“AT Rome, St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, who brought to the faith of Christ her spouse Valerian and his brother Tiburtius, and encouraged them to martyrdom. After their death, being arrested by order of Almachius, prefect of the city, and exposed to the fire, from which she came out uninjured, she terminated her glorious sufferings by the sword. “
Today is the feast of Saint Cecilia, martyr, patroness of music (of church music especially), of musicians, composers, singers, poets, and the Academy of Music in Rome. She is also the patroness of instrument makers, most notably luthiers (those who build string instruments: guitars, harps, dulcimers, violins, etc.)
While, in truth, not much is known about her, except that she was martyred, a charming legend grew up about the musical saint.
She is said to have been a young noblewoman, possibly blind, who wanted no other husband than her Heavenly Spouse, and to Him she sang praises day and night. Her wishes, however, were overborne, and she was married to a pagan nobleman called Valerian. She convinced her husband to respect her vow of virginity by allowing him – once he had been baptized by Pope St. Urban – to see the angel (heretofore invisible to him) who joined her as she sang. His brother Tiburtias was also converted. Discovered burying the bodies of martyrs, the brothers were arrested, beaten with rods, and condemned to death by decapitation.
While burying her husband and brother-in-law, and a third martyr who, strengthened by their example, suffered death with them, Cecilia was arrested, tried, and condemned. At first she was to be suffocated in her bath; having survived this, the sentence was changed to beheading. The executioner so bungled his job that she lingered, like Nearly-Headless Nick, for three days before entering into the glory of Heaven.
Her body, at first buried in the catacomb of San Callisto, was transferred in the 9th century to the church built over the ruins of her house in Rome, called Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
Dear Saint Cecilia, one thing we know for certain about you is that you became a heroic martyr in fidelity to your divine Bridegroom. We do not know that you were a musician but we are told that you heard Angels sing. Inspire musicians to gladden the hearts of people by filling the air with God's gift of music and reminding them of the divine Musician who created all beauty. Amen.
(P.S. Could you also inspire our liturgists to remember that the music at Mass is for the Glory of God, not entertainment for the congregation? And that we are not in a cocktail bar, at a Broadway musical, or watching "America's Next Greatest Singing Talent Evah!"? Thank you. Amen.)
There are several activities you can do in honor of the day:
- Send a note of appreciation to your liturgist, choir, or schola (if indeed you appreciate their efforts. My postscript to the prayer above notwithstanding, it is rare that I do not appreciate the efforts of our parish Music Master).
- If you have any instruments lying around the house, which are no longer played, donate them. Your local school or church might be able to use them, or contact your local philharmonic orchestra. They usually know where old but still playable instruments can be best utilized.
- Attend a concert of sacred music, or put on a CD of Gregorian chant or Handel's Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day.
And to make the day special, a recipe for "Cecilias", a marzipan confection, can be found here at Catholic Culture.
Artwork: Raphael, 1516-17, The Saint Cecilia Altarpiece. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.