Today is the feast of St. Cecilia, a person remarkable for her holiness, her steadfastness and her love of music. It is always amazing to me that people in the 21st century are inspired by someone who lived in Rome in the second century of the Christian era. The story of Cecilia’s life is sketchy but heroic. She lived in the era of persecution of Christians and she and her husband Valerian spent themselves before their own martyrdom in burying those who had been murdered for their faith. In the 16th century, her body was exhumed and was found to be incorrupt. There’s much more to say but my interest today was in the number of musical compositions that have been named for her – from Handel’s Ode to St. Cecilia to Paul Simon’s popular “Cecilia” in the 1960s!
There isn’t much in life that I consider to be more important than music. We can learn much about culture from the vocal and instrumental works of a country or region and historical events are often remembered by the songs that tell their stories. Liturgical life is enhanced by the music of ritual and folk artists can carry us away on the emotions of life stories recounted in what they have written. Cecilia’s patronage of musicians comes from her wedding, in a rather ironic way. Having previously dedicated her life to God in a pledge of virginity, she was nevertheless forced to marry the pagan Valerian. All reports say that during the wedding ceremony she “heard heavenly music inside her heart” and subsequently was the cause of her husband’s conversion when he saw an angel by her side.
I am grateful today for the gift of music and will sing my way to work and home in homage to Cecilia. And for all of us who celebrate what music does for the urge to dance, don’t forget that tonight is the season finale of Dancing with the Stars!