Child of the Virgin, Maker of Thy Mother,
Virgin-engendered, of the Virgin Son,
Virgin is she of whom we sing another
Double the palm of triumph which she beareth,
Strove she to vanquish woman's fear of death:
Quelled now the hand of death and hell
Her feet beneath.
Death won no conquest, nor the thousand terrors,
Kindred of death--fierce torments bravely borne:
Gave she her blood: that blood the radiance mirrors
Of life's new morn.
When she pleads for us, at her sweet petition,
That we may sing with conscience pure of sin,
From debt of guilt O grant us Thy remission
And peace within.
Glory to Thee, O Father, Son, and Spirit,
Glory co-equal on the throne on high,
Equal in power, in unity of merit,
Antiphon. O how lovely and glorious
is the generation of the chaste! Alleluia.
O worthy spouse of that Lamb of God which feeds among the lilies, St. Cecilia, you always preserved intact the flower of your purity, edifying all by the constant practice of this lovely virtue: obtain for me, I pray, the grace to follow your example, that, overcoming all inordinate earthly affections and living according to the spirit, I may abound in charity and all good works. Make me to be enamored of the angelical virtue of purity, that by word and deed I may inspire others with a love of it, and may become worthy to join the happy choir of your companions, who, together with you, enjoy the bright vision of God, and follow the Lamb "whithersoever He goeth." Amen
Hymn to St. Cecilia
Let the deep organ swell the lay
In honour of this festive day;
Let the harmonious choirs proclaim
Cecilia's ever-blessed name.
Rome gave the Virgin-Martyr birth,
Whose holy name hath filled the earth,
And from the early dawn of youth
She fixed her heart on God and truth.
Then from the world's bewildering strife,
In peace she spent her holy life,
Teaching the organ to combine
With voice, to praise the Lamb divine.
Cecilia, with a twofold crown
Adorned in heaven, we pray look down
Upon thy fervent votaries here,
And hearken to their humble prayer.
St. Caecilia, Virgin and Martyr
Partroness of Musicians
from the Liturgical Year, 1901
Caecilia united in her veins the blood of kings with that of Rome's greatest heroes. At the time of the first preaching of the Gospel, more than one ancient patrician family had seen its direct line become extinct. But the adoptions and alliances, which under the Republic had knit more closely the great families by linking them all to the most illustrious among them, formed as it were a common fund of glory, which, even in the days of decline, was passed on intact to the survivors of the aristocracy.From the Roman Breviary
It has now been demonstrated by the undeniable witness of monuments, that Christianity from the very beginning took possession of that glory, by adopting its heirs; and that by a wonderful disposition of divine Providence, the founders of the Rome of the Pontiffs were these last representatives of the Republic, thus preserved in order to give to the two phases of Roman history that powerful unity which is the distinguishing note of divine works. Heretofore bound together by the same patriotism, the Cornelii and the Emilii, alike heirs of the Fabii, the Csecilii, Valerii, Sergii, Furii, Claudii, Pomponii, Plautii, and Acilii, eldest sons of the Gentile Church, strengthened the connections formed during the Republic, and firmly established, even in the first and second centuries of Christianity, the new Roman society. In the same centuries, and under the influence of the religion preached by Saints Peter and Paul, there came to be grafted on the ever vigorous trunk of the old aristocracy the best members of the new imperial and consular families, worthy by their truly Roman virtues, practised amid the general depravity, to re-inforce the thinned ranks of Rome's founders, and to fill up, without too sudden a transition, the voids made by time in the true patrician houses. Thus was Rome working out her destiny; thus was the building up of the eternal City being accomplished by the very men, who had formerly, by their blood or by their genius, established her strong and mighty on the seven hills.
Caecilia, the lawful representative of this unparalleled aristocracy, the fairest flower of the old stem, was also the last. The second century was passing away; the third, which was to see the empire fall from the hands of Septimus Severus first to the Orientals and then to the barbarians from the banks of the Danube, offered small chance of preservation for the remnants of the ancient nobility. The true Roman society was henceforth at an end; for, save a few individual exceptions, there remained nothing more of Roman but the name: the vain adornment of freedmen and upstarts, who, under princes worthy of them, indulged their passions at the expense of those around them.
Caecilia therefore appeared at the right moment, personifying with the utmost dignity the society that was about to disappear because its work was accomplished. In her strength and her beauty, adorned with the royal purple of martyrdom, she represents ancient Rome rising proud and glorious to the skies, before the upstart Caesars who, by immolating her in their jealousy, unconsciously executed the divine plan. The blood of kings and heroes flowing from her triple wound, is the libation of the old nobility to Christ the conqueror, to the Blessed Trinity the Ruler of nations; it is the final consecration, which reveals in its full extent the sublime vocation of the valiant races called to found the eternal Rome.
But we must not think that today's feast is meant to excite in us a mere theoretical and fruitless admiration. The Church recognizes and honours in Saint Caecilia three characteristics, which, united together, distinguish her among all the Blessed in heaven, and are a source of grace and an example to men. These three characteristics are, virginity, apostolic zeal, and the superhuman courage which enabled her to bear torture and death. Such is the threefold teaching conveyed by this one Christian life.
In an age so blindly abandoned as ours to the worship of the senses, is it not time to protest, by the strong lessons of our faith, against a fascination which even the children of the promise can hardly resist? Never, since the fall of the Roman empire, have morals, and with them the family and society, been so seriously threatened. For long years, literature, the arts, the comforts of life, have had but one aim: to propose physical enjoyment as the only end of man's destiny. Society already counts an immense number of members who live entirely a life of the senses. Alas for the day when it will expect to save itself by relying on their energy! The Roman empire thus attempted several times to shake off the yoke of invasion: it fell never to rise again.
Yes, the family itself, the family especially, is menaced. It is time to think of defending itself against the legal recognition, or rather encouragement, of divorce. It can do so by one means alone: by reforming and regenerating itself according to the law of God, and becoming once more serious and Christian. Let marriage, with its chaste consequences, be held in honour; let it cease to be an amusement or a speculation; let fatherhood and motherhood be no longer a calculation, but an austere duty: and soon, through the family, the city and the nation will resume their dignity and their vigour.
But marriage cannot be restored to this high level, unless men appreciate the superior element, without which human nature is an ignoble ruin: this heavenly element is continence. True, all are not called to embrace it in the absolute sense; but all must do honour to it, under pain of being delivered up, as the Apostle expresses it, to a reprobate sense. It is continence that reveals to man the secret of his dignity, that braces his soul to every kind of devotedness, that purifies his heart and elevates his whole being. It is the culminating point of moral beauty in the individual, and at the same time the great lever of human society. It is because the love of it became extinct, that the ancient world fell to decay; but when the Son of the Virgin came on earth, He renewed and sanctioned this saving principle, and a new phase began in the destinies of the human race.
The children of the Church, if they deserve the name, relish this doctrine, and are not astonished at it. The words of our Saviour and of His Apostles have revealed all to them; and at every page, the annals of the faith they profess set forth in action this fruitful virtue, of which all degrees of the Christian life, each in its measure, must partake. St. Caecilia is one example among others offered to their admiration. But the lesson she gives is a remarkable one, and has been celebrated in every age of Christianity. On how many occasions has Caecilia inspired virtue or sustained courage; how many weaknesses has the thought of her prevented or repaired! Such power for good has God placed in His Saints, that they influence not only by the direct imitation of their heroic virtues, but also by the inductions which each of the faithful is able to draw from them for his own particular situation.
The second characteristic offered for our consideration in the life of St. Csecilia, is that ardent zeal, of which she is one of the most admirable models; and we doubt not that here too is a lesson calculated to produce useful impressions. Insensibility to evil for which we are not personally responsible, or from which we are not likely to suffer, is one of the features of the period. We acknowledge that all is going to ruin, and we look on at the universal destruction without ever thinking of holding out a helping hand to save a brother from the wreck. Where should we now be, if the first Christians had had hearts as cold as ours? If they had not been filled with that immense pity, that inexhaustible love, which forbade them to despair of a world, in the midst of which God had placed them to be the salt of the earth? Each one felt himself accountable beyond measure for the gift he had received, Freeman or slave, known or unknown, every man was the object of a boundless devotedness for these hearts filled with the charity of Christ. One has but to read the Acts of the Apostles, and their Epistles, to learn on what an immense scale the apostolate was carried on in those early days; and the ardour of that zeal remained long uncooled. Hence the pagans used to say: "See how they love one another!" And how could they help loving one another? For in the order of faith they were fathers and children.
What maternal tenderness Caecilia felt for the souls of her brethren, from the mere fact that she was a Christian! After her we might name a thousand others, in proof of the fact that the conquest of the world by Christianity and its deliverance from the yoke of pagan depravity, are due to such acts of devotedness performed in a thousand places at once, and at length producing universal renovation. Let us imitate in something at least, these examples to which we owe so much. Let us waste less of our time and eloquence in bewailing evils which are only too real. Let each one of us set to work, and gain one of his brethren: and soon the number of the faithful will surpass that of unbelievers. Without doubt, this zeal is not extinct; it still works in some, and its fruits rejoice and console the Church; but why does it slumber so profoundly in so many hearts which God had prepared to be its active centres?
The cause is unhappily to be traced to that general coldness, produced by effeminacy, which might be taken by itself alone as the type of the age; but we must add thereto another sentiment, proceeding from the same source, which would suffice, if of long duration, to render the debasement of a nation incurable. This sentiment is fear; and it may be said to extend at present to its utmost limit. Men fear the loss of goods or position, fear the loss of comforts and ease, fear the loss of life. Needless to say, nothing can be more enervating, and consequently more dangerous to the world, than this humiliating pre-oocupation; but above all, we must confess that it is anything but Christian. Have we forgotten that we are merely pilgrims on this earth? And has the hope of future good died out of our hearts? Csecilia will teach us how to rid ourselves of this sentiment of fear. In her days, life was less secure than now. There certainly was then some reason to fear; and yet Christians were so courageous, that the powerful pagans often trembled at the words of their victims.
God knows what He has in store for us; but if fear does not soon make way for a sentiment more worthy of men and of Christians, all particular existences will be swallowed up in the political crisis. Come what may, it is time to learn our history over again. The lesson will not be lost, if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, for the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers.
The Passio Sanctae Caecilia is marked in the most ancient Calendars on the 16th September, and took place, according to the primitive Acts, under the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The great feast of November 22nd, preceded by a Vigil, was one of the most solemn on the Roman Cycle; it recalled the dedication of the church raised on the site of that palace which had been sanctified by the blood of the descendant of the Metelli, and had been bequeathed by her when dying to Bishop Urban, representative of Pope Eleutherius. This Urban having been later on confounded with the Pope of the same name, who governed the Church in the time of Alexander Severus, the martyrdom of our Saint was thought to have occurred half a century later, as we still read in the Legend of the Office.
It was most probably in the year 178 that Caecilia joined Valerian in heaven, whence, a few months before, the Angel of the Lord had descended, bringing wreaths of lilies and roses to the two spouses.
She was buried by Urban, just as she lay at the moment of death. In the beginning of the following century, the family crypt was given by her relatives to the Roman church, and was set apart for the burial of the Popes. In the ninth century, Paschal I. found her surrounded by these venerable tombs, and brought her back in triumph on May 8th, 822, to her house in the Trastevere, where she remains to this day.
On the 20th October, 1599, in the course of the excavations required for the restoration of the basilica, Csecilia was once more brought forth to the admiring gaze of the city and of the world. She was clad in her robe of cloth of gold, on which traces of her virginal blood were still discernable; at her feet were some pieces of linen steeped in the purple of her martyrdom. Lying on her right side with her arms stretched before her, she seemed in a deep sleep. Her neck still bore the marks of the wounds inflicted by the executioner's sword; her head, in a mysterious and touching position, was turned towards the bottom of the coffin. The body was in a state of perfect preservation; and the whole attitude, retained by an unique prodigy during so many centuries in all its grace and modesty, brought before the eyes with a striking truthfulness Caecilia breathing her last sigh stretched on the floor of the bath chamber.
The spectators were carried back in thought to the day when the holy bishop Urban had enclosed the sacred body in the cypress chest, without altering the position chosen by the bride of Christ to breathe forth her soul into the arms of her divine Spouse. They admired also the discretion of Pope Paschal, who had not disturbed the virgin's repose, but had preserved for posterity so magnificent a spectacle.
Cardinal Sfondrate, titular of St. Caecilia, who directed the works, found also in the chapel called of the Bath the heating-stove and vents of the sudatorium, where the Saint passed a day and a night in the midst of scalding vapours. Recent excavations have brought to light other objects belonging to the patrician home, which by their style, belong to the early days of the Republic.
Cecilia, a Roman maiden born of noble family, brought up from infancy in the teachings of the Christian faith, had vowed her virginity to God. Married against her will to Valerian, on her nuptial night she said to him, "Valerian, I am under the care of an angel who is guardian of my virginity. Do not do, therefore, anything that may arouse the anger of God against you." Valerian was disturbed by these words and did not dare touch her. He even declared that he would believe in Christ if he could see the angel. When Cecilia explained that this was impossible without baptism, he desired so ardently to see the angel that he offered to be baptized. Acting on Cecilia's advice he went to Pope Urban, who because of the persecution was at that time in hiding in the Catacomb of the Martyrs out on the Appian Way. There Urban baptized him.
When Vaerian returned to Cecilia he found her at prayer and beside her an angel shining in divine splendor. He was overcome at the sight. As soon as recovered from his awe-inspired fright, Valerian summonded his brother, Tiburtius. He, too, was instructed by Cecilia in the faith of Christ, and after baptism by Pope Urban, saw the same angel his brother had seen. Shortly afterward both brothers bravely suffered martyrdom at the hands of the prefect Almachius, who aslo ordered the arrest of Cecilia. Almachius questioned her first about the disposal of the property of Tiburtius and Valerian.
When Cecilia replied that all their wealth had been distributed to the poor, Almachius flew into a rage. He ordered her to be taken home to her own house to be put to death by the heat of the bath. For a day and a night she remained unharmed by its fiery breath. Then an executioner was ent for. Although he struck three blows with an axe, he was unable to sever her head, so he left her half dead. She lingered three days. Then on September 16, in the riegn of the emperor Alexander, crowned with the dual palm of virginity and martyrdom, she took her flight to heaven. The same pontiff Urban burried her body in the cemetery of Callistus. A church was set up in her house and dedicated under the name of cecilia. Her body and those of Popes Urban and Lucius, and of Tiburtius, Valerian and Maximus were brought back into the City by Pope Paschall I., and were buried together in the church of St. Cecilia.
It would need the language of Angels worthily to celebrate thy greatness, O bride of Christ! and we have but the faltering, timid accents of mortals and sinners. O queen, who standest at the King's right hand, clad in the vesture of gold of which the Psalmist sings, look down upon us with a favourable eye, and deign to accept this offering of our praise, which we lay on the lowest step of thy lofty throne. "We make bold to join thereto a prayer for the holy Church, whose humble daughter thou wast heretofore, as now thou art her hope and her support. In the dark night of this present life the Bridegroom is long a-coming. In the midst of this solemn and mysterious silence He suffers the virgin to slumber till the cry shall announce His arrival. We honour the repose earned by thy victories, O Caecilia, but we know that thou dost not forget us, for the Bride says in the Canticle: I sleep, and my heart watcheth.Practical Considerations for St. Cecilia and Maxilinda:
The hour draws nigh when the Spouse is to appear, calling all who are His to gather under the standard of His Cross. Soon will the cry be heard: Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then, O Caecilia, thou wilt say to all Christians what thou saidst to the faithful band grouped around thee at the hour of thy combat: "Soldiers of Christ! "Cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light."
The Church daily pronounces thy name with love, and confidence, in the Canon of the Mass; and she looks for thy assistance, O Caecilia, knowing it will not fail her. Prepare a victory for her, by raising up the hearts of Christians to the realities, which they too often forget while they run after the vain shadows from which thou didst win Tiburtius. When the minds of men become once more fixed up on the thought of their eternal destiny, the salvation and peace of nations will be secured.
Be thou for ever, O Caecilia, the delight of thy divine Spouse. Breathe eternally the heavenly fragrance of His roses and lilies; and be unceasingly enraptured with the ineffable harmony of which He is the source. From the midst of thy glory thou wilt watch over us; and when our last hour draws nigh, we beseech thee by the merits of thy heroic martyrdom, assist us on our death-bed. Receive our soul into thy arms, and bear it up to the everlasting abode, where the sight of the bliss thou enjoyest will give us to understand the value of Virginity, of the Apostolate, and of Martyrdom.
Feast Day: November 22nd
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger
"O Lord, preserve my heart and body spotless,
that I may not perish."--Prayer of St. Cecilia
The two Saints, whose history we have related were at the same time virgins and martyrs. St. Cecily was a martyr of faith ; St. Maxilinda, a martyr of chastity. St. Cecily manifested, in deeds, that she esteemed the true faith above honor, wealth and life; while St. Maxilinda proved by her death that she preferred chastity to all the treasures of the world, and even to her own life. The one died rather than forsake the true faith: the other, rather than break the vow she had made to God. May the entire Christian world learn from these two Christian heroines, the value of the true faith and chastity. There have been many, who, for temporal gain forsook the true faith, or by an ill advised marriage, placed themselves in great danger of becoming apostates. These will, one day, though too late, learn, to their eternal misery, what they lost and what they gained. There are also many, who for some temporal advantage, or to satisfy their desires, lose their innocence, and thus imitate the traitor Judas, when he offered to sell his divine Master, saying: "What will you give me and I will deliver him unto you?" (Matth. xxvi.) Woe to all these senseless people! In eternity, they will curse their wickedness and blindness, and cry out: "Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath notshined unto us." (Wisdom, v. ) I hope that my reader does not resemble such blind and foolish people.
St. Cecily carried the Gospel continually with her, read it with great delight, and endeavored to conform her life to its precepts. St. Maxilinda passed much time in devout reading, and drew from it, not only the spirit of piety which animated her, but also her love of chastity and her strength to protect it. What book do you carry about? What books do you read? And what sort of spirit do you draw from them? Are your books such that you can gain salvation by following their lessons? or are they such that nothing can be learned from them but vanity, pride, licentiousness, infidelity, heresy, and contempt of God and His holy religion? If you value your soul, read only such books as St. Paul recommended to Timothy: books that will instruct you in the way you have to walk in order to gain your salvation. Avoid those which would lead you to the broad path of evil and thus precipitate you into eternal ruin. Rest assured that many have fallen into great crimes by reading immoral and heretical books, and have by this means gone to everlasting destruction. Others, on the contrary, by reading a devout book, were animated with true piety, which afterwards, strengthened by the same means, guided them in the way to heaven. Follow the example of the latter, and appoint a time in which you will read the Gospel, or other devout book; and take care, at the same time, that, after the examples of St. Cecily and St. Maxilinda, you conform your life in accordance with the lessons you will receive. "Thou must know," writes St. Jerome, "that God not only commands us to be acquainted with His laws, but also, to live up to them."
The purity of these two holy virgins was wonderfully preserved by the Almighty. He protected them while they were in the most imminent danger. To increase Maxilinda's glory in heaven, God permitted her to be slain in defence of her chastity. But why did the Lord thus protect both of them? Because both placed their trust in Him, and prayed for His aid, and did everything in their power to help themselves. If you do not, in like manner, receive the divine protection, in temptations of body and soul, then the fault is in yourself, not in God. Your trust in the Almighty is not what it ought to be. Your prayer is either faulty or perhaps entirely neglected, and you do not resist earnestly enough. Correct your conduct in this respect, if you wish God to hear you. Do all that is in your power and call on God for help. Repeat frequently the short, but expressive prayer of St. Cecily: "O Lord! preserve my heart and body pure, that I may not go to destruction."
Add mortification to prayer, as St. Cecily did, and then trust implicitly in the Lord; for, Holy Writ assures us that God will not forsake those who trust in Him. He has the power to protect, and will surely hold His hand over you. "Do all you can," says St. Bernard, "and leave the rest to the Almighty." He will do all that you are unable to do. "In every danger and temptation, we must endeavor to help ourselves as strenuously, as though there was no God to assist us, or as though we had everything to do for ourselves; but at the same time, we must call for aid on the Most High, as though we possessed no means whatever to help ourselves." Thus speaks St. James of Nisibis.
Hymns of Tribute to St. Cecilia
from the Roman Breviary November 22nd
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us. *
Saint Cecilia, *
Saint Cecilia, wise virgin, *
Saint Cecilia, whose heart burned with the fire of Divine love, *
Saint Cecilia, apostle by thy zeal and charity, *
Saint Cecilia, who converted thy spouse and procured for him the crown of Martyrdom, *
Saint Cecilia, who by thy pleadings moved the hearts of pagans, and brought them into the true Church, *
Saint Cecilia, who didst unceasingly see thy guardian Angel by thy side, *
Saint Cecilia, who didst mingle thy voice with the celestial harmonies of the virgins, *
Saint Cecilia, who by thy melodious accents celebrated the praises of Jesus, *
Saint Cecilia, illustrious Martyr of Jesus Christ, *
Saint Cecilia, who during three days didst suffer most excruciating torments, *
Saint Cecilia, consolation of the afflicted, *
Saint Cecilia, protectress of all who invoke thee, *
Saint Cecilia, patroness of holy canticles, *
Saint Cecilia, special patroness and advocate of all singers, musicians, authors, and students, *
We salute thee, O Virgin, who didst give thy blood for the defense and faith of Jesus Christ.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God glorified Saint Cecilia,
And He crowned her virtues.
Let us pray:
O Eternal God, Who didst give us, in the person of Saint Cecilia, a powerful protectress, grant that after having faithfully passed our days, like herself, in innocence and holiness, we may one day attain the land of beatitude, where in concert with her, we may praise Thee and bless Thee forevermore in eternity. Amen.
St. Cecilia and her influence on the Arts
by the Paulist Fathers, 1871
While the great men who have dreamed of distinguishing their names die and are forgotten, or at least, as Juvenal said of Alexander, become the idle theme of a rhetorical recitation, those who in this world have lived and suffered for God leave behind them, through all ages, an immortal memory.
The work for which each of us has been sent into the world has been conspicuously accomplished by the saints. This makes them our rightful masters; and, while we rarely imitate them, we can at least understand that such heroism must elevate the soul, and we admire them all the more that we feel ourselves unable to follow in their steps. Nor is such a recognition a useless sentiment. From the mansion of glory whence they see all things, the saints never cease to interest themselves in the affairs of the world, and among the dogmas of the Catholic Church which our estranged brethren have rejected, the communion of saints is one of the most touching and sublime.
There is indeed between the two worlds, visible and invisible, a strange but undeniable communication. Each of us, in investigating his own soul, will find there certain phenomena which have their origin neither in ourselves nor in the outer world: sadness from no apparent cause, inexplicable sensations of internal happiness, bursts of enthusiasm or sudden inspirations which Plato attributed to superior intelligences. Many of us, recalling some miraculously escaped danger, and profoundly touched by this heavenly protection, will bear willing witness, unless checked by dread of worldly criticism, to this influence of the saints and angels on our human career. "The people," with the good sense which so happily inspires them (at least, where the sophists have not succeeded in corrupting them)--"the people" believe in it; and when the peasant or the poor working-woman gives a name in baptism to the child just entering on the struggles of life, she believes, in her simple, lucid faith, that she is securing a patron for it. It is not in vain, they say, that a young girl is called Mary; surely she will the more readily share in the sweetness, the self-denial, the incomparable purity, of the Queen of Virgins; the name of Agnes will be a pledge of innocence; that of Theresa promises a heart of fire; that of Cecilia, a soul gentle yet strong, eager for harmony; while the name of Francis recalls heroic isolation; those of Paul and of John, indefatigable zeal and perfect charity. If it is not always thus, it is because the human soul is free to resist grace; but these occasional rebellions do not prevent a harmony between heaven and earth as mysterious as it is sure. These thoughts have frequently passed through our mind; but one day last October, while visiting the church of St. Cecilia in Rome, they monopolized it.
In such moments, we persuade ourselves very easily that we can express them in writing. Undoubtedly, they are not new; but, if the life of this great saint, one of the glories of Rome, is well known, it is a story which will bear repetition: really fine old melodies never lose their charm, and, if they thrill one human soul with a divine emotion, who will complain of hearing them again?
In the year 250 after Christ, in the reign of Septimus Severus, at a time when the Roman Empire was still the most formidable power of the world, there lived in Rome a young girl who will be famous when the imperial glories shall be forgotten.
Beauty, the reflection of heaven in the human countenance; grace, mysterious charm whose origin is invisible; modesty, that exquisite reserve of a virgin soul; nobility, precious perfume of the past; and, above all, the power of loving, the most magnificent and the most powerful present of the Creator to the created: all these gifts were united in the daughter of Caecilius. It was an illustrious family: in the records of the Republic it counted eighteen consuls and several conquerors, nor had it degenerated under the Empire. Today, when the traveller, weary from a day spent in the galleries of Rome, setting forth from the city towards sunset, wanders pensively down the long Appian Way, while he contemplates with emotion the outlines of the aqueducts with their broken arches, the Sabine mountains gilded by the light, and all that celebrated landscape of the environs of Rome, majestic and melancholy as a fallen queen, he finds upon his right, rising like a great tower, the tomb of Caecilia Metella. There slept of yore the long-forgotten ancestress of her who will render immortal, for time and for eternity, the name of Cascilius.
Cecilia was eighteen. The Roman poor knew her charity. Often had they seen her in the caves of the martyrs alone, or only accompanied by a faithful servant. Her father, although he respected her religion, did not share it: he hoped, indeed, at a suitable time to marry his daughter to some distinguished husband, and to see himself, through her, live again in her beloved children. But Cecilia had raised her heart above this world, and night and day prayed that the palm of virginity she had dreamed of should not be taken from her.
He whom her parents had chosen for her seemed not unworthy of the honor. Though still a pagan, Valerian possessed at least those natural gifts which prepare the soul for faith, hope, and charity, the supernatural gifts of Christ crucified. Nevertheless, who can express the fears of the young Christian? Had not God accepted all her heart as she had offered it? Could a pagan understand this mystery, and would not this union of the soul with an invisible spouse seem a strange folly to a man still living in the world of the senses? More than one Christian soul has felt these chaste doubts. It is honorable to hesitate before making for a mortal a sacrifice for which a young girl sometimes can never console herself. Cecilia felt these terrors most acutely, but she loved God well enough to feel perfect confidence in Him. So she poured forth her whole soul in prayer, and, against all hope, trusted in His aid.
So, when, towards evening, already married in the eyes of the world, she found herself alone with her hasband, she said to him in that incomparable conversation whose charm has come down to us in her life:
"There is a secret, Valerian, that I wish to confide to you. I have a lover, an angel of God, who watches over me with jealous care. If you preserve inviolate my virginity, he will love you also as he loves me, and will overpower you with his favors."
Much astonished, Valerian wished to know this angel.
"You shall see him," said Cecilia, "when you are purified."
"How shall I become so?"
"Go to Urban. When the poor hear my name, they will take you to his sanctuary: he will explain to you our mysteries."
Drawn by an unknown power, the young man consented to go. We know the result of this decision--his interview with the Pope in the catacombs, his conversion, and his baptism. Still dressed in his white robe, he returned to Cecilia. He could now understand the love of the angels, and its perfect beauty. In future, he loved Cecilia as his sister in God, to whom belong the heart and mind.
In those Christian ages others loved as he did. Undoubtedly most of them carried their secret with them to the tomb; but among those whose genius has made them famous, Dante had his Beatrice; Petrarch sang of Laura: and these pure loves, unknown to the ancient pagans, and scoffed at by our modern pagans, will remain an ornament to the soul, an act of faith in its immortality, and for us who read their history a breath of heaven on earth.
No one knows what conversation took place, in those hours of rapture and prayer, between this pair, whose marriage was to be perfected in heaven; what thanksgivings they rendered to God, who in a moment transforms hearts: nor would it be easy to describe. Of all the arts, music alone might perhaps dare to attempt it, and the revelation would require the genius of Handel or Beethoven.
In his ardent zeal, Valerian, like Cecilia, understood the value of the soul. So, when the beloved brother Tiburtius sought them, what eloquence they displayed to prove to him that his gods were only idols! Subdued by the mysterious charm of the Christian virgin, conquered by the eagerness of the convert, Tiburtius also wished to see the angel who watched over Cecilia. If for this it was necessary to be purified, purified he would be; and thus became the first conquest of his brother, who had besought God for it.
Such souls were too beautiful for pagan Rome. In the absence of Septimus Severus, Almachius, the governor, summoned Valerian and Tiburtius before his tribunal. The two young patricians avowed their faith in Christ, to the great scandal of the worldly and prosperous. Valerian went to his martyrdom as to a triumph. He went to wait for Cecilia in heaven.
Tiburtius did not forsake him. On the Appian Way, four miles from the city, they were beheaded for having dared to worship a different God from those of the Empire. Cecilia piously reclaimed their bodies, and prepared to rejoin them. Called in her turn to answer for her conduct, she disconcerted the judge. Before such purity, innocence, and heroism, entreaties, artifices, and threats failed; the daughter of Caecilius, convicted of loving the poor and a crucified God, was instantly confined in the bath-room of her own house, there to be suffocated in a hot vapor bath. But in the midst of this fiery atmosphere she remained uninjured. The stupefied jailers related how they had discovered her singing the praises of God. Such a delusion could but provoke Almachius. The executioner was summoned. With a trembling hand, he inflicted three wounds on the neck of the virgin martyr, without succeeding in severing the head. Then, terrified himself, he fled. Stretched on the flags, bathed in her blood, Cecilia lived three days. The Christians gathered round her. She was able to bid farewell to the poor, to whom she had bequeathed her property. Then, feeling her strength fail, while Urban was in the act of giving her his blessing, she drew her robe around her, and, turning her face away, gave back her soul to God.
According to her last desire, the Pope transformed the house that had witnessed her martyrdom into a church. The bath-room became a chapel; and by its arrangement bears witness today to the truth of the saint's life. One can still see the mouth of the pipes which let in the vapor, covered with a grating; and on the same flags where the Roman virgin expired, the kneeling Christian can ponder in his heart the example of heroism that she has given to the world. He who has not had the good fortune to pray on the tombs of the martyrs cannot appreciate the strength one finds there, or what precepts their relics give forth. The martyrs are the incontrovertible witnesses of the value of faith, of the power of love; and it is said that their beatified spirits lend to these bones, which were their bodies, an all-powerful eloquence.
The remains of the young girl were taken down into the catacombs of St. Callixtus, and remained there six centuries. After the invasion of the Lombards, most unhappily, all trace was lost of them till, in 822, the place where they were hidden was revealed to Pope St. Pascal.
The long-sought coffin was placed in the basilica of St. Cecilia, which had been repaired by the Pope's care. It was placed under the high altar. And even in our day the custodian points out to the pilgrim a curious fresco of the thirteenth century, representing the apparition of the saint to the sleeping Pope. In 1599, Cardinal Sfondrate ordered the tomb to be opened with solemnity. To the great delight of Christian Rome, the corpse of the Roman virgin, respected by centuries, appeared, miraculously preserved.
The chaste folds of her dress were restrained by a girdle. At her feet were found the blood-stained cloths which had bound her wounds; and her arms, thrust forward, still seemed to serve as a veil. Three fingers of her right hand were open, only one of the left, as if even in dying she had wished to avow her belief in one God in three persons. Finally, so that she might not give to the world her last look, but think only of Christ, her spouse, by a supreme effort she had turned her head aside.
Thus she reposes on her bier of cypress; thus extended on the flags she had died; and thus a great artist has faithfully represented her to us. The celebrated statue of Etienne Maderno, lying on its side, full of modesty and of grace, seems the dying virgin herself; and the whiteness of the marble, which so resembles the paleness of death, adds yet more to the illusion. Seen in this honored place, in this house which was the saint's and has become God's, this masterpiece of Christian sculpture, admirably executed and in exquisite taste, touches the heart profoundly. *
Such a beautiful story could not fail to be repeated. As long as the persecutions lasted, to strengthen their courage, the faithful passed from mouth to mouth these details which had been so affectionately collected. So great, indeed, was the enthusiasm for the memory of Cecilia that she obtained the great and rare honor of being mentioned in the canon of the Mass with Saints Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Anastasia. Thus for fifteen centuries, throughout the Catholic world, wherever the holy sacrifice is celebrated, her name is invoked; and, truly immortal, each hour, each moment perhaps, her memory rises from earth to heaven with incense and with prayer.
The story of St. Cecilia has inspired eloquence and poetry, but it was destined to exercise a still greater influence on the fine arts. There are, indeed, some general rules for these intimate relations between art and holiness that it would be well to remember. Besides, we may say that the saints were themselves powerful artists. Who has sought the ideal more eagerly than these indefatigable lovers of heavenly things? But they have not contented themselves with seeking infinite beauty in an abstract form; they have endeavored, as far as it was possible to human weakness, to realize it in their lives. As the sculptor cuts into a block of marble to render it into beautiful forms, they, with obstinate labor, have sought to model their souls, to render them more pure, less unworthy of God. The contemplation of martyrdom, so habitual to the first Christians, gave them that serene dignity now become so rare. As a bride prepares herself for the bridegroom, so did these souls of virgins, of mothers, of the young and of the old, endeavor, day by day, to grow in grace in the eyes of Jesus Christ, till the blade of the executioner harvested them for heaven. The soul, grown beautiful, transfigures in its turn the body which it animates, and the living mirror of the countenance reflects strength and gentleness, peace and ardent zeal, purity and ecstatic rapture. Thus we may fairly conclude that Christianity has offered to artists, through the saints, not only the perfection of form, but a type of human beauty elevated by an ever-constant love.
But of one art St. Cecilia is the patron, and that is music. Why the Roman virgin was chosen from so many others, would be very difficult to explain with any precision. The mystic sense of the tradition which makes Cecilia the queen of harmony is now lost, and on this point we are reduced to conjectures. Let us hope, however, that the conjectures we shall advance may seem probable after a little reflection.
Undoubtedly Cecilia, the daughter of a noble family, enjoying all worldly advantages and instructed to please, was taught music. Without doubt, also, she consecrated to God a talent acquired for worldly ends; and in the meetings of the faithful in the catacombs she must have taken part in the psalms and canticles. But the most weighty argument in favor of this glorious patronage which the Christian ages have ascribed to our saint, is the sentence from her life incorporated in the Roman Litany: "Cantantibus organis, Caecilia Domino decantabat: Fiat cor meum immaculatum ut non confundar."
In January, 1732, a Jansenist critic, otherwise entirely unknown, remarked, in the Mercury of France, "that the selection of St. Cecilia as the patron of music was not a good choice." Indeed, he says, a little farther on, "we can easily see that this saint was very insensible to the charms of music; for on her wedding day, while they played on several instruments, she remained absorbed in prayer." Poor man! he could not get beyond the outer husks of things, and the material side of art. He did not know that elevated natures naturally respond to human music by prayer, that heavenly music. And undoubtedly, he had never heard those sublime melodies which a loving soul sings to itself, and of which the most beautiful concerts of this world are but a feeble echo.
But the Christian people had a better inspiration. They understood that music, and, above all, religious music--the most beautiful of all, whose highest aim is to free us from the senses and lift us out of ourselves, in order to raise us to God--might well be protected by this young girl, whose soul had become like a lyre, from which the faintest breath will wake harmonious vibrations, and who, virgin and martyr--while for three days she lay on the bloody flags, seemed in a long song of love to render back her spirit.
Music: Cecilia Virgo
Composed by Peter Philips (1560-1628), an eminent English composer, organist, and Catholic priest,
Virgin Cecilia, all musicians celebrate thy praises, and through thy merits, supplicants can be heard by God. With one voice and with one heart, they call upon thy name, that thou mayst deign to change the mourning of the world into the glory of Paradise; and be willing, O protecting Virgin, to look upon thy wards, calling upon the pious lady, and always saying: Saint Cecilia, pray for us.
* Image is provided without endorsement via Wiki Commons by Florestan and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license