November 21, 2016

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

St. Cecilia
November 22nd, is the memorial of Saint Cecilia. The 3rd century virgin and martyr is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs. Little is certain of her life apart from her martyrdom. A woman of great piety, she was attributed with the habit of daily singing the psalms, and as a gifted musician, for which she was named the patron saint of church music, musicians and composers.

The daughter of patrician Roman Christians, she was given in marriage to a rich young nobleman, Valerian of Trastevere, despite desiring to remain a virgin. By the designs of Providence, her innocence was preserved. The Divine Office records how Cecilia told her husband that she had taken a vow of virginity and was under the protection of an angel:

"Cecilia led a life of prayer and meditation and had vowed lifelong virginity, but a youth by the name of Valerian, relying upon the approval of her parents, hoped to marry her. When the wedding night arrived, she confided to Valerian, 'There is a secret, Valerian, I wish to tell you. I have as a lover an angel of God who jealously guards my body.' Valerian promised to believe in Christ if he would be enabled to see that angel. Cecilia explained how such was impossible without baptism, and Valerian consented to be baptized. After he was baptized by Pope Urban and had returned 'He found Cecilia in her little room lost in prayer, and next to her the angel of the Lord was standing. When Valerian saw the angel, he was seized with great terror.' The angel handed to them a bouquet of fiery red roses and snow-white lilies as a reward for Cecilia's love of chastity, a bouquet that would not wither, yet would be visible only to those who love chastity. As a further favor, Valerian besought the conversion of his brother Tiburtius.

Upon arriving to congratulate the newlyweds, Tiburtius was astounded by the unspeakably beautiful roses and lilies. As soon as he was informed regarding their origin, he too asked for the waters of baptism. 'St. Cecilia said to Tiburtius: Today I acknowledge you as a brother-in-law, because the love of God has made you despise the idols. Just as the love of God gave me your brother as a spouse, so it has given you to me as a brother in-law.' When Almachius, the prefect, heard of the conversions, he ordered Maximus, his officer, to arrest and imprison all of them. Before being put to death, they instructed Maximus and his family, and baptized them during the night preceding execution.

At dawn Cecilia roused the two brothers to struggle heroically for Christ, as the glow of morning disappeared, Cecilia called: 'Arise, soldiers of Christ, throw away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.' Cecilia pursued her victory as the soldiers willingly listened, 'We believe that Christ is the true Son of God, who has chosen such a servant.' Led before the prefect, she professed her faith in Christ, 'We profess His Holy Name and we will not deny Him.'" (The Church's Year of Grace, Father Pius Parsch C.R.S..A)

The prefect commanded that Cecilia be suffocated in the baths. To that end, she was shut in for one night and one day, as fires were stoked, but she miraculously survived. Upon emerging she exclaimed: "I thank You, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that through Your Son the fire was extinguished at my side." Next, it was ordered that Cecilia be beheaded. Three attempts to do so failed, but she was left mortally wounded. She lived for three days, singing hymns of praise to God, as her friends came to seek her final blessings. Never did she renounce her faith in Christ. In 817, her grave was discovered, and her body moved to the church of Saint Cecilia in Rome. When her crypt was opened in 1599, her body was found incorrupt. She is the first saint in recorded history whose earthly remains were preserved. Almighty God, who gladden us each year with the feast day of your handmaid St. Cecilia, grant, we pray, that what has been devoutly handed down concerning her may offer us examples to imitate and proclaim the wonders worked in his servants by Jesus Christ your Son, both now, and for all eternity.

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