Hello everyone. I apologize for posting so late, I just finished my violin lesson. Were it not for today’s feast, the thought of blogging about my music lesson would most certainly never have crossed my mind. However, as I mentioned, today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of musicians. Now I am definitely not much of a musician – though I do play the violin and viola, can scratch out a tune on the cello, and aspire to someday play the piano, organ and bagpipes. Still, I have a strong devotion to today’s saint. For as long as I can remember, whenever I have played in an audition or performance, I have said a quick prayer to St. Cecilia asking her to help me give the greatest honor and glory to God possible through my talents, just as she did so well though her life and death.
St. Cecilia was born in 2nd century A.D to a patrician family (Roman upper-class). Not much is known about her early years except that she was an only child. History starts to pick up more keenly on her life-story when she reached marrying age – which was well – pretty young (early teens). Cecilia’s father had arranged a marriage for her with Valerian, a wealthy, pagan Roman. Being a devout Christian, Cecilia had hoped to dedicate herself as a virgin to her Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet in this trying situation, Cecilia exercised one of the most difficult virtues – obedience to legitimate authority. True to her father’s wishes, she went through the wedding ceremony with Valerian.
At the feasting, which followed the ceremony, legend says that vulgar and inappropriate songs were sung (keep in mind, this was a Roman wedding in the 2nd century A.D.). Cecilia was deeply devoted to her Master, Jesus Christ. She was disgusted with what the many intoxicated wedding attendees were singing and, though she could do nothing outwardly to stop this disgrace, inwardly she “sang in her heart to the Lord.” As a result of this incident, musicians – wishing to dedicate themselves and their musical works to God just as she did – took St. Cecilia as their special Patroness.
After the festivities ended, when she and Valerian were alone, the time came for Cecilia to explain to Whom her virginity truly belonged. She explained her Christian Faith to Valerian and told him of her vow to her Lord. What immense courage it must have taken for Cecilia to explain all of this to her newly-wed husband, especially considering how in the case of many other consecrated virgins, who did as Cecilia did, the next thing they heard after their confession was “OFF WITH HER HEAD!!!” Yet Cecilia continued on, telling Valerian that should he try to force himself upon her, her Guardian Angel would strike him dead.
Imagine poor Valerian! To say the least, things had not gone the way he had hoped or expected. Quite naturally, he was hurt and furious.
Some legends say that Valerian demanded to see Cecilia’s “Guardian Angel –” to this demand Cecilia answered that first he must become a Christian. Whether this was the exact exchange or not, we do know that Cecilia advised Valerian to visit Pope Urban, who would explain the Christian Faith to him and ease his doubts.
At this point in the story, Valerian’s brother, Tiburtius, drops in.
Some legends say that the two went together to visit Pope Urban. Others say that Valerian, obedient to his newly-wed wife, went promptly to visit the Pope; and Tiburtius, out of curiosity, followed in suite a short time later. Whatever happened, the end result was the same. The holy man – Pope Urban – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit explained the Faith so eloquently that both Roman brothers asked for Baptism.
On return, Valerian, now strengthened by his Christian Faith, was able to accept Cecilia’s vow of virginity to Jesus Christ and indeed, he too followed her example in pledging his purity.
However, whenever there are great joys, great crosses soon follow. Persecution broke out anew in Rome. Valerian, Tiburtius and Cecilia collected and buried the bodies of those who had so courageously given their lives for Christ and His One, True Church. Such an act did not escape the probing eyes of the Roman Authorities.
Soon Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were dragged before the governor in an attempt to force them to renounce their Faith. When they refused, they were condemned to death and imprisoned. The night before their execution, Valerian and Tiburtius explained the Christian Faith to their guard, Maximus. He too asked for Baptism. The next morning, the three men – Valerian, Tiburtius and Maximus – gave their lives for their Lord and Master Jesus Christ. All three were beheaded together.
Though her husband and brother-in-law were both dead, Cecilia still remained. However, the Roman authorities were not quite ready to put her to death. After all, she was young and beautiful. First, they tried to seduce her; but Cecilia was just as faithful to her Lord now as she was the first time her loyalty was tried. When they found that they could not make her break her vow, the authorities decided that Cecilia should be put to death as well.
Cecilia was condemned to be smothered to death by steam. After three days, the executioners entered the steam chamber, expecting to find Cecilia’s rotting corpse. Instead, they found her singing hymns to the Lord. Then, Cecilia was condemned to be beheaded. The executioner was dispatched. He drew his sword and swung once – nothing. He tried again and still could not chop off her head. He tried a third time and was unable to complete the execution. Now there was a Roman rule that, if an executioner was unable to behead the condemned in three swings, he was not allowed a fourth swing. So the executioner, unable to complete Cecilia’s execution, left her to die from her wounds. Cecilia’s family desperately tried to save her by binding up her wounds, but to no avail. After three days of intense suffering, Cecilia died – but not before first receiving her Lord in Holy Communion.
So on this day – the feast of St. Cecilia, whether you are a musician or not, please ask for her intercession.
Lord of mercy,
be close to those who call upon You. With Saint Cecilia to help us hear and answer our prayers.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
– Breviary, Morning Prayer
St. Cecilia – Pray for us!!!