As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ

I want to share with you three readings that formed part of the Office of Readings over the Easter Octave – all three readings are taken from the Mystagogical Catecheseswritten by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386AD). These readings are extracts from a larger work that would have been studied by catechumens in Jerusalem through Lent before their Baptisms, Confirmations and first Holy Communions. The three readings deal with these three sacraments of initiation.

The first reading on Baptism from Easter Thursday:

“You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, “Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolised the three days Christ spent in the tomb.

“As our Saviour spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see, but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.

“Solomon’s phrase in another context is very apposite here. He spoke of ‘a time to give birth, and a time to die.’ For you, however, it was the reverse: a time to die, and a time to be born, although in fact both events took place at the same time and your birth was simultaneous with your death.

“This is something amazing and unheard of! It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all this has been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ’s undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants me salvation.

“Let no one imagine that baptism consists only in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of adoption. Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: ‘Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb.’ ” Myst 2:4-6

The second reading on the Confirmation from Easter Friday:

“When we were baptized into Christ and clothed ourselves in him, we were transformed into the likeness of the Son of God. Having destined us to be his adopted sons, God gave us a likeness to Christ in his glory, and living as we do in communion with Christ, God’s anointed, we ourselves are rightly called the anointed ones. When he said: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones,’ God was speaking of us.

“We became the anointed ones when we received the sign of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, everything took place in us by means of images, because we ourselves are images of Christ. Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of his divinity, and when he came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon him, like resting upon like. So we also, after coming up from the sacred waters of baptism, were anointed with chrism, which signifies the Holy Spirit, by whom Christ was anointed and of whom blessed Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor.

“Christ’s anointing was not by human hands, nor was it with ordinary oil. On the contrary, having destined him to be the Saviour of the whole world, the Father himself anointed him with the Holy Spirit. The words of Peter bear witness to this: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ And David the prophet proclaimed: ‘Your throne, O God, shall endure for ever; your royal sceptre is a sceptre of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above all your fellows.

“The oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed was a spiritual oil; it was in fact the Holy Spirit himself, who is called ‘the oil of gladness’ because he is the source of spiritual joy. But we too have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in his life. Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of his divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.” Myst 3:1-3

The Third on from Easter Saturday on the Eucharist:

 ‘On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.”’ Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, ‘This is my blood,’ who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

“Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.

“Once, when speaking to the Jews, Christ said: ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you.’ This horrified them and they left him. Not understanding his words in a spiritual way, they thought the Saviour wished them to practise cannibalism.

“Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the Word, to the sanctification of the soul.

“Do not, then, regard the Eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

“You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: ‘Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness.’ Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

“May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that by contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Myst 4:1,3-6,9


The full text of the five Mystagogical Catecheses of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem can be found here.

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