November 21, 2017

Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Cecilia

Memorial - November 22nd 

When Saint Augustine famously said, "One who sings prays twice," he may have been thinking of the early Church martyr most often associated with music. Saint Cecilia has often been depicted in art with either an organ or a viola since at least the time of the Renaissance. She is the patron saint of music and musicians, and especially those engaged in the composition and performance of sacred hymns.

Much of her story is actually legend, and authentic material related to her life is scarce. We know that she was a Christian woman of high rank who was martyred in either the 2nd or 3rd century. 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. There was a feast in her honor celebrated in the Church as early as 545, and at least one church was dedicated in her name in the late 4th century.

Her association with music arises from popular piety surrounding her wedding. According to tradition, during the ceremony she heard heavenly music and informed her new husband, Valerian, that she was betrothed to an angel, who jealously guarded her virginity. Under her influence, not only was he converted to Christianity, but his brother Tiburtius was as well. All three were martyred during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. This is how St. Cecilia's holy martyrdom occurred.

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 would live for three days, singing hymns of praise to God.

When 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. O God, who gladdens your Church with the feast of your handmaid St. Cecilia, grant that what has been handed down concerning her may help us to proclaim the wonders worked in his servants by Christ your Son. Who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer to St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, glorious Virgin and Martyr of Jesus Christ, I honor your 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 for the wonderful graces He bestowed upon you to make your life holy and pleasing to Him even in the midst of great suffering. I thank Him for the privilege offered to you of receiving the crown of martyrdom.

Saint Cecilia, I 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 before the enemies of the Church, "I am the bride of my Lord Jesus Christ." Pray for me that I keep my body pure and my soul holy, and that I love Christ with all my heart.

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

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