Celebrating St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia stained glass window in St. Mary the Virgin, Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire, England.

by Dave Brubeck

Bind me–I can still sing–

Banish–my mandolin

Strikes true within–

Slay–and my soul shall rise

Chanting to Paradise–

Still thine.”

These lines by Emily Dickinson seem to be a description of Saint Cecilia. They express an emotion and a faith known to us whose lives are immersed in music.

Music composed for the greater glory of God must come from a very personal religious conviction that motivates the composer to try to express belief in God through music. The text is usually biblical, but it may be a poem or a myth, or it may simply offer praise for all God’s creation. . . .

Music composed for the sake of God’s glory must also draw in the audience. If the conductor can create a unity among the soloists, the chorus, the instrumentalists and the listeners, it is an inspired performance. Then Saint Cecilia is hovering over the entire assemblage.”

excerpted from  “Saint Cecilia: Patron of Musicians,”  in  Patrons and Protectors: OccupationsArt and Commentary by Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS; Liturgy Training Publications 2001.

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4 comments

  1. One thing about St. Cecilia that we often overlook is that she was honored in the early church because she was a martyr, a witness. Though historical/factual details about her life are sketchy, her martyrdom seems to be the one thing that is consistent. In dying for her faith, she truly did conform her life to Christ’s in the greatest way possible. (Her association with music is also somewhat vague, though Thomas Connolly’s “Mourning into Joy” makes a strong theological case for it.)

    It’s easy to get caught up in the beautiful images of St. Cecilia and her celestial orchestra and choir, to revel in the beautiful works of art – visual and sonic – created to honor her. Less easy is to use her feast day to re-consecrate and re-christ-en our lives to be witnesses to Christ in the fullest way we possibly can. Whether or not this involves the particular ministry of music is no matter – Cecilia’s witness is an example for us all.

  2. Thanks so much for your good comment, Alan, drawing attention to her ultimate sacrifice. The patronage of a particular saint in heaven should never swallow up and make invisible their sacrifice and faithful witness while here on earth.

    Therefore, I particularly liked the lines of the poem that allude to her martyrdom: “Slay–and my soul shall rise / Chanting to paradise– / Still thine.” Something about “Still thine” resonates with that purity of heart that begets sacrifice, that gives all without regret, for the sake of the beloved.

    Happy Saint Cecilia’s day!

    1. And we should also never forget, that along with the life and death (martyrdom if applicable) of a saint, that we are in communion with them and aided by their prayers. Sancta Cecilia, ora pro nobis!

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