Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

2023 YEAR A st. cecilia

 While I don't normally post midweek homilies, St. Cecilia is dear to me and to this musical parish.

Cecilia, Martyr, ca. 230

Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians, because at her wedding she heard heavenly music in her heart, and sang songs to God.  While much of what we hear about the earliest saints could charitably be called “legendary,” we do know that Cecilia was in fact a real person, living in Rome in the third century, and that she married a pagan nobleman named Valerius.

However, beyond that, things get a little misty, especially when it comes to her execution and the length of time it took her to die.  And—as with many early Christian female saints—there’s an uncomfortable emphasis on her virginity, and the preservation of it.

So let’s go back to music.  Cecilia, it is said, was forced to marry a pagan man.  At her wedding banquet, as the musicians played, she sang songs in her heart to God.  Marrying into a pagan family implies that the musicians were playing pagan music, whatever that means.  But it makes sense.  Most wedding DJs are more apt to spin songs like YMCA than Gregorian chants at the reception.

So, it is against a backdrop of secular music that Cecilia was singing songs to God in her heart.  Amidst the dancing and drinking and whatever else happened at a pagan wedding around the year 200, Cecilia sat at the high table singing songs to God in her heart.  There’s a lesson for us in that.  No matter what is going on around us, we can still sing songs to God in our hearts.  Songs that God hears; songs that change our hearts.

 Cecilia eventually converted her husband and his brother to the Christian faith, and those men dedicated their lives to burying Christian martyrs, which was illegal, and which got them executed by the Roman authorities.  Cecilia took up this same task of burying the faithful until she was eventually arrested and killed.  It is a gruesome yet invaluable way to spend your days, burying the martyrs of the faith.  But it points to an emphasis on dignity, and caring for those who have gone before.

And one can easily imagine Cecilia singing songs to God in her heart in the midst of all this.  Songs of praise and supplication, songs of lament and thanksgiving, songs that connected her to God in a way that mere words cannot do.

Music plays a central role in our liturgical worship in most churches.  Augustine is usually credited with having said, “He who sings prays twice.”  Whoever said that was on to something.  Because even those who say they can’t sing can still hear music with their ears, and sing songs to God in their hearts.  Music moves us in ways that take us beyond mere thoughts and concepts; music stirs the soul itself. 

In today’s first reading we heard, “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”  (Song of Songs, 2:11)

As we remember Cecilia on this day, we can thank God for the gift of music in our lives.  Because music is often the thing that makes the unbearable bearable, and doubles our joy and our prayer.  May we never stop singing songs to God in our hearts and with our lips.

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