Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Today is the feast day of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. St. Cyril became bishop of Jerusalem in 348, was forced into exile three times, but returned to Jerusalem in 378, where he continued as bishop until his death in 386.

St. Cyril was declared a doctor of the Church in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII.

About 350, St. Cyril wrote his Catechetical Lectures. Here are some passages dealing with the Eucharist:

Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the figure of bread His Body is given to you, and in the figure of wine His Blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus do we become Christ-bearers, His Body and Blood being distributed through our members. And thus it is that we become, according to blessed Peter, sharers of the divine nature (quoted in William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 360-361).

We become "Christ-bearers." What an astonishing image. What an astonishing privilege. What an astonishing responsibility. In a sense, we share Mary's role as the "theotokos" or "God-bearer" (a title used for her by the Eastern Orthodox churches). We become living tabernacles, living monstrances. We bring Christ to others because we have Christ within us.

If you think that St. Cyril's use of the word "figure" means that the bread and wine merely symbolize Christ's body and blood, here is another passage from the Catechetical Lectures that makes it clear that St. Cyril firmly believes in the Real Presence:

For just as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ..." (Jurgens, p. 359).

We must continue St. Cyril's catechesis on the Eucharist in our own age, helping ourselves and others to better understand the nature and centrality of the Eucharist.

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