Monday, 18 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (34): Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, 18 March

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem … developed our liturgical observances of Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy Week

Patrick Comerford

Today [18 March] the calendars of Common Worship of the Church of England, and the Calendar of the Episcopal Church (TEC) commemorate Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. With Holy Week beginning next Sunday, Palm Sunday [24 March 2013], it is worth recalling that Saint Cyril developed catechetical instruction and liturgical observances during Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Some scholars say Saint Cyril was born and brought up in Caesarea of Palestine but most say he was probably born in Jerusalem ca 315.

Tradition says Saint Cyril was ordained a deacon by Saint Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, ca 335 and a priest eight years later by Saint Maximus, Patriarch of Jerusalem. About 349 or 350, he succeeded Saint Maximus as Patriarch of Jerusalem. In the course of political and ecclesiastical disputes in Jerusalem he was deposed, banished and restored three times.

Saint Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures on the Christian Faith, given before Easter to candidates for Baptism, were probably written by him sometime between 348 and 350.

This collection includes an introductory lecture, or procatechesis, and 18 catecheses based on the articles of the creed of the Church of Jerusalem, which are the earliest catechetical materials surviving to this day.

These lectures may have been used many times over by Saint Cyril and his successors, with considerable revisions over the years. They were probably part of the pre-baptismal instructions that were witnessed in Jerusalem in the fourth century by Egeria. She was a pilgrim nun from western Europe, and she describes them with great enthusiasm in her account of her pilgrimage.

Saint Cyril’s five Mystagogical Catecheses on the Sacraments were intended for the newly baptised after Easter. However, they are now thought to have been revised or even written by Bishop John, Saint Cyril’s successor as Patriarch of Jerusalem from 386 to 417.

Saint Cyril was probably responsible for instituting the observances of Palm Sunday and Holy Week as his time as Patriarch of Jerusalem was coming to a close. He took practical steps to organise devotions for countless pilgrims and local inhabitants around the sacred sites in Jerusalem. In time, as these pilgrims returned home from Jerusalem, these services were to influence the observance of Holy Week throughout the Church.

Saint Cyril attended the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, in 381, and died in Jerusalem on 18 March 386.

In 1883, Saint Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.


Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they, like your servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 47: 8–10; Psalm 122; Hebrews 13:14–21; Luke 24:44–48.

Tomorrow 19 March: Saint Joseph.

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