March of this year came in like a Lenten lion, but will go out like a Paschal Lamb. As April begins, we’ll find ourselves in Easter Week. We’re moving forward in small increments, sacrifice by sacrifice, prayer by prayer, alms by alms.

We move toward Easter along a path well worn. The saints have gone before us to show us the way. Consider St. Cyril of Jerusalem, a fourth-century bishop and perhaps the classic preacher and teacher of the wonders of the Lenten and Easter seasons.

St. Cyril is best known today for the catechetical sermons he delivered to new converts. He was a profound biblical theologian; and as he preached he ranged over many points of Christian life, from morals to prayer to the creed. He ended with a stunning series on the sacraments of initiation: his famous Mystagogical Catecheses, in which he walked step by step through the liturgies and explained the details of the rites in light of the Scriptures.

When those new members of his congregation stepped into the baptismal pool on Easter Vigil, they were stepping decisively into the stream of salvation history. The sacramental moment had been foreshadowed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. God had willed it from the dawn of creation. Christ had come, in the fullness of time, to call these particular men and women to the water, to the anointing, to the banquet.

St. Cyril was especially good at his job. He excelled as a preacher and teacher, theologian and biblical scholar. He delivered his message with the power of a poet.

But his message was not unique. What he practiced was mystagogy — guidance in the mysteries — and we find the same points touched upon in the works of other great mystagogues of the ancient Church: St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia (to name just a few).

They preached at the time the world was waking up to the Gospel. Over the course of their lifetimes, Greco-Roman paganism crumbled almost entirely to dust. Cyril alone probably guided tens of thousands of converts into the mysteries of faith. Even now, more than a millennium and a half later, you can sense the excitement of what was then a “New Evangelization.”

When Cyril preached during Easter week, his congregations roared with applause as he spoke of the sacraments. That’s a fact, and we know it because we have the diary of a European woman, Egeria, as she traveled through his city — and she recorded that ovation for posterity.

Oh, for the return of such a day, when Catholics could barely contain their love for the Eucharist, for the baptismal gift, for the strength of their anointing. May it be so this Easter.