Saint Cyril of Jerusalem: The Vital Importance of Catechetics

The saints during Lent – with few exceptions, such as Saint Joseph – are celebrated as muted ‘commemorations’, but that does not decrease their significance as saints, and we should still remember them for what their always remarkable and unique lives have to teach us.

So it is with Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315 – 386/7), bishop of the ancient city during the tumultuous fourth century, with the Church rent by the virulent heresy of Arianism and the ensuing political domination of all things ecclesiastical; when as the contemporary Saint Jerome lamented, the whole groaned to find itself Arian. The orthodox bishops faithful to Tradition had to stand firm, immovable and implacable in the truth. Cyril was exiled a number of times from his see, for he fully accepted the Nicene formula of the homo-ousion, which the Arians just as fully denied, that Christ was the same ‘substance’ as the Father, true God from true God, reiterated at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which Cyril attended.

To ground his fellow Catholics in the truth, Cyril presented his now-famous ‘Catecheses’, a series of 23 addresses on the sacraments of initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist; fitting, in this Lententide, when new converts prepare for their own Baptism. Cyril emphasized the high moral standard requisite for living a full Christian life, and the need for Faith to undergird all things:

It is not only among us, who are marked with the name of Christ, that the dignity of faith is great; all the business of the world, even of those outside the Church, is accomplished by faith. By faith, marriage laws join in union persons who were strangers to one another. By faith, agriculture is sustained; for a man does not endure the toil involved unless he believes he will reap a harvest. By faith, seafaring men, entrusting themselves to a tiny wooden craft, exchange the solid element of the land for the unstable motion of the waves.

Recent Popes have taught the dire need for a new catechetical formation. All the laity – and priests should be grounded in the most necessary and fundamental teachings of the Church, in Christian Doctrine, in what Christ has revealed for our salvation. Peruse, when you might, the Credo of the People of God, by Paul VI (June 30, 1968, the memorial of the first martyrs of Rome) and the Catechesi Tradendae by John Paul II (October 16, 1979, one year to the day after he was elected Pope). Of course, most of all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How many Catholics there are, who go through the motions of their religion, with little idea of why or what it’s all about. Only by knowing our Faith can we pray and live our our Faith. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi – the law of praying, the law of believing and the law of living – are all inextricably linked.

My people perish for lack of knowledge! lamented the prophet Hosea – and that perhaps has never been more true than in our own age.

And just as Cyril believed in the Incarnation – the Word made Flesh – so too in Transubstantiation – the Bread made Flesh, the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ:

Since Christ Himself said in reference to the bread: “This is My Body,” who will dare remain hesitant? And since with equal clarity He asserted: “This is My Blood,” who will dare entertain any doubt and say that this is not His Blood?… You have been taught these truths. Imbued with the certainty of faith, you know that what seems to be bread is not bread but the Body of Christ, although it seems to be bread when tasted. You also know that what seems to be wine is not wine but the Blood of Christ although it does taste like wine.

Saint Cyril’s time, like all times, we may suppose, was filled with apocalyptic expectation, with types and anti-types of Christ and anti-Christ, wars and rumours of wars. But the Church must hold an even keel, as Cyril knew, always ready for the ‘end’. So should we all in our own personal pilgrimages through life, still live in the ‘now’, which is all the time we really have.

Saint Cyril went to his own eternal reward, likely on this day, in 386. May he intercede for our own bishops, priests and all of us, in our own tumultuous and, yes, ‘apocalyptic’ time.

Sancte Cyrille de Ierusalem, ora pro nobis!

(source, with gratitude: Catholic Encyclopedia, and Wikipedia)