Happy Feast Day to all musicians! Today is the feast day of Saint Cecilia, celebrated every year since the fourth century on November 22nd. Saint Cecilia is distinguished as one of seven women, virgins and martyrs, celebrated in the canon of the Mass.
The name Cecilia can be etymologically traced to mean lily of heaven or sight to the blind (which is why she is also patroness of the blind). Saint Cecilia’s patronage of music comes from the legend that she heard heavenly music when she forcibly married her pagan husband, Valerian. When the music in her heart played, she sang in her heart:
“Make my heart and my body pure that I may not be confounded.”
Saint Cecilia vowed virginity, she bore sackcloth and fasted. Upon her wedding night, she confided to her husband, Valerian, that her life was consecrated to Christ and that an angel strongly guards this. Wanting to see this angel for himself, the story purports that Valerian received baptism by Pope Urban and saw her guardian, along with a crown of lilies and roses over Cecilia’s head. He was convinced and fully converted.
Valerian and his brother made it their mission to bury early martyrs of the Church, and paid the price of death for their holy work. Saint Cecilia, known for her relentless converting, later faced the prefect and was sentenced to die. As legend holds, she survived three days in heated bath houses with fires aglow. After soldiers discovered her alive, orders came for her beheading. The thrice-attempted capitation failed, and for three days she bled and sang songs of praise, preaching Christ as her blood was soaked up by mourners.
Her body was exhumed in the 1500s and is the first instance in the Church of a saint being ‘incorruptible.’ Her remains are located at the Church of St. Cecilia in the Trastevere region of Rome.
We could use this day to debate why only seven women are celebrated in the canon of the mass. We could argue the historicity and factuality of the story and legends that surround Saint Cecilia’s biographical information. The ever-ambiguous definition and said virtue of virginity could make for polite to vehement conversation. We could, but why?
Perhaps a more appropriate response to this day would be to give thanks for the gift of music; to be aware of the lyricism of our lives and how our living is a note, part of a larger melody heard as all our lives sound together. What do we sing? How does this melody sing to create a greater symphony with people of all faiths and creeds?
As we stand at the altar, at times feeling forced into a marriage with apathy and indifference, can we sing in our heart a song of the way we live? A sweet song of caring and compassion? Like Valerian, who knows who we might convert?
“It is good to sing to our God, and sweet, and praise is fitting for him.” – Psalm 147:1