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Cyril who?

Whoever first said, "Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day made a good point. Almost every American citizen, whether Catholic, atheist, Jew, Wiccan, or whatever, knows whose feast is March 17.

Most all Catholics also know the famous feast celebrated two days later on March 19, St. Joseph. People of all faiths bury Joseph statues in their yards to ensure the sale of their homes.

So, too, do they flock to the St. Joseph table celebrations in church basements and local restaurants to chow down on the great spread of Italian foods set out at this least. Everyone might not be Italian on St. Joseph's Day, but many are well fed.

These two great feasts, separated by only a day, celebrate two notable personalities of Christianity. They cheer up Lent and also reach out past parochial boundaries to non-Catholics. Great days, to be sure.

So great are these two days that the 24 hours separating them, March 18, gets lost. Few people know what poor saint got stuck with this day as his feast, and asking even the most ardent Catholic or dedicated trivia player generally produces nothing but a blank stare.

March 18 is the feast day of Cyril of Jerusalem. Who?

Cyril of Jerusalem, a saint who has the distinct misfortune of being squeezed out of the limelight, deserves better. Even though he was born a long, long time ago, in the early years of the fourth century, he has things in common with us today. He matured in the years following the Council of Nicaea, just as so many Catholics today matured in the shadow of Vatican II. He instructed catechumens through a series of sermons akin to today's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

He came of age as Christianity no longer needed to fear persecution thanks to Constantine. Eventually Cyril became bishop of Jerusalem, but his tenure was not without difficulty.

He was run out of his diocese no less than three times as a result of his opposition to Arianism, a controversial heresy of the day condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325, but still popular among many Christians of Cyril's day.

Cyril had a great influence on Christian Liturgy. Liturgical vestments, use or incense at the gospel, and recitation of the Lord's Prayer are but a few contemporary practices started in Cyril's day. The ceremonies of Holy Week, the Divine Office, and the liturgical year were greatly influenced by him, and the version of the Nicene Creed we recite today comes from Cyril's revision of the Jerusalem Creed.

One contemporary scholar, F. L. Cross, gives Cyril his due, saying he was "a man of predominantly pastoral instincts, of good sense, conciliatory and essentially practical ... [who] presided over the fortunes of the church at the historic center of the Christian world."

So after recovering from the St. Patrick's Day parades and parties on March 17 and before indulging in the St. Joseph Day food tables on March 19, squeeze in a little time to remember St. Cyril of Jerusalem on March 18.

PETER GILMOUR ( teaches at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University Chicago.
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Title Annotation:Odds & Ends
Author:Gilmour, Peter
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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