Saints of the Canon – Saint Cecilia

[Saint Cecilia]Cecilia was born at Rome of the illustrious family of the Coecilii. As a child she consecrated her virginity to God. Forced by her parents to marry Valerian, a pagan youth, she said to him on their wedding day: “Valerian, I am placed under the guardianship of an angel who protects my virginity.” She pleaded with him so successfully that Valerian promised to become a Christian, were he allowed to see this angel. Cecilia assured him that this was impossible unless he was first baptized, and sent him to a holy confessor, Saint Urban, ( not to be confused with the holy Pope Saint Urban I, who ruled the church from 222 to 230), who lived hidden in the Catacombs on account of the persecutions. Urban baptized him. On his return he saw an angel brilliant with a bright light standing beside Cecilia. Doubtful whether he saw aright, he sent for his brother, Tiburtius, who also saw the heavenly visitor. He also was baptized. Shortly after this Valerian and Tiburtius were denounced as Christians and put to death.

Almachius, the prefect of Rome, arrested Cecilia, and hoping to make an example of this daughter of a senatorial family, ordered her to be suffocated in the Roman bath in her own home. Although the baths were specially heated she came through the terrible ordeal unharmed, singing right, through the night and day, the praises of the Lord. The prefect sent for the executioner who struck her three times and failed to sever the head from her body. Cecilia lived three days, during which the Christians came out of their hiding-holes to visit her, while she sang and prayed with them in sheer delight, giving them great consolation and new courage. She ordered that her magnificent mansion should serve as a Church. On the third day she died in her own home. The probable date of her death was about the year 171. during the persecution under Marcus Aurelius. She died in a reclining posture, and thus was laid in a cypress coffin which the faithful buried in the catacombs of Saint Callistus.

In 1599 her body was discovered just as it was at her death, in a state of perfect preservation. The people of Rome were permitted to come in crowds to venerate the body. Stefano Maderno sculptured a reproduction of the reclining body, which is one of the glories of Rome, and may be seen under the High Altar of her Church.

The inscription of the artist reads:

“Behold the body of the most holy virgin Cecilia, which I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for you the very same saint in the very same posture of body.”

Saint Cecilia is the patroness of Church music. In her office the Church says:

“To the sound of musical instruments the virgin Cecilia sang to God in her heart.” In her “Acts” we read that she sang continuously the praises of God.

What a song of joy the three must have sung as Valerian and Tiburtius, the fruits of her pledging, greeted her soul in Heaven. When we sing during Mass let us remember that Saint Cecilia and her companions are singing with us.

– from The Saints of the Canon, by Monsignor John T. McMahon, M.A., Ph.D; Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1958