Today is the Feast of Saint Cecilia, 3rd century virgin and Roman martyr. Saint Cecilia is one of the most famous and most venerated of Roman martyrs. Since the Middle Ages, Cecilia has also been honored as patroness of Church music. So why celebrate Saint Cecilia? And why celebrate sacred music? Michael Garnett, Director of Sacred Music at Saint Mary Cathedral in Lansing, writes this:
“While we sing, remembering to sing is to doubly pray. At once in our hearts and our tongues we offer double prayer send heavenward on winged notes to praise God dwelling there.” (Prayer to St. Cecilia).
Long associated with music, in her martyrdom Saint Cecilia joined herself to that song that her Lord Jesus brought down from heaven, “which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven” (SC 83). In her witness even unto death, Saint Cecilia joined her voice to that great hymn, that “new song” which no one else can learn but those who have given themselves to the Lord (Rev 14:3). It is in this way that Saint Augustine’s words echo in the voice of today’s martyr: “only the lover sings” (Sermo 336, 1); and then the “ancient proverb: ‘Whoever sings well prays twice over’” (GIRM 39).
Saint Cecilia, the patroness of musicians and of Church music, reminds us of the integral role that music plays within the Christian life. The principal work of sacred music in the liturgy, Pope Pius X tells us, “is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful” in order that we “may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed” to receive the fruits of “the most holy mysteries” (TLS 1)
Prayer to St. Cecilia of Rome:
O glorious saint, who chose to die
Instead of denying your King.
We pray you please to help us
As His fair praise we sing!
We lift our hearts in joyous son
To honor Him this way,
And while we sing, remembering,
To sing is to doubly pray.
At once in our hearts and in our tongues
We offer double prayer
Sent heavenward on winged notes
To praise God dwelling there.
While in our hearts and tongues we try
With song to praise God twice,
We ask dear saint, to help us be
United closed to Christ!
Let us never forget the importance of our musical participation in the liturgy, whether vocal or internal. Within that, our love for the Lord compels us to offer the very best we have musically as a token of gratitude for all He has done for us.