Thursday, March 18, 2010

St Cyril the Unappreciated

That's not his real title. But poor St. Cyril! Sandwiched between St. Patrick and St. Joseph, he hardly gets the respect he deserves from your average Catholic. Almost no one realizes that we owe this bishop of Jerusalem much of our Holy Week experience...
He was bishop in the Holy City at a time when the ancient Christians, following St. Helena's example, were all agog for holy archaeology. The Empress Helena started building projects at the various spots associated with our Lord's suffering, death and resurrection, and Cyril (who became bishop some 20 years after Helena's death) used to lead prayer services in each location.  We even have an account of these by a Spanish woman named Egeria who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at that time. She describes her journey step by step in a lengthy travelogue, a good part of which has come down to us.
Even then, pilgrims would arrive at a holy location and read a Bible passage related to the place (they didn't have St Jerome's Vulgate translation yet, but used an "Old Latin" translation). Following the reading, pilgrims would pray a Psalm together. Egeria stayed in Jerusalem for quite some time. We have her accounts of the celebration of Epiphany, ordinary time and above all, Holy Week and the already-venerable Palm Sunday procession, begun after hearing the Gospel. Holy Thursday was spent at Gethsemane, Good Friday at Golgotha with an hours-long Vigil spent listening to the Gospel.
Thanks to Egeria, we know that St. Cyril spent three hours every day of Lent teaching the Creed especially for those preparing for baptism and for their sponsors. (His talks are still available, too, and are very, very rich indeed!)
So today you can get to know the saint of the day by reading from his contemporary, the very articulate Egeria. As you read her account of the Holy Week services, every time she mentions "the bishop," she is presenting us with the unforgettable St. Cyril!

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