Cecilia occupies a distringuished place amongst the Virgin-Martyrs crowned by the Church, and now following the Lamb in heaven.
Her name was inserted in the Canon of the Mass in the earliest times of Christianity, and it is also found in the most ancient calendars and martyrologies. In the fourth century a church was built in Rome, under the invocation of this Saint. This church was rebuilt by Pope Paschal the First, in the eighth century. At that time search was made in vain for the relics of the Saint, and it was generally believed that Astulphus, king of the Lombards, had carried them away when he pillaged Rome in 735. The Saint herself appeared in a dream to Pope Paschal the First, and commanded him to persevere in the search for her precious remains, and he at length found them in the cemetery, called after Saint Cecilia herself. The body was found enveloped in cloth of gold tissue, and at her feet were pieces of linen saturated with blood. The Pope translated her body along with those of Saints Valerian, Tiburcius, Maximus, and the holy Popes, Saint Urban and Saint Lucius, to the church sacred to the name of our Saint.
In 1599, eight centuries after this inhumation, the body of Saint Cecilia was discovered in a case of cypress wood, laid in a marble tomb. Pope Clement then caused a magnificent shrine of silver to be made for the holy relics, which still exists.
Let us now briefly relate the history of this Saint, which throws great light on the lives and martyrdom of Saint Valerian and Saint Tiburcius, who suffered along with her. Saint Cecilia was born at Rome, in the beginning of the third century. She was of a patrician family. It is not ascertained that her parents were Christians, but she indubitably was brought up in the faith. Gifted with wealth, genius, and beauty, the richest and noblest of the Roman youth sought her hand in marriage, but as Cecilia had made a vow of perpetual virginity, she stood aloof from all suitors. God was the only spouse who could satisfy her heart.
Cecilia loved music, and her history informs us that in her retirement from the pomps and transitory amusements of the world, she was wont to sing the praises of God, accompanying herself on various instruments. It was thus she poured forth her soul to God in strains of sweetest. melody. She would fain emlploy herself on earth as the Saints are employed in heaven; but all this felicity was fast approaching its term. Her parents disregarding the vow she had made, caused her to marry a young man of noble lineage, named Valerian. Cecilia obeyed her parents, but she was not the less faithful to her vow. God himself inspired her spouse to receive baptism; the sacrament was conferred on him by Pope Urban, whom the persecutors had driven to take shelter in the tombs of the martyrs. For this new Christian, God had already prepared a martyr’s crown. Valerian’s first act was to labor for the conversion of his brother Tiburtius, and in his holy work he was zealously assisted by Cecilia, who convinced him that the teachings of the pagans were merely chimerical fables. Soon afterwards Tiburtius received the sacrament of baptism at the hands of Pope Saint Urban. Thus did Christianity gain another champion who was soon to descend into the arena, and there win a martyr’s palm.
Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius spent their wealth in succoring the Christians whom the pagans had cast into prison: and they devoted much of their time to burying the bodies of the martyrs. Intelligence of these facts soon reached Almachius, prefect of Rome, who vainly sought to pervert Valerian and Tiburtius. To all his instances they replied thus:
“Hitherto, Almachius, we have been in deplorable error, adoring gods of wood and stone; but the true God has deigned to enlighten us and bring us to the Christian faith. Sooner or later, oh Almachius, you shall discover the folly of giving adoration to such insensate things.”
On hearing this, Almachius ordered them to be scourged, and then to be handed over to a priest of Jupiter, who had orders to compel them to offer sacrifice to the statue of this fabulous god. The officer who led them to Jupiter’s priest was named Maximus, and God had already begun to touch the heart of this man. Seeing a ray of joy beaming in the faces of the brothers, Maximus inquired how they could be cheerful at such a dreadful moment?
“Hear me, Maximus,” replied Tiburtius, “we are going to enter into life eternal. This temporal state is replete with misery, but it has its term, sooner or later, for all of us. For the faithful, God has prepared a realm of never-ending happiness. The wicked must perish eternally; but Christ has promised to bestow the choicest blessings on those who lay down their lives for him.”
On the instant Maximus declared his intention of becoming a Christian. That very night he received instructions from Cecilia, and prepared himself for baptism. Next day Tiburtius and Valerian were beheaded, and Maximus witnessing their execution, exclaimed – “Oh, what would I not give to share your triumph, ye blessed martyrs of Jesus Christ.”
Almachius ordered him to be tortured, and he expired with eyes fixed on heaven, even while the executioner was causing him the intensest agonies.
Cecilia having now become sole mistress of her husband’s property, sold it, and gave the money to the poor, for she knew that the day of her martyrdom was approaching. Dragged before Almachius, she scorned every proposal made to her. “What,” said she, “are not your idols stone and marble? Has not Jesus, the Redeemer, promised eternal life to his faithful followers, and do you think me so stolid as to forfeit that eternal life for a few years of hollow remorseful pleasures?” Upwards of 400 persons who heard these words embraced the Christian faith, and were baptized by Pope Saint Urban.
Cited once more to the tribunal of AImachius, and being told that it was her duty to obey the emperor, she replied: “God and His holy laws have the first and the most imperative claims to my obedience.”
Thereon Almachius ordered her to be shut up in a stove, and when he learned that she was not dead, he sentenced her to be decapitated. Whether it was that the hand of the executioner trembled, or that God meant to glorify the courage of his servant, after receiving two sword-strokes, the head was but half severed. In this state the Saint lay weltering in her blood for three days, and, in fact, she implored God to grant her three days of life to console and animate the converts who swarmed round her. At length, on the third day (November 22nd, 232), her soul went to receive its glorious reward. Pope Urban assisted her in her last moments.