Saint Cecilia with an Angel, by Orazio Gentileschi (1618-1620). Wikipedia

Speaking Out: St. Cecilia hits all the right notes

By  Sarah Wentzell, Youth Speak News
  • November 27, 2019

Music became a big part of my life at a very young age. When I was only a few years old, I would sit by my father while he played the piano and sing to my heart’s content even if I did not know the words to the song. Then, when I was five, I began the wonderful adventure of playing the violin. With music so deeply ingrained in my heart, St. Cecilia, patroness of music and musicians, became a special figure who continues to inspire me.

St. Cecilia, whose feast day is on Nov. 22, was an early Roman virgin martyr in the Catholic Church. Legend says that, against her wishes, she was given in marriage to a pagan, St. Valerian, whom she later converted. According to The Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies by Blessed Jacobus de Varagine,at St. Cecilia’s wedding she “sang in her heart, only to God.” 

St. Cecilia told St. Valerian that she had an angel by her side and in order to see it he must be converted and baptized. When St. Valerian did so, he saw an angel crowning St. Cecilia with lilies and roses. Because of her faith, St. Cecilia was eventually arrested and sent to be beheaded. The story goes that the executioner failed in three attempts with a sword and ran away. St. Cecilia died days later from the wounds, but asked that her house be made into a church.

Today in Trastevere, Rome, a basilica church stands in honour of St. Cecilia. 

St. Cecilia has been the inspiration for many great composers, including Georg Friedrich Handel and Joseph Haydn. In 1599, her tomb was opened, and it was found that her body was incorrupt, making St. Cecilia the first incorrupt saint. 

One of the ways in which I feel close to St. Cecilia is through singing in the choir at my church. It allows me to feel closer to the angels and saints and to become more actively involved in the Mass. 

It is also a form of prayer for me. The four categories of Catholic prayer — which are adoration, thanksgiving, petition and contrition — can all be expressed through music. One aspect I love is the vast range of emotions and ideas music portrays. Since this beautiful gift comes from God, it seems fitting to use it to honour Him. 

Specifically named in the Canon of the Mass, St. Cecilia highlights the important role music plays in the liturgy of the Church. Throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis, music is mentioned countless times, often to glorify God. It is incredible to sing psalms in the liturgy that have roots from thousands of years ago. 

Music, to me, is one of those joys that gives a faint echo of Heaven’s rapture. Ideally, when a musician performs music, they pour their heart and soul into it. It is so unique and personal that listeners are given a glance inside the performer. Sacred music is a way for musicians to take their own true love and adoration for God and express it in one of the most potent ways possible. 

I have played violin in music festivals many times and have, in the process, repeatedly experienced performance anxiety. The festivals are almost always held in a church, and as I wait for my turn to play, staring at the large pipe organ looming above, I become so anxious that my hands begin to sweat.

It is at times like these that it is comforting to have the help and intercession of the saints, including St. Cecilia. Although I am still nervous to perform, it is a consolation to know that I am not alone as I take my place on the stage and begin my performance. 

(Wentzell, 16, is a Grade 11 student in Seton Home Study School in Thunder Bay, Ont.)

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