St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s message to those entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil
“These [lectures] are for those who are to be enlightened. You may lend [them] to candidates for baptism and to believers who are already baptized, to read, but give not at all , neither to catechumens, nor to any others who are not Christians, as you shall answer to the Lord. And if you make a copy, write this in the beginning, as in the sight of the Lord.”
Even though the Catholic Church has long since permitted the publication of the great saint’s pre-baptismal catechesis, I add St. Cyril’s stipulation here in recognition of the earnest seriousness with which he took the Lord’s command in Matthew 7:6. The splendor of the Holy Mysteries of baptism, chrismation, and Holy Eucharist, which Cyril discoursed upon so eloquently to those who were preparing to enter the Catholic Church on those long-ago Easter vigils, were not intended to be disclosed to scoffers and those of profane mind.
Here are several relevant sections of the prologue. I post them here for those, prayerfully in mind, who, all around the world, will be entering the Catholic Church tonight at the Easter vigil Mass. Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Body of Christ, the Church He established as the ark of our salvation!
Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O you who are soon to be enlightened: already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already you have gathered round the vestibule of the King’s palace ; may you be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees ; may the fruit also be found perfect!
Thus far, there has been an inscription of your names , and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lies not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man’s genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes you called: for if your body be here but not your mind, it profits you nothing. . . .
See, I pray you, how great a dignity Jesus bestows on you. You were called a catechumen, while the word echoed round you from without; hearing of hope, and knowing it not; hearing mysteries, and not understanding them; hearing Scriptures, and not knowing their depth. The echo is no longer around you, but within you; for the indwelling Spirit henceforth makes your mind a house of God.
When you shall have heard what is written concerning the mysteries, then will you understand things which thou knew not. And think not that you receive a small thing: though a miserable man, you receive one of God’s titles. Hear St. Paul saying, God is faithful.
Hear another Scripture saying, God is faithful and just. Foreseeing this, the Psalmist, because men are to receive a title of God, spoke thus in the person of God: I said, You are Gods, and are all sons of the Most High. But beware lest thou have the title of faithful, but the will of the faithless.
You have entered into a contest, toil on through the race: another such opportunity you cannot have. Were it your wedding day before you, would you not have disregarded all else, and set about the preparation for the feast? And on the eve of consecrating your soul to the heavenly Bridegroom, will you not cease from carnal things, that you may win spiritual? . . .
Great is the baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption!
But there is a serpent by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite you with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour. You are coming in unto the Father of Spirits, but you are going past that serpent.
How then may you pass him? Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; that even if he bite, he may not hurt you. Have faith in-dwelling, stedfast hope, a strong sandal, that you may pass the enemy, and enter the presence of your Lord. Prepare your own heart for reception of doctrine, for fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more frequently, that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries.
Cease not day nor night: but when sleep is banished from your eyes, then let your mind be free for prayer. And if you find any shameful thought rise up in your mind, turn to meditation upon Judgment to remind you of Salvation. Give your mind wholly to study, that it may forget base things. If you find any one saying to you, Are you then going in, to descend into the water? Has the city just now no baths?
Take notice that it is the dragon of the sea who is laying these plots against you. Attend not to the lips of the talker, but to God who works in you. Guard your own soul, that thou be not ensnared, to the end that abiding in hope you may become an heir of everlasting salvation. . . . (continue reading)