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Catholic Heroes… St. Cecilia

November 18, 2014 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The Catholic Church has thousands of saints. For the last two millennia, people of great holiness, exemplifying heroic virtue, have been honored as saints, members of the Church Triumphant in Heaven giving honor and glory to God. Some have been formally declared saints by the Church, while others have been so honored from the beginnings of the Church, such as Cosmas and Damian, Philomena, and Perpetua and Felicity.
Like Saints Cosmas and Damian, and like Perpetua and Felicity, St. Cecilia is remembered in the Roman Canon. In the second half of the First Eucharistic Prayer, she is memorialized along with three other martyred virgins: “Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia.”
There is little written historical evidence of Cecilia, about whom some legends have developed. The exact date of her birth is not known, with estimates ranging from the first century to the fourth century.
St. Cecilia was born into a wealthy and noble Roman family, raised in a Christian home. Traditions handed down assert that she lived a holy and virtuous life from her early years. Although she wore finely woven, beautiful garments according to her social rank, underneath she wore course material as an act of penance. She fasted several days a week and vowed to remain a virgin for love of Jesus.
Not surprisingly, her father had other plans for her and arranged a marriage between Cecilia and another patrician, Valerian. Although Valerian was a good man, he did not profess Christianity. While the guests celebrated the wedding, Cecilia sat lost in thought as she listened to the music and sang in her heart for the glory and praise of God.
Before her wedding, St. Cecilia prayed to her guardian angel and the saints to protect her virginity. On her wedding night, when her husband came to her, she spoke to him of her vow, saying, “I have a secret to tell you. You must know that I have an angel of God watching over me. If you touch me in the way of marriage, he will be angry and you will suffer; but if you respect my maidenhood, he will love you as he loves me.”
Valerian did not react in the way one would expect most pagans to react. Instead, he calmly asked Cecilia to show him this angel, saying, “If he be of God, I will refrain as you wish.”
Cecilia responded that if he believed in the one true God and became a Christian, he would be able to see the angel. She then sent him to Bishop Urban, or some accounts say Pope Urban (reigned 222-230), who received Valerian and joyfully welcomed him into the Church.
Having thus been received into the Church near the Appian Way, Valerian returned to his bride. Just as Cecilia predicted, because he had become a Christian, Valerian saw the angel standing by her side. The angel then placed a wreath of lilies and roses upon the heads of the newlyweds.
Furthermore, some claim that Tiburtius, Valerian’s brother, also saw the angel and witnessed the crowning of Cecilia and Valerian. Then Tiburtius also converted to Christianity. After their conversion, the two brothers spent much of their time performing good works such as the corporal works of mercy.
They spent many hours burying the bodies of the martyrs, earning them the wrath of the prefect, Almachius, who had them arrested. When Tiburtius was brought before the prefect and was cross-examined, he professed his Christianity and explained why he buried the dead. The court set down his answers as those of a crazed maniac.
When Valerius appeared before the same court giving the same testimony, that Christ was the true physician and son of God, they ordered him to sacrifice to the gods. Both Tiburtius and Valerian refused to sacrifice, saying that they would only sacrifice “to the one God to whom we offer sacrifice daily.”
Valerius and Tiburtius were beheaded at Pagus Triopius, four miles outside of Rome. During their brief imprisonment they converted one of the officials by their fortitude and joy for the approaching martyrdom. He also was martyred for declaring his Christianity.
During the time that the brothers were being tried and executed, St. Cecilia had converted 400 more people. When she learned of their deaths, she left her home and retrieved the bodies of Valerian, Tiburtius, and the guard. She gave burial to the three bodies.
Soon Almachius, having learned that she was the wife of Valerian and had converted many, sent for her. However, she turned the tables on Almachius by converting the same people who were to force her to sacrifice to the pagan gods. When Pope Urban came to her home, he celebrated Mass and baptized the converts. Gordian, another wealthy noble, established a church in her house, which was later dedicated in her name.
Almachius persisted in trying to bring her to repudiate her faith. She finally was brought before him, where she proceeded to argue, tripping him up on his own words. He then ordered her to be executed.
The first attempt to kill her failed when the furnace that was made seven times hotter than usual did not even make her perspire. Finally, a soldier was sent to behead St. Cecilia. Three times he struck at her to behead her and failed each time, but he left her so severely wounded that his blows became fatal.
For three days she lingered, singing and praising God, receiving many Christians who came to her side. She left all of her wealth to the Pope, thus donating the church that had been established in her home.
St. Cecilia loved music and singing and thus has become the patron saint of musicians. Though some credit her as the founder of the organ, the instrument can be traced back to Greece in the third century B.C.
Pope St. Paschal I (reigned 817-824) translated the apparent relics of Saints Cecilia, Valerian, Tiburtius, and Maximus to the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere during the early ninth century. In 1599 a sculptor, Stefano Maderno, received permission to look at the body of St. Cecilia in order to make a statue for her tomb. He found the body incorrupt — the first time that the body of a saint was found to be incorrupt.
The Feast of St. Cecilia is celebrated on November 22.
Dear St. Cecilia, music and song brought you so much peace in difficult times. No matter how tragic your circumstances, you remained confident in God’s Providence and mercy. Intercede for us, dear St. Cecilia, that we may also remain confident in times of trial. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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