How Palm Sunday (Probably) Came to Be

Today the church remembers the church father who, in all likelihood, instituted the feast days of Palm Sunday and the observance of Holy Week: St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem and First (unofficial) Sunday School Teacher of the Church.

St. Cyril was born in Jerusalem sometime around the early 4th Century. At a young age he was ordained a priest and, despite his youth, was entrusted with catechizing those preparing for baptism. This work was traditionally reserved only for the Bishop, but Cyril’s skill in teaching and relaying the doctrine of the church was impeccable.

The catechesis that St. Cyril created, known as the Catechetical Lectures are the clearest surviving notes that we have on the catechetical process of the early church for the Rite of Initiation which leads to the Rite of Holy Baptism (at least for adults…for children the process is reversed).

Cyril became Bishop of Jerusalem around the year 349, and remained in that holy seat until his death on this day in 386. Yet, during his bishopric he led in exile more than a few times, as that early church fought over doctrine and dogma (seems like a pattern, no?).

St. Cyril was Bishop over the Holy Land, the site of holy pilgrimage for many early Christians, especially around Easter. It is quite likely that St. Cyril, in all of his catechetical acumen, instituted the Feast of Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week as a way to teach Christians about the Passion of the Christ. In many ways you can thank St. Cyril for what are, I believe, the best parts of Christian ritual.

St. Cyril is a reminder for me, and can be for the whole church, that rites and rituals are not “hoops we jump through,” but formative experiences that create a rhythm in our being that can be supremely meaningful in the right hands.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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