Nov 22- St Cecilia (~200-230 AD) – Virgin & Martyr, Incorruptible, Heavenly Music

-“Saint Cecilia and an Angel”, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, overall: 87.5 x 108 cm (34 7/16 x 42 1/2 in.), framed: 109.9 x 130.2 x 6.4 cm (43 1/4 x 51 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.), Orazio Gentileschi (painter) Florentine, 1563 – 1639, National Gallery, Washington, DC, for greater detail, please click on the image.

-by Mariella Hunt

“The Psalms are songs that praise God or ask Him for protection. Historically, His people have faced great trials for not following the world and its corrupt ways. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 23, are so beloved that they are still used as prayers.

Music is the cry of the heart. It expresses sorrow, love, or anger. To this day, ancient hymns are used in traditional churches to express the soul’s longing for union with God.

Ritual and tradition are often criticized, but even secular listeners cannot deny the beauty of these hymns.

-Saints Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius by Botticini, for greater detail, please click on the image.

Heavenly Song

Saint Cecilia is the Patron Saint of music in the Roman Catholic Church. She is patroness of music because it is said that she heard heavenly song in her heart. She might not have played the piano, though works of art often depict her doing so. Nonetheless, musicians ask for her intercession.

Cecilia came from a wealthy Roman family. Despite her fortune, she devoted her life to prayer. She was in love with Christ, and the privileges of wealth and status could not distract her from the ultimate goal of Heaven.

When she was given in marriage to a young man named Valerian, this did not change her mind. It was during the wedding ceremony that she heard the heavenly music. I imagine this music gave her the strength to be faithful to the promise she had made to God.

-“The Martyrdom of St Cecilia” by Carlo Saraceni (c. 1610), for greater detail, please click on the image for greater detail.

The Virgin Bride

Cecilia had made a vow of virginity earlier in life, and marriage would not change her mind. She hadn’t forgotten the promise that she had made to the Lord; instead, she decided to tell the man she had married that she was already taken — mind, soul, and body.

Marvel at this woman’s bravery! Forced to marry a mortal man, she could not be made to renounce her vow. Presumably on the night of her wedding, she told her husband that she was promised to Jesus.

Another man might have laughed at her or beaten her; Cecilia was blessed, for Valerian instead listened with interest. When Cecilia warned him that an angel was guarding her, he asked if he could also see this angel. Cecilia told him to go and be baptized. After his baptism, his eyes would be opened.

Instead of turning her in to the Prefect who was persecuting Christians, or even laughing at her words, Valerian went to be baptized.

-“The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia” by Raphael, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Holy Partnership

Valerian returned from his baptism and found Cecilia deep in prayer. By her side stood an angel guarding her. The angel crowned her with a wreath of roses and lilies, a sign of her favor with God.

After this, Valerian underwent a great conversion. He understood that the God of the Christians was real. He also accepted that the woman he had been given in marriage was holy. He did not touch her, allowing her to maintain her vow of virginity. Instead, he went out to serve the Lord; so many believers were being martyred that he felt the need to do something.

Valerian took the bodies of these holy martyrs and gave them proper burials. His brother, Tibertius, saw his brother’s joy in the Lord; he wanted to know the source, so we must assume that Valerian preached to him. Tibertius, too, was baptized. He joined his brother, burying martyrs in the dead of night.

-“Saint Cecilia” by Simon Vouet (1590–1649), circa 1626, oil on canvas, Height: 134.1 cm (52.7 in); Width: 98.2 cm (38.6 in), Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, please click on the image for greater detail

Death Has Lost His Sting

Meanwhile, Cecilia preached the Gospel, converting thousands of people to Christianity.

When the Romans found out about this, she was arrested and put to trial. When she refused to renounce Jesus, she was condemned to be suffocated in the baths — but despite the heat, she did not sweat. Perhaps it was her angel protecting her.

When the prefect was told of this woman’s survival, he was enraged. Instead of recognizing Cecilia’s holiness, he ordered for her a quicker death: decapitation. This did not go as planned, either; the executioner struck her once, twice, three times, but was not successful.

Baffled, he left her bleeding. Cecilia lay dying in a pool of her own blood for three days. When she died on the third day, she was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons.

We Hear Heavenly Music

St. Cecilia’s unwavering love for Jesus, as well as her bravery in the face of persecution, make her one of the most beloved Saints. Her story teaches us to be faithful to the Truth when the world challenges our Faith.

She teaches us that Jesus was our first love, and He must remain so, no matter what it might cost us.

In 1599, officials exhumed her body and found her to be incorrupt. God had preserved her beauty as she had been on the day of her burial. It is said that her body exuded the fragrance of flowers; this is a sign of holiness.

Sing Like St. Cecilia

No love is greater than the love that Jesus feels for His people. When we choose to love Him back, choosing Him over popularity and comfort, we will receive great graces in return.

St. Cecilia’s story is proof that His love is worth it. It will preserve you from eternal death. As for Valerian’s task, a heart set on Jesus will make us restless to serve Him with love. When others see us serving Him, they might ask what we are doing — and be called by the Holy Spirit to join us.

Do not be ashamed to speak His name, under any circumstance; there is no other like it.”