Lord, of mercy,
be close to those who call upon You.
With Saint Cecilia to help us,
hear and answer our prayers.
Grant this through
our Lord Jesus Christ,
Your Son, who lives
and reigns with You
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Cecilia, the Singing Saint
by AJ Cattapan
Illustrated by Candace J Hardy
Do you enjoy singing? If you do, you may want to become familiar with Saint Cecilia. She is an excellent prayer partner for people who wish to make music a part of their lives.
Saint Cecilia grew up in Rome during the third century. A lover of music, she would often sing God’s praises while playing a musical instrument. In addition to her musical talent, she was also wealthy, smart, and beautiful. Many rich Roman noblemen sought her hand in marriage, but Cecilia was not interested. She wanted to dedicate her life to God, so she took a vow of chastity and swore she would only be the bride of Christ.
Unfortunately, her parents had other plans. As often happened in the third century, Cecilia’s parents arranged her marriage when she was a teenager. Her parents planned for her to marry a young man named Valerian who was not a Christian. Cecilia was so unhappy with the idea that she wore rough sackcloth on her body, fasted, and asked the saints and angels to guard her. As she prayed, an angel appeared. He told her not to worry because he would protect her.
On her wedding day, Cecilia was miserable, but she used music to comfort herself. As the organ played, she sang in her heart directly to God. The marriage went through as planned, but on her wedding night, Cecilia told her husband Valerian about the angel that protected her. Valerian asked if he could see this guardian angel. Cecilia told him he could if he went to Pope Urban to be baptized.
Valerian did as his new wife suggested. When he returned, he found Cecilia praying. Behind her was an angel with flaming wings, holding two crowns of roses and lilies. The angel placed one on Cecilia’s head and the other on Valerian’s head. Then the angel disappeared.
When Valerian’s brother Tiberius heard this story and saw the crowns, he was amazed by the flowers’ beauty and fragrance. As a result, he also went to Pope Urban for baptism.
During the third century, being a Christian was very difficult, not to mention dangerous! The pagans who ruled Rome imprisoned and killed those who followed Christ. The bodies of these martyrs were often left unburied. Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiberius decided to take action. The three of them spent their money helping the Christians that the pagans had imprisoned, and then buried the bodies of those who had been killed for their beliefs.
Since burying the martyrs was a public offense, Valerian and Tiberius were soon arrested. When they refused to worship the pagan gods, they were killed.
Cecilia immediately made arrangements for her husband’s home to be preserved as a place of worship. Despite what had happened to her husband and brother-in-law, Cecilia continued to preach, and converted 400 people who were later baptized by Pope Urban.
Illustration © 2011 Candace J. Hardy
Thereon Almachius, the prefect in charge of Rome at the time, decided Cecilia needed to be stopped. He ordered her shut up in a room and suffocated. Some versions of her legend say this room was actually a stove with the fires heaped up. Others say she was shut up in her own bathroom with the steam turned on. Either way, Cecilia did not die that first night.
Frustrated, Thereon ordered Cecilia beheaded, but the executioner failed after three attempts. Some say Cecilia sang to God to comfort herself with music. She asked God to keep her alive for three more days so that she could preach to and comfort the people who had gathered. After the third day, Cecilia died.
Centuries later, Cecilia appeared in a dream to Pope Paschal I, begging him to find her remains and give them a proper resting place. Pope Paschal did so, and moved her body--along with that of Valerian and Tiberius--to the church that was named after her. In 1599, Pope Clement ordered a shrine of silver be made to hold the remains of Saint Cecilia.
Today, you can often find Saint Cecilia depicted in artwork with some kind of musical instrument, often an organ. Music brought strength and comfort to Saint Cecilia. When you are in a difficult situation, ask Saint Cecilia to intercede on your behalf. She may just send some heavenly music to comfort you!