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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Catechesis in the Mysteries of God

We are accustomed, when teaching catechumens how to receive the Lord’s Supper, to quoting Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechesis (XXIII, 21) that they should

make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King,

especially if they are uncomfortable with receiving the holy Body of Christ directly into their mouths. But that is usually where the quotation of Cyril ends. The rest is forgotten, or wholly unknown. Here it is in full:

20. After this ye hear the chanter inviting you with a sacred melody to the communion of the Holy Mysteries, and saying, O taste and see that the Lord is good. Trust not the judgment to thy bodily palate no, but to faith unfaltering; for they who taste are bidden to taste, not bread and wine, but the anti-typical Body and Blood of Christ.

21. In approaching therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hollowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest thou lose any portion thereof; for whatever thou losest, is evidently a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee grains of gold, wouldest thou not hold them with all carefulness, being on thy guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Wilt thou not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from thee of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

22. Then after thou hast partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending, and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow thyself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touch it with thine hands, and hallow thine eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.

23. Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:—To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.

I bring this up, not that we should teach our catechumens to use the Body and Blood of Christ as an unction to hallow our eyes and heads. Or that the desired manner of receiving the Lord’s body is in the hands. But rather, my aim is to point out the reverence given to these holy things, and to highlight the power and gifts attendant with them. Cyril instructed them in the mysteries of God. How often is it the case that we explain the mystery, the power, and the gifts away? How often is it the case that we make the sacraments into a forgiveness reduction, and boil and cook out all the mystery from it? Again, I’m not contending for superstition, but for mystery, something worthy of our contemplation and study—something worthy of reverence.

Perhaps, the next time we refer to Cyril’s dictum in receiving the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, we might include all of his teaching, so that we might instruct our catechumens in the mystery of Christ, and thus open up and expand time into eternity, where the Marriage of the Lamb and His Church is encompassed by the angels’ rejoicing, and our gratitude, reverence, and awe.