Blessed St. Patrick gets all the attention this week, but today, March 18, the Church remembers another saint who had a formative impact on the way we worship at this time of year: Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Theologian.
Cyril was born around 315 in Jerusalem, only a decade before one of the big Councils of the Church took place in Nicea in 325. Cyril became a bishop in about 349 and soon became embroiled in the theological controversy that came out of that Council ― namely, how to properly express the Son’s relationship with the Father. In trying to find a way that satisfied multiple constituencies, Cyril ended up pleasing no one. In fact, he was exiled from his bishopric three times, for a total of sixteen years! In 381, at the Council of Constantinople, he voted along with the majority for the original position espoused at the Council of Nicea and included in our Nicene Creed: the Son is “of one being with the Father.”
Of particular interest to us as we get closer to Easter is that it is likely Cyril who created the liturgical frameworks that we use during Holy Week. In the centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jerusalem became a pilgrimage site for many Christians. As the Bishop of Jerusalem, Cyril instituted particular liturgies for the pilgrims during the week leading up to Easter. We have a particularly good window into these celebrations through the diary of Egeria, a Spanish nun who made the pilgrimage sometime in the early 380s. Returning pilgrims then brought Cyril’s liturgies back to their home churches and dioceses, and those ancient services serve as models for our Holy Week worship today.
This year as we make our own liturgical pilgrimage for Holy Week just a few weeks from now, walking alongside Jesus through the events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil and Easter Day, let’s take a moment to give thanks for Cyril, and the rich worship resource that he left us!