The Divine Office Office of Readings has lately been using St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures. Cyril was born around 313 and died in 386. He was a bishop and is a Doctor of the Church.
This first lecture tells what Baptism is meant to be-what it does and how it is effected.
To those who are to be Enlightened, delivered extempore at Jerusalem, as an Introductory Lecture to those who had come forward for Baptism :
With a reading from Isaiah
Wash you, make you clean; put away your iniquities from your souls, from before my eyes, and the rest (Isaiah 1:16) .
1. Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit Ezekiel 18:31, that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven: for if over one sinner that repents there is joy, according to the Gospel Luke 15:7, how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness. As you have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness. For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 You that are clothed with the rough garment of your offenses, who are holden with the cords of your own sins, hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before My eyes Isaiah 1:16: that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. You who have just lighted the torches of faith , guard them carefully in your hands unquenched; that He, who erewhile on this all-holy Golgotha opened Paradise to the robber on account of his faith, may grant to you to sing the bridal song.
2. If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption; and having put off the miserable bondage of his sins, and taken on him the most blessed bondage of the Lord, so may he be counted worthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Put off, by confession , the old man, which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit, that you may put on the new man, which is renewed according to knowledge of Him that created him. Get you the earnest of the Holy Spirit 2 Corinthians 1:22 through faith, that you may be able to be received into the everlasting habitations. Luke 16:9 Come for the mystical Seal, that you may be easily recognised by the Master; be numbered among the holy and spiritual flock of Christ, to be set apart on His right hand, and inherit the life prepared for you. For they to whom the rough garment of their sins still clings are found on the left hand, because they came not to the grace of God which is given through Christ at the new birth of Baptism: new birth I mean not of bodies, but the spiritual new birth of the soul. For our bodies are begotten by parents who are seen, but our souls are begotten anew through faith: for the Spirit blows where it lists John 3:8: and then, if you be found worthy, you may hear, Well done, good and faithful servant Matthew 25:21, when you are found to have no defilement of hypocrisy in your conscience.
3. For if any of those who are present should think to tempt God’s grace, he deceives himself, and knows not its power. Keep your soul free from hypocrisy, O man, because of Him who searches hearts and reins. For as those who are going to make a levy for war examine the ages and the bodies of those who are taking service, so also the Lord in enlisting souls examines their purpose: and if any has a secret hypocrisy, He rejects the man as unfit for His true service; but if He finds one worthy, to him He readily gives His grace. He gives not holy things to the dogs Matthew 7:6; but where He discerns the good conscience, there He gives the Seal of salvation, that wondrous Seal, which devils tremble at, and Angels recognise; that the one may be driven to flight, and the others may watch around it as kindred to themselves. Those therefore who receive this spiritual and saving Seal, have need also of the disposition akin to it. For as a writing-reed or a dart has need of one to use it, so grace also has need of believing minds.
4. You are receiving not a perishable but a spiritual shield. Henceforth you are planted in the invisible Paradise. Thou receive a new name, which you had not before. Heretofore you were a Catechumen, but now you will be called a Believer. You are transplanted henceforth among the spiritual olive-trees, being grafted from the wild into the good olive-tree Romans 11:24, from sins into righteousness, from pollutions into purity. You are made partaker of the Holy Vine. Well then, if you abide in the Vine, you grow as a fruitful branch; but if you abide not, you will be consumed by the fire. Let us therefore bear fruit worthily. God forbid that in us should be done what befell that barren fig-tree Matthew 21:19, that Jesus come not even now and curse us for our barrenness. But may all be able to use that other saying, But I am like a fruitful olive-tree in the house of God: I have trusted in the mercy of God for ever —an olive-tree not to be perceived by sense, but by the mind , and full of light. As then it is His part to plant and to water , so it is yours to bear fruit: it is God’s to grant grace, but yours to receive and guard it. Despise not the grace because it is freely given, but receive and treasure it devoutly.
5. The present is the season of confession: confess what you have done in word or in deed, by night or by day; confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation 2 Corinthians 6:2 receive the heavenly treasure. Devote your time to the Exorcisms: be assiduous at the Catechisings, and remember the things that shall be spoken, for they are spoken not for your ears only, but that by faith you may seal them up in the memory. Blot out from your mind all earthly care: for you are running for your soul. You are utterly forsaking the things of the world: little are the things which you are forsaking, great what the Lord is giving. Forsake things present, and put your trust in things to come. Have you run so many circles of the years busied in vain about the world, and have you not forty days to be free (for prayer ), for your own soul’s sake? Be still , and know that I am God, says the Scripture. Excuse yourself from talking many idle words: neither backbite, nor lend a willing ear to backbiters; but rather be prompt to prayer. Show in ascetic exercise that your heart is nerved. Cleanse your vessel, that you may receive grace more abundantly. For though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Ghost is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith. If you have laboured little, you receive little; but if you have wrought much, the reward is great. You are running for yourself, see to your own interest.
6. If you have anything against any man, forgive it: you come here to receive forgiveness of sins, and thou also must forgive him that has sinned against you. Else with what face will you say to the Lord, Forgive me my many sins, if you have not yourself forgiven your fellow-servant even his little sins. Attend diligently the Church assemblies ; not only now when diligent attendance is required of you by the Clergy, but also after you have received the grace. For if, before you have received it, the practice is good, is it not also good after the bestowal? If before thou be grafted in, it is a safe course to be watered and tended, is it not far better after the planting? Wrestle for your own soul, especially in such days as these. Nourish your soul with sacred readings; for the Lord has prepared for you a spiritual table; therefore say thou also after the Psalmist, The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing: in a place of grass, there has He made me rest; He has fed me beside the waters of comfort, He has converted my soul :— that Angels also may share your joy, and Christ Himself the great High Priest, having accepted your resolve, may present you all to the Father, saying, Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me. May He keep you all well-pleasing in His sight! To whom be the glory, and the power unto the endless ages of eternity. Amen.