Here Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem in the mid-4th century, urges new Christians to prepare themselves to receive the Holy Spirit at the Easter Vigil. He speaks of the sacrament of baptism in nuptial terms, describing it as a wedding feast at which the bridegroom will impress upon them the seal of chrismation or confirmation. For March 18, the feast of St. Cyril.
Let the heavens sing for joy and the earth exult! For these people who are about to be sprinkled with hyssop will be cleansed spiritually. His power will purify them, for during his passion the hyssop touched his lips. Let the heavenly angels rejoice! Let those who are to be wedded to a spiritual spouse prepare themselves.
Wash Your Garments by Penance
A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. And so, children of justice, follow John’s exhortation Make straight the way of the Lord. Remove all obstacles and stumbling blocks so that you will be able to go straight along the road to eternal life. Through your penance begin to wash your garments; then, summoned to the spouse’s bedchamber, you will be found spotless.
Invited to the Wedding Feast
Heralds proclaim the bridegroom’s invitation. All mankind is called to the wedding feast, for he is a generous lover. Once the crowd has assembled, the bridegroom decides who will enter the wedding feast. This is a figure for baptism.
Give your name at his gate and enter. I hope that none of you will later hear the words: Friend, how did you enter without a wedding garment? Rather may all of you hear the words: Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in small things, I shall put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.
The Bridegroom Comes to the Wedding
Up to this point in the history of salvation, you have stood outside the gate. Now I hope you will all hear the words: The king has brought me into his chambers. My soul rejoices in my God. He has clothed me in the garment of salvation and in the cloak of joy. He has made me a bridegroom by placing a crown on my head. He has made me a bride by adorning me with jewels and golden ornaments [Isaiah 61:10].
I do not say these things so that your souls will be found without stain or wrinkle or any other defect. Indeed, before you have received this grace, how could this happen to you who are called to receive forgiveness of sin? Rather, I ask that once you have received his grace you do nothing to deserve damnation. Even more, I ask you to hasten toward the fulfillment of his grace.
Sacrament of Baptism, a Great Occasion
My brothers, this is a truly great occasion. Approach it with caution. You are standing in front of God an in the presence of the hosts of angels. The Holy Spirit is about to impress his seal on each of your souls. You are about to be pressed into the service of a great king.
And so prepare yourselves to receive the sacrament. The gleaming white garments you are about to put on are not the preparation I am speaking of, but rather the devotion of a clean conscience.
This post focuses on the preparation of catechumens to receive the Holy Spirit, the bridegroom’s seal, in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation at the Easter Vigil. It comes from a Catechetical instruction by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catch. 3, 1-3: PG 33, 426-430) on baptism as a wedding feast. It appears in the Roman Office of Readings for the Memorial of St. Cyril of Jerusalem on March 18.
For more resources for the Easter Season, see the EASTER section of the Crossroads Initiative Library.
Banner/featured image by Antonio Petate on Scopio. Used with permission.