Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Feast Day: St. Cecilia, 2nd-3rd centuries

Domenichino, Saint Cecilia with an angel
holding a musical score, (c. 1617–18).

Orpheus could lead the savage race
And trees unrooted left their place
Sequacious of the lyre
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r
When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking earth for Heav'n

A Song For St. Cecilia's Day,1687, John Dryden

Saint Cecilia is said to have heard heavenly music inside her heart when she was forced to marry the pagan, Valerian. A wealth of music, art and festivals in honor of St. Cecilia has grown from this little bit of information from her biography. She is the acclaimed patron saint of music, especially church music, as well as that of musicians, composers, instrument makers and poets. The name Cecilia means blind and so, although we don't know if she herself couldn't see, she is also the Catholic patron saint of the blind.

It is believed that St. Cecilia was born in the 2nd or 3d century A.D., although the dates of her birth and martyrdom are unknown. A religious romance telling the love story of Saint Cecilia and Valerian appeared in Greece during the 4th century A.D., and there is a biography of St Cecilia dating from the 5th century A.D. She is purported to have been the daughter of a wealthy Roman family, a Christian from birth, who was promised in marriage to a pagan named Valerian. Cecilia, however, had vowed her virginity to God, and wore sackcloth, fasted and prayed in hopes of keeping this promise. Saint Cecilia disclosed her wishes to her husband on their wedding night. She told Valerian that an angel watched over her to guard her purity. He wanted to see the angel, so St. Cecilia sent him to Pope Urban(223-230). Accounts of how and when Valerian saw the angel vary, but one states that he was baptized by the Pope, and, upon his return to Saint Cecilia, they were both given heavenly crowns by an angel. Another version recounts that Tibertius, Valerian's brother, sees the crowns and he too is converted. Painting attached to this paragraph is Raphael, The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.
Another version states that Then Valerian cried saying: "There is nothing truer under heaven." Then vanished this old man away. Then Valerian received baptism of Saint Urban and returned home to Saint Cecilia, whom he found within her chamber speaking with an angel. And this angel had two crowns of roses and lilies which he held in his hands, of which he gave one to Cecilia, and that other to Valerian, saying: "Keep ye these crowns with an undefouled and clean body, for I have brought them to you from Paradise, and they shall never fade, nor wither, nor lose their savour, nor they may not be seen but of them to whom chastity pleases. And you Valerian because you has used profitable counsel, demand what you wilt."

To whom Valerian said: "There is nothing in this world to me liefer than my brother, whom I would fain that he might know this very truth with me." 

To whom the angel said: "Thy petition pleases our Lord, and ye both shall come to him by the palm of martyrdom."

The two brothers then make it their mission to bury Christian martyrs put to death by the prefect of the city. In turn, they were brought in front of the prefect and sentenced to death by the sword. Cecilia, in the meantime, continued to make many conversions, and prepared to have her home preserved as a church at her death.

Finally, she too was arrested and brought before the prefect. He ruled that she should die by suffocation in the baths. Saint Cecilia was locked into the bathhouse and the fires vigorously stoked. She remained there for a day and a night but was still alive when the soldiers opened the doors. She was then ordered beheaded, but the executioner, after striking three times without severing St Cecilia's head, ran away, leaving her badly wounded.

St. Cecilia hung onto life for three days after the mortal blows, preaching all the while. She made many more conversions and people came to soak up her flowing blood with sponges and cloths. There exists in Rome a church in St. Cecilia's honor that dates from about the fifth century. Her relics were believed to have been found by Pope Paschal I in 821 A.D., in the cemetery of St. Celestas. These remains were exhumed in 1599, when Cardinal Paul Emilius Sfondrati rebuilt the church of St. Cecilia, and said to be incorrupt.

St. Cecilia's following flourished during the Middle Ages in Europe. Songs were sung in her name, poetry was written, paintings with St. Cecilia as the subject were created, and her feast day, on November 22 was happily celebrated. She continued to be a popular topic for the arts well into the 18th century. Hans Memling, in 1470, painted St. Cecilia playing the organ at the mystical marriage of Catherine of Alexandria. In 1584 she was named patroness of the academy of music founded in Rome. Raphael painted her at Bologna, Rubens at Berlin and Domenichino in Paris. Chaucer commemorates her in his Second Nun's Tale and Handel set John Dryden's "Ode to Saint Ceclia" to music in 1736. Never was so much made of such a tiny bit of pseudo-biographical information. St. Cecilia, said to have heard heavenly music at one moment of her life, became the patroness of all western music. Even the Andrews sisters, in 1941, recorded a song, "The Shrine of St. Cecilia."

Link to some St. Cecilia Medal
I am not associated with this company
The Saint Cecilia medal, typically features her at the organ, the traditional instrument of the Catholic Church, sometimes with angelic hosts gathered around her. St. Cecilia societies still flourish around the world, often sponsoring musical events and contests. There is a beautiful St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska, the diocese of which claims her as their patron saint. In fact, anyone involved with Church music will know of the feast day of Saint Cecilia and what it represents. Prayers to her ask God's blessings on musicians and the hymns they proclaim to Him. Musician or not in her real life, St. Cecilia, by her devout, musical followings has certainly earned the right to be called the patroness of music.

Saint Cecilia of Rome

Saint Cecilia by Guido Reni, 1606
Virgin and Martyr
Born 2nd century A.D.
Died Sicily
Major shrine Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome
Feast: November 22patron saint of musicians
Attributes: flute, organ, roses, violin, harp, harpsichord, singing, blind
Patronage Church music, great musicians, poets

Like any good Christian, Cecilia sang in her heart, and sometimes with her voice. She has become a symbol of the Church's conviction that good music is an integral part of the liturgy, of greater value to the Church than any other art. In the present confused state of Church music, it may be useful to recall some words of Vatican II (see below).

“Liturgical action is given a more noble form when sacred rites are solemnized in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.... Choirs must be diligently promoted, but bishops and other pastors must ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightfully theirs.... Gregorian chant, other things being equal, should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded.... Religious singing by the people is to be skillfully fostered, so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 112-118).


O glorious saint, who chose to die instead of denying your King, we pray you please to help us as His fair praise we sing. We lift our hearts in joyous song to honor Him this way. And while we sing, remembering, to sing is to doubly pray.

At once in our hearts and in our tongues we offer double prayer sent heavenward on winged notes to praise God dwelling there. While in our hearts and tongues we try with song to praise God twice, we ask dear saint, to help us be united close to Christ! Amen.

Dear St. 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.

Lord, hear our requests. Through the intercession of St. Cecilia, please grant what we ask. Amen.

Saint Cecilia, heroic martyr who stayed faithful to Jesus your divine bridegroom, give us faith to rise above our persecutors and to see in them the image of our Lord. We know that you were a musician and 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.

Litany of St. Cecilia

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, wise virgin, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, whose heart burned with the fire of Divine love, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, apostle by thy zeal and charity, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who converted thy spouse and procured for him the crown of Martyrdom, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who by thy pleadings moved the hearts of pagans, and brought them into the true Church,
Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who didst unceasingly see thy guardian Angel by thy side, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who didst mingle thy voice with the celestial harmonies of the virgins, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who by thy melodious accents celebrated the praises of Jesus, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, illustrious Martyr of Jesus Christ, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, who during three days dist suffer most excruciating torments, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, consolation of the afflicted, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, protectress of all who invoke thee, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, patroness of holy canticles, Pray for us.
Saint Cecilia, special patroness and advocate of all singers, musicians, authors, and students, Pray for us.

We salute thee, O Virgin, who didst give thy blood for the defense and faith of Jesus Christ.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

God glorified Saint Cecilia,
And He crowned her virtues.

Let us pray: O Eternal God, Who didst give us, in the person of Saint Cecilia, a powerful protectress, grant that after having faithfully passed our days, like herself, in innocence and holiness, we may one day attain the land of beatitude, where in concert with her, we may praise Thee and bless Thee forevermore in eternity. Amen.

We lift our hearts in joyous sonG, O glorious saint, who chose to die
Instead of denying your King.
We pray you please to help us
As His fair praise we sing!

To honor Him this way,
And while we sing, remembering,
To sing is to doubly pray.

At once in our hearts and in our tongues
We offer double prayer
Sent heavenward on winged notes
To praise God dwelling there.

While in our hearts and tongues we try
With song to praise God twice,
We ask dear saint, to help us be
United closed to Christ!

St. Cecilia, glorious Virgin and Martyr of Jesus Christ, I admire the courage with which you professed your faith in the face of severe persecution, and the generous love with which you offered your life in witness to your belief in the Blessed Trinity. I thank God with you for the wonderful graces He had bestowed upon you to make your life holy and pleasing to Him even in the midst of the wealth that was yours. I thank Him for the privilege offered to you of receiving the glorious crown of martyrdom. Prayer to St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, I also admire the purity of love that bound you to the Savior, which was greater in your eyes than any human affection, so that you declared yourself before the enemies of the Church, "I am the bride of my Lord Jesus Christ". Pray for me that in imitation of you I may keep my body pure and my soul holy, and that I may love Jesus with all my heart.

In these times so full of pleasure seeking and so lacking in faith, teach us to profess our faith courageously and to be willing to sacrifice ourselves in practicing it, so that our good example may lead others closer to Christ and the Church He as founded.

In thanksgiving to God for the graces he bestowed on St Cecilia: Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory be. St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr of Jesus Christ, pray for us.


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