Quaresima, Spanish Cuaresma, French Carême, and others.

English, a West Germanic language, names that period Lent, a word related to the Old English long, since Quadragésima starts at the time of year when the span of sunlight is growing longer each day.

But the English name makes no reference to Quadragésima’s origin in formerly obligatory fasting on forty days, starting with Ash Wednesday and ending with Holy Saturday, but not counting the six interposed Sundays on which there was no fasting. [There are forty-six days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday inclusive.]

The German language names the season not for its number of days but for its essential discipline, Fastenzeit, “Fasting Time” literally.

Another quarantine, a nameless one, in the Roman calendar starts with Easter Sunday and ends with Ascension Thursday, and it thus commemorates the forty days Christ spent with his first disciples after he rose from the dead.

The other two nameless quarantines in the Roman calendar both start with a commemoration of Christ’s Transfiguration on a mountain, one that some say is Mount Tabor.

And both of those nameless quarantines end with a commemoration of his crucifixion on a hill called Skull.

The later of those two quarantines is the forty days from August 6, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, through September 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The earlier one starts with the Second Sunday of Lent (three days ago), when the Gospel reading is of the Transfiguration, and it ends forty days later with Good Friday of the Lord’s suffering on the cross.

Those two quarantines reflect ancient belief that Christ’s transfiguration took place forty days before his crucifixion.

Having those twin quarantines every year calls us to double our mindfulness of both the Transfiguration and the Cross.

But it also calls us to ponder the godly and human connection between the two events beyond their twice-yearly calendric connection.

The Transfiguration preface prayer at Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent speaks of what Christ had in mind.

For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death,
on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory,
to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets,
that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.

The preface prayer at Mass on the August 6 Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord enriches that understanding.

For he revealed his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses
and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form
which he shares with all humanity,
that the scandal of the Cross
might be removed from the hearts of his disciples
and that he might show
how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled
what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.

I will leave to you to ponder those prayers in your own way.

But I want to turn to two physical details mentioned in the Gospel testimonies of the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion: clothing and nakedness.

During the Transfiguration of Jesus, a cloud from heaven embraced him, and his bodily appearance changed: his face shone like the sun, and his clothing gleamed like unearthly, intense, white light.

Not just his body, but also his clothing!

To make his clothing, humans took things from God’s creation and transfigured them through much work into clothing.

Someone planted, tended, and gathered plants for their fibers, and someone bred, raised, and sheared woolbearing animals.

Someone combed and cleaned those plant and animal fibers, and someone spun them into thread.

Someone built a loom.

Someone set threads on a loom to weave them into cloth.

Someone gathered dyestuffs from plants, minerals, or animals, and used them to color at least some of the yet unwoven thread or some of the woven cloth.

Someone made clothing from the cloth— clothing just to fit the grown body of Jesus, indeed The Body of Christ.

Was the seamstress Mary, the loving and beloved mother of Jesus?

Or did she buy the clothes from someone else, and if so, how would she have paid?

Did she use money from selling vegetables she grew and things she crafted, or did she trade for the clothes?

From start to finish, allthe gifts God offers in creation and all that humans do to transfigure those gifts into clothing— they are fruit of the earth and work of human hands, as the Eucharistic ritual says in offering bread and wine upon God’s altar.

Every fiber of our humanity, our human bones, veins, muscles, fingers, hands, and limbs, human wisdom, work, and experiences, human history, culture, artistry, and crafting, human relationships, and human love had gathered and had humanly transfigured created gifts into clothing even before Jesus climbed Mount Tabor where God’s Spirit-Cloud would embrace the work of human hands and magnify its transfiguration, not replace it.

Jesus, bodily transfigured for a while on Mount Tabor, came down still clothed in what both humans and God had transfigured.

But some days later, perhaps exactly forty days later, what happened to all those bodily, human, and godly transfigurations?

Another transfiguration, but in nakedness!

On Skull Hill just outside Jerusalem’s wall, humans stripped the clothing from Jesus, humans nailed him onto a cross-shaped easel, and humans showed off their newly transfigured human artwork for all to see: dying human nakedness.

On that hill, before the dying eyes of Jesus, humans drew lots to let one of them claim the clothing of Jesus as a prize.

That clothing, those transfigured plant and animal fibers, must have been desirable, valuable somehow, even though they no longer shone with the transfiguring light God once gave them on Mount Tabor.

And now God withdrew even the light of the sun, thus transfiguring creation: at midday there was darkness over all the land.

Three hours later in the ongoing unnatural darkness, Jesus died in nakedness, his human bones, muscles, veins, and limbs, his human skills, feelings, and intellect, his human will, and his human choices all bruised and torn, disfigured, transfigured.

There were no human possibilities left to him.

He no longer owned any gift from any human person except the flesh that had grown from one of his loving mother’s Spirit-transfigured ova.

Robbed of all else but her loving, human gift!

Naked in that gift, but with the innocent and holy nakedness of Eden!

Innocent and holy nakedness that human cunning had now killed!

Then, on the third day, God the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, transfigured again and forever all that had been human in Jesus.

Jesus rose again on the third day.

Clothing is part of the Gospel testimonies of that third day: angels in white clothing greeted those who found the tomb of Jesus empty after his resurrection.

For a full quarantine after that, Jesus again wore clothing, the work of human hands, and he again ate the fruit of the earth with those who had loved and believed in him.

On the last day of that quarantine, as his Galilean followers watched, a cloud came, perhaps the same one that had enveloped him at his shining Transfiguration.

Now those Galileans witnessed the cloud take him from the earth into the invisible light of heaven.

On that fortieth day, as he disappeared before his witnesses, the Word of the Lord testifies about clothing again, for two mysterious figures in white clothing suddenly showed themselves and said: Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.

He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Everlastingly taken up, embraced, and transfigured on God’s throne: every fiber of our humanness, our human bones, veins, muscles, fingers, hands, and limbs, human wisdom, work, and experiences, human history, culture, artistry, and crafting, human relationships, and human love!

The transfigurations that God worked on Mount Tabor, in the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and the Last Transfiguration of All that God will work at the Second Coming of Jesus— in all those transfigurations, God works to save, restore, and magnify our humanness, not to replace it.

All quarantines come to an end.

But not our humanness, nor God’s love for it, for us!

That is the naked truth.

Published by Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B.

Benedictine Monk and Priest of Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California, in the Order of Saint Benedict

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