Book Reviews

Day Thirty-four: St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures: Lecture XXIII

Who: Bishop of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, born about 315; died probably 18 March, 386. Little is known of his life, except from his younger contemporaries, Epiphanius, Jerome, and Rufinus, as well as from the fifth-century historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret.

What: Each of the lectures deal with a different topic to teach converts the mysteries of the Church, particularly: rites of the renunciation of Satan and his works, of anointing with oil, of baptism, of anointing with the holy chrism, and of partaking of the body and blood of Christ.

Why: Cyril delivered to new converts five lectures "On the Mysteries," in which he explains the rites by which they have been admitted to fellowship in the church, after they had been baptised.

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When: Around 348-350 AD

You can find today’s reading on page 162 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

 

Today's final lecture on the mysteries by Cyril, is on the Sacred Liturgy and Communion and is an exposition based on 1 Peter 2:1

1 Peter 2:1
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.

Any of my liturgical friends may enjoy this one today. Cyril gives us a breakdown of the liturgy spoken in the church service when they are about to receive communion. I couldn’t help but get a little excited when I read this lecture as it reminded me so much of my Anglican upbringing: the liturgy used in some parts, is word-for-word, which just goes to show how well preserved this has been down through the centuries.

For example, in the Anglican order of service, the Liturgy of the Sacrament has these phrases:

The Lord be with you

and also with you

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give thanks and praise.

Holy, holy, holy Lord…

These are word-for-word what Cyril writes about when explaining the way in which a church service is conducted. The only main difference, other than different wording elsewhere, is that the Anglican service begins with the sign of the peace as a handshake between members of the congregation, whereas the ancient church was instructed to greet one another with a kiss, as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 16:20 (and various other place); and Peter also, in 1 Peter 5:14.

Greet one another with a holy kiss

Cyril explains this is not the same as those kisses “given in public by common friends”, but rather is one which “blends souls one with another, and courts entire forgiveness for them”. For men to greet one another with a kiss was a typical custom in the ancient western Mediterranean, and later in our culture a handshake became customary to greet people with, so it makes sense that the the sign of the peace shifted from a kiss, though some Church branches do still greet one another this way.

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Each phrase of the liturgy is broken down by Cyril, and explained in more detail about why we say these things. Mostly it is self-explanatory and about focussing our hearts and minds on God while we enter into worship; and by also joining in with the angels above by reciting the hymn of the Seraphim seen in Isaiah 6:3, “so we may be partakers with the hosts of the world above in their Hymn of praise”.

Prayers and intercessions

The next order of service is the prayers to “commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us” – but what’s interesting here is the implication that it’s not just in remembrance of the faithful who had died before them, either long ago in the Prophets and Apostles, or for those in “who in past years have fallen asleep among us”, but that “at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition” [emphasis mine].

Here’s an early example of praying to the “saints”, or rather not to them but with the assumption that they are already praying for us on our behalf, as they are commemorated by the prayers of the Church. Cyril goes on to say that this practice “will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up” if they have departed life with or without sin. He then offers an illustration about God to emphasise his point, using a king who is offended and banishes the one who offended him. Then if the friends of that person “should weave a crown and offer it to [the king] on behalf of those under punishment”, wouldn’t he rescind the punishment?

But instead of offering up a crown, they “offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves”. Prayers on behalf of the dead may seem strange to Protestant ears, though there are some potential passages of Scripture about this in the New Testament, albeit debated, such as 2 Tim 1:16-18 which seems to imply Onesiphorus was dead, yet Paul prays on his behalf (plus the strange reference to baptism of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29). Prayers for the dead was not an uncommon practice in the early centuries of the Church, though I’m not entirely sure where the practice arose, but possibly from interpreting Luke 20:38 in an open-ended way to mean the dead in Christ are alive and in communion with Him on our behalf (along with the Hebrews 12:1 “great cloud of witnesses”) –

Luke 20:38

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

Cyril then moves onto the Lord’s Prayer, and proceeds to break it down line by line. I won’t go into that all now, I plan to do something similar in another blog post another time. After the prayer is said, they may all go and receive the Eucharist.

There’s another odd thing mentioned in here to do with this, and that is that after the wine has been taken, “while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touch it with thine hands, and hallow thine eyes and brow and the other organs of sense”. There’s no real explanation for this practice here though, or why it should be done.

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Closing off this final lecture, Cyril offers some encouragement and a form of doxology which I will quote here to end with because I think it’s worth being read in full to end this part of the series:

Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:--To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen

 

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