St Cecilia’s Day 2013

St Cecilia’s Day usually leads to reflections on music and musicians. Indeed, on a former occasion, I tagged onto the feast a few thoughts about music and community life:

I think it’s no accident that the concept of ‘heavenly harmony’ and the ‘music of the spheres’ runs so deeply through Western culture and civilization. For instance, I often use the image of playing a string quartet to describe the dynamic of community living. Each brings to the whole an individual talent, but through intense listening to each other, periods of silence as well as playing, something greater and more beautiful is produced than one alone could achieve.

So today, when we thank God for the joy and beauty that music and musicians bring to our lives and to the liturgy of the Church, we might also spend a few moments thinking about something less abstract: the way in which we ourselves contribute to the music of the universe. We may be only ‘average choir fodder’ but we each have something worth giving. (See post for this day 2011).

I stand by every word, but from a liturgical point of view, St Cecilia is celebrated chiefly for her virginity and her martyrdom. Neither is a particularly popular concept, but Christianity has never been about popularity, so perhaps we should spend a moment or two thinking about them and try to ignore the cheapening of words and ideas that marks Western culture today.

For a Christian, martyrdom is bearing the ultimate witness to Christ, giving one’s life-blood. To be a martyr, one mustn’t court death but must accept it as the price of fidelity. The grace of martyrdom isn’t one we can presume upon. It is a harsh grace, unpalatable, contradictory, and none of us knows whether we would have the courage to accept it, should the moment ever come. Cecilia was young in years but old in virtue when she died. We, by contrast, may be old in years and still infants in virtue, but it is never too late to try to cultivate a habit of fidelity, of readiness. That is to accept the seriousness of our faith and its implications for both life and death.

Virginity is another of those things many Christians are uncomfortable with. We are much readier to talk about marriage and family, yet the Church has always honoured virginity freely chosen out of love for God. St Augustine wisely remarks that ‘the whole Church is virginal by virtue of the integrity of her faith, hope and love’ while the beautiful Prayer of Consecration attributed to St Leo carefully insists that ‘the dignity of marriage is not lessened’ even as it becomes lyrical in its enunciation of the theology of virginity. One of the impoverishments of the Church today — and perhaps of society, too — is that the theology of virginity, so clearly linked to our understanding of the nature of the Church, has been almost totally eclipsed by our contemporary obsession with sex.

On St Cecilia’s Day, let’s listen to some good music; give thanks for the beauty of sound and silence; pray for the deaf, for whom music is an abstract concept, never to be enjoyed as we who have hearing can enjoy it; and spend a few moments thinking about the paradox that death is a gateway into life, and virginity fruitful in ways most never dream.

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3 thoughts on “St Cecilia’s Day 2013”

  1. Thank you, as always, for your profound words – your string quartet analogy, the paradox challenge and reminder to pray for the deaf whilst acknowledging the beauty of music and silence.
    Many thoughts to ponder with for the day and to grapple with for the rest of one’s life.

  2. Since the 1960s a sexual revolution has been sweeping through the world like a Tsunami. The recent debate about Internet porn is merely one aspect of this revolution. It is a huge moral onslaught and we have to hold fast our faith without wavering or doubting the truth of the gospel.
    The bible teaches that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, that applies to heterosexuals as much as homosexuals.The bible also teaches that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit and that we should conduct ourselves accordingly.
    In an an age like ours virginity is a vital sign of holiness and a mark of separation. I hold that Jesus was a virgin and his chaste behaviour is a remarkable aspect of his character and is an example of fidelity that speaks down through the generations. There is no shame in being a virgin , it is a very Godly virtue.
    Let’s celebrate the feast of St Cecilia together in love and godly humility.

  3. I remember well learning Song for St. Cecilia’s Day at school, lines from which still resonate with me fifty years later. Thank you Sr. Catherine.

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