Thursday, 22 November 2007

St. Cecilia's Feast Day

It's St. Cecilia's feast day today. What we know about her goes back to the fourth century. Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman who had given her heart to Christ. Beneath the rich clothes worn by women of her class, Cecilia wore a rough shirt, because she wanted to be able to offer this sacrifice to Jesus, whose bride she intended to be.

Cecilia's father had other ideas, and gave her in marriage to a young pagan noble. It is said that during the wedding celebration, Cecilia sat apart. She was singing to God in her heart and praying for his help. When she and Valerian, her husband, were alone, she gathered up courage and said to him: "I have a secret to tell you. You must know that I have an angel of God watching over me. If you let me keep my promise to be Christ's bride only, my angel will love you as he loves me."

Valerian was surprised and said kindly, "Show me this angel. If he comes from God, I will do as you wish." Cecilia said, "If you believe in the one true God and receive the waters of Baptism, then you will see my angel." Valerian went to Bishop Urban and was received with joy. After he had professed his belief in the Christian religion, he was baptized and returned to St. Cecilia. There by the saint's side, the young man saw the splendid angel.

Valerian's brother, Tiburtius, learned of the Christian faith from Cecilia. She spoke so beautifully of Jesus that before long, he too was baptized. Together the two brothers performed many works of charity. When they were arrested for being Christians, they went bravely to death rather than give up their new faith in Jesus. St. Cecilia lovingly buried their bodies, before she too was arrested. She converted the very officers who tried to make her sacrifice to false gods. When she was put into a fire, it did not harm her. At last, a man was sent to behead her. He struck her neck three times, but Cecilia did not die right away. She lay on the floor of her own home unable to move. Yet by holding out three fingers of one hand, and one of the other, she still professed her belief in the Blessed Trinity. That is how she is depicted in the sculpture at the top of this post.

St. Cecilia is one of my (many) favourite saints, because she's the patron saint of Church music, and I love to sing. In the bad old days, before my conversion, I used to sneer at the "myths" told about the early saints, convinced that they were inventions of the credulous Middle Ages...

And then I discovered that there were rather a lot of strange "facts" which seemed to back up the more unbelievable "myths"... like the "myth" which said that St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was built over the tomb of St. Peter. Recent excavation under the main altar of St. Peter's resulted in the discovery of first century artifacts... and a tomb containing bones wrapped in gold thread, with the inscription "Here is Peter"...

The Church has kept records for the 2000 years of her existence. We actually know the names of each and every Pope. Records of the martyrs have been lovingly preserved. The stories of the saints may have been embellished a little over the years, but there are writings from many contemporaries which bear testimony to the essential truth of these stories.

The lives of the saints are not myths or fairy tales. They are exemplars for us to follow as we journey towards God. If their lives (and deaths) seem incredible to us, perhaps it is due to our lack of faith. Mustard seeds and moving mountains spring to mind!

2 comments:

gemoftheocean said...

Thank you for all the details about St. Cecelia. One of the best things about Pope JPII was all the attention he paid to canonizing more Saints. The lives of the Saints speak to all ages.

:o) said...

A lovely tribute to St. Cecelia. I have a bas relief picture-thing (?) of her in my sunroom.

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