On the 22nd of November we find the Feast of one of the most famous and popular Saints in the history of the Church the glorious virgin and martyr of Rome: Saint Cecilia. She is the favorite saint of many great saints and is one of those special saints honored in the Canon of Holy Mass.
Hymn for Lauds of Saint Cecilia (Common of Virgin Martyrs):
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr
Cecilia united in her veins the blood of kings with that of Rome’s greatest heroes. At the time of the first preaching of the Gospel, more than one ancient patrician family had seen its direct line become extinct. But the adoptions and alliances, which under the Republic had knit more closely the great families by linking them all to the most illustrious among them, formed as it were a common fund of glory, which, even in the days of decline, was passed on intact to the survivors of the aristocracy.
It has now been demonstrated by the undeniable witness of monuments, that Christianity from the very beginning took possession of that glory, by adopting its heirs; and that by a wonderful disposition of divine Providence, the founders of the Rome of the Pontiffs were these last representatives of the Republic, thus preserved in order to give to the two phases of Roman history that powerful unity which is the distinguishing note of divine works. Heretofore bound together by the same patriotism, the Cornelii and the Œmilii, alike heirs of the Fabii, the Caecilii, Valerii, Sergii, Furii, Claudii, Pomponii, Plautii, and Acilii, eldest sons of the Gentile Church, strengthened the connections formed during the Republic, and firmly established, even in the first and second centuries of Christianity, the new Roman society. In the same centuries, and under the influence of the religion preached by Saints Peter and Paul, there came to be grafted on the ever vigorous trunk of the old aristocracy the best members of the new imperial and consular families, worthy by their truly Roman virtues, practiced amid the general depravity, to re-inforce the thinned ranks of Rome’s founders, and to fill up, without too sudden a transition, the voids made by time in the true patrician houses. Thus was Rome working out her destiny; thus was the building up of the eternal City being accomplished by the very men, who had formerly, by their blood or by their genius, established her strong and mighty on the seven hills.
Caecilia, the lawful representative of this unparalleled aristocracy, the fairest flower of the old stem, was also the last. The second century was passing away; the third, which was to see the empire fall from the hands of Septimus Severus first to the Orientals and then to the barbarians from the banks of the Danube, offered small chance of preservation for the remnants of the ancient nobility. The true Roman society was henceforth at an end; for, save a few individual exceptions, there remained nothing more of Roman but the name: the vain adornment of freedmen and upstarts, who, under princes worthy of them, indulged their passions at the expense of those around them.
Caecilia therefore appeared at the right moment, personifying with the utmost dignity the society that was about to disappear because its work was accomplished. In her strength and her beauty, adorned with the royal purple of martyrdom, she represents ancient Rome rising proud and glorious to the skies, before the upstart Caesars who, by immolating her in their jealousy, unconsciously executed the divine plan. The blood of kings and heroes flowing from her triple wound, is the liberation of the old nobility to Christ the conqueror, to the Blessed Trinity the Ruler of nations; it is the final consecration, which reveals in its full extent the sublime vocation of the valiant races called to found the eternal Rome.
But we must not think that to-day’s feast is meant to excite in us a mere theoretical and fruitless admiration. The Church recognizes and honours in Saint Cecilia three characteristics, which, united together, distinguish her among all the Blessed in heaven, and are a source of grace and an example to men. These three characteristics are, virginity, apostolic zeal, and the superhuman courage which enabled her to bear torture and death. Such is the threefold teaching conveyed by this one Christian life.
In an age so blindly abandoned as ours to the worship of the senses, is it not time to protest, by the strong lessons of our faith, against a fascination which even the children of the promise can hardly resist? Never, since the fall of the Roman empire, have morals, and with them the family and society, been so seriously threatened. For long years, literature, the arts, the comforts of life, have had but one aim: to propose physical enjoyment as the only end of man’s destiny. Society already counts an immense number of members who live entirely a life of the senses. Alas for the day when it will expect to save itself by relying on their energy! The Roman empire thus attempted several times to shake off the yoke of invasion: it fell never to rise again.
Yes, the family itself, the family especially, is menaced. It is time to think of defending itself against the legal recognition, or rather encouragement, of divorce. It can do so by one means alone: by reforming and regenerating itself according to the law of God, and becoming once more serious and Christian. Let marriage, with its chaste consequences, be held in honour; let it cease to be an amusement or a speculation; let fatherhood and motherhood be no longer a calculation, but an austere duty: and soon, through the family, the city and the nation will resume their dignity and their vigour.
But marriage cannot be restored to this high level, unless men appreciate the superior element, without which human nature is an ignoble rain : this heavenly element is continence. True, all are not called to embrace it in the absolute sense; but all must do honour to it, under pain of being delivered up, as the Apostle expresses it, to a reprobate sense. (Rom. 1:28) It is continence that reveals to man the secret of his dignity, that braces his soul to every kind of devotedness, that purifies his heart and elevates his whole being. It is the culminating point of moral beauty in the individual, and at the same time the great lever of human society. It is because the love of it became extinct, that the ancient world fell to decay; but when the Son of the Virgin came on earth, he renewed and sanctioned this saving principle, and a new phase began in the destinies of the human race.
The children of the Church, if they deserve the name, relish this doctrine, and are not astonished at it. The words of our Saviour and of his Apostles have revealed all to them; and at every page, the annals of the faith they profess set forth in action this fruitful virtue, of which all degrees of the Christian life, each in its measure, must partake. St. Cecilia is one example among others offered to their admiration. But the lesson she gives is a remarkable one, and has been celebrated in every age of Christianity. On how many occasions has Caecilia inspired virtue or sustained courage; how many weaknesses has the thought of her prevented or repaired! Such power for good has God placed in his Saints, that they influence not only by the direct imitation of their heroic virtues, but also by the inductions which each of the faithful is able to draw from them for his own particular situation.
The second characteristic offered for our consideration in the life of St. Cecilia, is that ardent zeal, of which she is one of the most admirable models; and we doubt not that here too is a lesson calculated to produce useful impressions. Insensibility to evil for which we are not personally responsible, or from which we are not likely to suffer, is one of the features of the period. We acknowledge that all is going to ruin, and we look on at the universal destruction without ever thinking of holding out a helping hand to save a brother from the wreck. Where should we now be, if the first Christians had had hearts as cold as ours? If they had not been filled with that immense pity, that inexhaustible love, which forbade them to despair of a world, in the midst of which God had placed them to be the salt of the earth? Each one felt himself accountable beyond measure for the gift he had received. Freeman or slave, known or unknown, every man was the object of a boundless devotedness for these hearts filled with the charity of Christ. One has but to read the Acts of the Apostles, and their Epistles, to learn on what an immense scale the apostolate was carried on in those early days; and the ardour of that zeal remained long uncooled. Hence the pagans used to say: “See how they love one another!” And how could they help loving one another? For in the order of faith they were fathers and children.
What maternal tenderness Caecilia felt for the souls of her brethren, from the mere fact that she was a Christian! After her we might name a thousand others, in proof of the fact that the conquest of the world by Christianity and its deliverance from the yoke of pagan depravity, are due to such acts of devotedness performed in a thousand places at once, and at length producing universal renovation. Let us imitate in something at least, these examples to which we owe so much. Let us waste less of our time and eloquence in bewailing evils which are only too real. Let each one of us set to work, and gain one of his brethren: and soon the number of the faithful will surpass that of unbelievers. Without doubt, this zeal is not extinct; it still works in some, and its fruits rejoice and console the Church; but why does it slumber so profoundly in so many hearts which God had prepared to be its active centres?
The cause is unhappily to be traced to that general coldness, produced by effeminacy, which might be taken by itself alone as the type of the age; but we must add thereto another sentiment, proceeding from the same source, which would suffice, if of long duration, to render the debasement of a nation incurable. This sentiment is fear; and it may be said to extend at present to its utmost limit. Men fear the loss of goods or position, fear the loss of comforts and ease, fear the loss of life. Needless to say, nothing can be more enervating, and consequently more dangerous to the world, than this humiliating pre-occupation; but above all, we must confess that it is anything but Christian. Have we forgotten that we are merely pilgrims on this earth? And has the hope of future good died out of our hearts? Caecilia will teach us how to rid ourselves of this sentiment of fear. In her days, life was less secure than now. There certainly was then some reason to fear; and yet Christians were so courageous, that the powerful pagans often trembled at the words of their victims.
God knows what he has in store for us; but if fear does not soon make way for a sentiment more worthy of men and of Christians, all particular existences will be swallowed up in the political crisis. Come what may, it is time to learn our history over again. The lesson will not be lost, if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, for the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers.
The Passio Sanctae Caeciliae is marked in the most ancient Calendars on the 16th September, (Martyrology of St. Jerome) and took place, according to the primitive Acts, under the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The great feast of November 22nd, preceded by a Vigil, was one of the most solemn on the Roman Cycle; it recalled the dedication of the church raised on the site of that palace which had been sanctified by the blood of the descendant of the Metelli, and had been bequeathed by her when dying to Bishop Urban, representative of Pope Eleutherius. This Urban having been later on confounded with the Pope of the same name, who governed the Church in the time of Alexander Severus, the martyrdom of our Saint was thought to have occurred half a century later, as we still read in the Legend of the Office.
It was most probably in the year 178 that Caecilia joined Valerian in heaven, whence, a few months before, the Angel of the Lord had descended, bringing wreaths of lilies and roses to the two spouses.
She was buried by Urban, just as she lay at the moment of death. In the beginning of the following century, the family crypt was given by her relatives to the Roman church, and was set apart for the burial of the Popes. In the ninth century, Paschal I. found her surrounded by these venerable tombs, and brought her back in triumph on May 8th, 822, to her house in the Trastevere, where she remains to this day.
On the 20th October, 1599, in the course of the excavations required for the restoration of the basilica, Caecilia was once more brought forth to the admiring gaze of the city and of the world. She was clad in her robe of cloth of gold, on which traces of her virginal blood were still discernible; at her feet were some pieces of linen steeped in the purple of her martyrdom. Lying on her right side with her arms stretched before her, she seemed in a deep sleep. Her neck still bore the marks of the wounds inflicted by the executioner’s sword; her head, in a mysterious and touching position, was turned towards the bottom of the coffin. The body was in a state of perfect preservation; and the whole attitude, retained by an unique prodigy during so many centuries in all its grace and modesty, brought before the eyes with a striking truthfulness Caecilia breathing her last sigh stretched on the floor of the bath chamber.
The spectators were carried back in thought to the day when the holy bishop Urban had enclosed the sacred body in the cypress chest, without altering the position chosen by the bride of Christ to breathe forth her soul into the arms of her divine Spouse. They admired also the discretion of Pope Paschal, who had not disturbed the virgin’s repose, but had preserved for posterity so magnificent a spectacle.
Cardinal Sfondrate, titular of St. Cecilia, who directed the works, found also in the chapel called of the Bath the heating-stove and vents of the sudatorium, where the Saint passed a day and a night in the midst of scalding vapours. Recent excavations have brought to light other objects belonging to the patrician home, which by their style, belong to the early days of the Republic.
Let us now read the liturgical history of the illustrious Virgin and Martyr.
Cecilia, a Roman virgin of noble origin, was brought up from her infancy in the Christian faith, and vowed her virginity to God. Against her will, she was given in marriage to Valerian; but on the first night of the nuptials she thus addressed him: Valerian, I am under the care of an Angel, who is the guardian of my virginity; wherefore beware of doing what might kindle God’s wrath against thee. Valerian moved by these words respected her wishes, and even said that he would believe in Christ if he could see the Angel. On Caecilia telling him that this could not be unless he received Baptism, he, being very desirous of seeing the Angel, replied that he was willing to be baptized. Taking the virgin’s advice, he went to Pope Urban, who on account of the persecution was hiding among the tombs of the Martyrs on the Appian Way, and by him he was baptized.
Then returning to Caecilia, he found her at prayer, and beside her an Angel shining with divine brightness. He was amazed at the sight; but as soon as he had recovered from his fear, he sought out his brother Tiburtius; who also was instructed by Caecilia in the faith of Christ, and after being baptized by Pope Urban, was favoured like his brother with the sight of the Angel. Both of them shortly afterwards courageously suffered martyrdom under the prefect Almachius. This latter next commanded Caecilia to be apprehended, and commenced by asking her what had become of the property of Tiburtius and Valerian.
The virgin answered that it had all been distributed among the poor; at which the prefect was so enraged, that he commanded her to be led back to her own house, and put to death by the heat of the bath. When, after spending a day and a night there, she remainunhurt by the fire, an executioner was sent to dispatch her; who, not being able with three strokes of the axe to cut off her head, left her half dead. Three days later, on the tenth of the Kalends of December, she took her flight to heaven, adorned with the double glory of virginity and martyrdom. It was In the reign of the emperor Alexander. Pope Urban buried her body in the cemetery of Callixtus; and her house was converted into a church and dedicated in her name. Pope Paschal I. translated her body into the city, together with those of Popes Urban and Lucius, and of Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus, and placed them all in this church of St. Cecilia.
The Antiphons and Responsories for the 22nd November are all taken from the Acts of the Saint, and are the same as were used in the time of St. Gregory. We choose such of them as will complete the foregoing history. The first Responsory represents the virgin as singing in her heart to God amid the profane music of the nuptial feast. It was this silent melody, superior to all earthly concerts, that inspired the happy idea of picturing St. Cecilia as the queen of harmony, and proclaiming her patroness of the most attractive of arts.
ANTIPHONS AND RESPONSORIES.
R. Cantantibus organis Caecilia virgo in corde suo soli Domino decantabat, dicens: * Fiat Domine cor meum et corpus meum immaculatum, at non confundar.
V. Biduanis et triduanis jejuniis orans, commendabat Domino quod timebat. * Fiat.
R. O beata Caecilia, quae duos fratres convertisti, Almachium judicem superasti, * Urbanum episcopum in vultu angelico demonstrasti.
V. Quasi apis argumentosa Domino deservisti. * Urbanum.
R. Virgo gloriosa semper Evangelium Christi gerebat in pectore, et non diebus neque noctibus vacabat. * A colloquiis divinis et oratione.
V. Expansis manibus orabat ad Dominum, et cor ejus igne coelesti ardebat. * A colloquiis.
R. Cilicio Caecilia membra domabat, Deum gemitibus exorabat: * Tiburtium et Valerianum ad coronas vocabat.
V. Haec est virgo sapiens, et una de numero prudentum. * Tiburtium.
R. Domine Jesu Christe, pastor bone, seminator casti consilii, suscipe seminum fructus quos in Caecilia seminasti: * Caecilia famula tua quasi apis tibi argumentosa deservit.
V. Nam sponsum, quem quasi leonem ferocem accepit, ad te quasi agnum mansuetissimum destinavit. * Caecilia. Gloria Patri. * Caecilia.
Ant. Est secretum Valeriane, quod tibi volo dicere: Angelum Dei habeo amatorem, qui nimio zelo custodit corpus meum.
Ant. Beata Caecilia dixit ad Tiburtium: Hodie te fateor meum cognatum, quia amor Dei te fecit esse contemptorem idolorum.
Ant. Credimus Christum Pilium Dei verum Deum esse, qui sibi talem elegit famulam.
Ant. Dum aurora finem daret, Caecilia exclamavit, dicens: Eia milites Christi, abjicite opera tenebrarum, et induimini arma lucis.
Ant. Triduanas a Domino poposci inducias, ut domum meam ecclesiam consecrarem.
R. Amid the harmony of musical instruments, the virgin Caecilia sang in her heart to the Lord alone, saying: * Let my heart, O Lord, and my body be spotless, that I may not be confounded.
V. During two days and three days of fasting and prayer, she commended to the Lord what she feared. * Let my heart.
R. O blessed Caecilia, who didst convert the two brothers, and overcome the judge Almachius. * Urban the bishop of angelic countenance thou didst show to them.
V. As a busy bee thou didst serve the Lord. * Urban.
R. The glorious virgin carried always the Gospel of Christ on her heart; and by day and by night she ceased not * From divine colloquies and prayer.
V. With outstretched hands she prayed to the Lord, and her heart burned with a heavenly fire. * From divine.
R. Caecilia subdued her flesh with hair-cloth, and besought God with groanings. * Tiburtius and Valerian she called to their crowns.
V. This is a wise virgin, one of those who are prudent. * Tiburtius.
R. O Lord Jesus Christ, good Shepherd, Author of chaste resolutions, receive the fruits of the seed thou didst sow in Caecilia: * Caecilia thy handmaid serves thee like a busy bee.
V. For the spouse whom she had received like a fierce lion, she led to thee as a gentle lamb. * Caecilia. Glory be to the Father. * Caecilia.
Ant. I have a secret, Valerian, which I wish to tell thee: I have an Angel of God, who loves me, and with diligent zeal watches over my body.
Ant. Blessed Cecilia said to Tiburtius: Today I acknowledge thee for my brother, because the love of God has made thee become a contemner of idols.
Ant. We believe that Christ the Son of God, who chose for himself such a handmaid, is true God.
Ant. As dawn was breaking into day, Cecilia cried out saying: Courage, soldiers of Christ, cast away the deeds of darkness, and put on the armour of light.
Ant. Caecilia dying said: I have asked of the Lord three days’ delay, that I may consecrate my house into a church.
The two following hymns were approved by the Apostolic See in 1852.
Terrena cessent organa,
Cor aestuans Caeciliae
Coeleste fundit canticum,
Deoque totum jubilat.
Dum nuptiali nobilis
Domus resultat gaudio,
Haec sola tristis candido
Gemit Columba pectore.
O Christe mi dulcissime,
Cui me sacravit charitas,
Serva pudoris integram,
Averte labem corpore.
Ovis leonem sedula
Agnum facit mitissimum:
Hic fonte lotus mystico,
Caelo repente militat.
Solvit Tiburtium soror
Erroris a caligine;
Factoque fratris asseclae
Ad astra pandit semitam.
Seges per illam plurima
Superna replet horrea:
Verbo potens, fit particeps
Delapsus arce siderum
Illam tuetur Angelus;
Rosaeque mixtae liliis
Ambire crines gestiunt.
Sertum rubens et candidum
Affertur una conjugi,
Quem castitatis aemulum
Caelestis ardor efficit.
Te, sponse, Jesu, virginum
Beata laudent agmina;
Patrique cum Paraclito
Par sit per aevum gloria. Amen.
O Christ, most sweet, to whom I am bound by love, preserve my purity of soul and body.
The diligent sheep converts the lion into a meek lamb; and he, washed in the mystic font, begins at once to fight for the King of heaven.
Sister now of Tiburtius, she frees him from darksome error, and bidding him follow his brother, points out the path to heaven.
Through her efforts an abundant harvest fills the heavenly granaries; powerful in word, she shares the glory of the Apostles.
An Angel comes down from the highest heavens to protect her; a rose and lily wreath entwines her flowing locks.
White and ruddy also is the crown brought to her spouse, whom heavenly love has led to emulate her purity.
May the happy choirs of virgins praise thee, O Jesus, their Spouse; to the Father and the Paraclete be equal and eternal glory. Amen.
Nunc ad coronas pergite,
Clamat suis Caecilia:
Mox ipsa virgo sistitur
Ad judicis praetorium.
Minantis iram despicit,
Et falsa ridet numina:
Jam morte digna ducitur
Puella culpae nescia.
Inclusa perstat balneo:
Ardent calore fornices
Ast urit intus virginem
Divinus ignis fortior.
Ter ense lictor parcutit:
Scelus tamen non perficit;
Christus moras dat martyri.
Horae supremae proxima,
Deo sacrandas devovet
Aedes avitas, libera
Volatque ad Agui nuptias.
Salveto, corpus martyris,
Diu sub antris abditum:
Nova refulgens gloria
Romae, parenti redderis.
Ne flos tenebris areat,
Te Virgo servat virginum;
Rubens cruoris purpura
Stola micante cingeris.
Dormi silenti marmore,
Dum sede laetus coelica
Indulget hymnis spiritus,
Votisque dexter aunuit.
Te, sponse, Jesu, virginum
Beata laudent agmina;
Patrique cum Paraclito
Par sit per aevum gloria. Amen.
Now haste ye to your crowns, cries Caecilia to her brethren; and soon the virgin herself is led before the judge.
She despises his angry threats and laughs at his false gods; wherefore the innocent maiden is declared deserving of death.
She remains long inclosed in the bath, while the furnace rages beneath; but stronger is the divine fire that burns in the virgin’s heart.
Thrice does the barbarous lictor strike the innocent victim: he cannot accomplish his crime, for Christ has granted a delay to the martyr.
As her last hour draws nigh, she devotes her ancestral mansion to God, then free she wings her flight to the nuptials of the Lamb.
Hail! body of the martyr, long hidden in the sombre crypt; shining with a new glory, thou art restored to thy mother Rome.
The Virgin of virgins watches over thee, lest thou fade as a flower in the darkness, while thou liest empurpled with the blood of thy martyrdom, and clad in thy golden robe.
Sleep in thy silent marble tomb, while thy spirit enthroned in heaven hymns its glad joy, and graciously receives our prayers.
May the happy choirs of virgins praise thee, O Jesus, their Spouse; to the Father and the Paraclete be equal and eternal glory. Amen.
It would need the language of Angels worthily to celebrate thy greatness, O bride of Christ! and we have but the faltering, timid accents of mortals and sinners, O queen, who standest at the King’s right hand, clad in the vesture of gold of which the Psalmist sings, look down upon us with a favourable eye, and deign to accept this offering of our praise, which we lay on the lowest step of thy lofty throne. We make bold to join thereto a prayer for the holy Church, whose humble daughter thou wast heretofore, as now thou art her hope and her support. In the dark night of this present life the Bridegroom is long a-coming. In the midst of this solemn and mysterious silence he suffers the virgin to slumber till the cry shall announce his arrival. We honour the repose earned by thy victories, O Caecilia, but we know that thou dost not forget us, for the Bride says in the Canticle: I sleep, and my heart watcheth.
The hour draws nigh when the Spouse is to appear, calling all who are his to gather under the standard of his Cross. Soon will the cry be heard: Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then, O Caecilia, thou wilt say to all Christians what thou saidst to the faithful band grouped around thee at the hour of thy combat: “Soldiers of Christ! Cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” (Acta S. Caeciliae)
The Church daily pronounces thy name with love and confidence, in the Canon of the Mass; and she looks for thy assistance, O Caecilia, knowing it will not fail her. Prepare a victory for her, by raising up the hearts of Christians to the realities, which they too often forget while they run after the vain shadows from which thou didst win Tiburtius. When the minds of men become once more fixed up on the thought of their eternal destiny, the salvation and peace of nations will be secured.
Be thou forever, O Caecilia, the delight of thy divine Spouse. Breathe eternally the heavenly fragrance of his roses and lilies; and be unceasingly enraptured with the ineffable harmony of which he is the source. From the midst of thy glory thou wilt watch over us; and when our last hour draws nigh, we beseech thee by the merits of thy heroic martyrdom, assist us on our death-bed. Receive our soul into thy arms, and bear it up to the everlasting abode, where the sight of the bliss thou enjoyest will give us to understand the value of virginity, of the Apostolate, and of Martyrdom.
The Victories of the Martyrs
by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Ss. Cecilia, Virgin; Valerian, her husband; Tiburtius her brother-in-law; and Maximus, officer
November 22 and April 14
Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr, has always been most celebrated in the Church of God; even from the fourth century a church has been dedicated to her honor in Rome; and honorable mention is made of her, not only in all the martyrologies, but even in the Canon of the Mass. In the eighth century there was a report that Astulphus, King of the Longobards, had carried off the body of our saint from Rome; but she appeared, in a vision, to Pope Paschal I., assured him that the report was false, and encouraged him to seek her relics. The holy pontiff found them, in the cemetery of Praetextatus, on the Appian road; and, having rebuilt her church, placed them there in the year 821. After a lapse of nearly eight centuries, when the place in which the saint s body had been deposited was forgotten, it was again discovered, in 1599, in a case of cypress-wood, within a marble sarcophagus, together with some linen cloths, steeped in her blood. The celebrated Cardinal Baronius witnessed this second discovery; and Pope Clement VIII. placed the case, containing her body, in another very precious one of silver, where it still remains. As regards the history of St. Cecilia, we must observe that some writers doubt the authenticity of her original Acts; but, as they have been generally received, in both the Greek and Latin Churches, for fourteen centuries, we shall make use of them in the present narration. According to the most generally received opinion, our saint was born at Rome about the beginning of the third century, and was descended of a most ancient Roman family. She professed the Christian faith from her childhood, although it is uncertain whether her parents were Christians or idolaters. By reason of her extraordinary natural endowments, she was sued for by the most opulent and noble of the Roman youth, but in variably declined their offers, as she had dedicated her self entirely to Jesus Christ, and resolved that He only should be her spouse. It is said of her, that she took great delight in playing upon musical instruments, accompanying herself upon which, she used to sing the praises of the Lord. Her Acts also relate that she continually carried about with her a copy of the holy Gospels, in order that she might follow the blessed maxims and counsels therein contained; and her life was accordingly spent in holy prayer, and the mortification of the senses.
In the mean time, her parents determined to give her in marriage to a noble youth, named Valerian. Cecilia, however, lost not her courage; but, during the three days that immediately preceded her marriage, she observed a rigorous fast, and put on a rough sackcloth, which she never afterwards took off. To these penitential practices she added continual prayer, beseeching the Lord Jesus Christ, that he would not permit her to lose that virginity which she had already consecrated to him. She was heard. The Lord consoled her through her angel guardian, who, appearing visibly to her, told her that lie would assist her, and that Valerian, although destined to be her spouse, should not offend her. With this assurance she consented to the marriage. Upon the night following the celebration of this ceremony, St. Cecilia said to Valerian: “Know, Valerian, that I am a Christian. From my infancy I have been consecrated to God, by dedicating to him my virginity; and he has appointed an angel from heaven to protect me from every insult. At thy peril, therefore, do not anything to me, by which thou mayest excite the wrath of the Lord/ Upon hearing this, Valerian was afraid to touch her, and said that he also would believe in Jesus Christ, if he were allowed to see the angel. Cecilia overjoyed at this announcement, told him that he could not expect such a favor without being baptized. Valerian, inflamed with the desire of seeing the angel, said he was willing to comply with this condition. Hereupon Cecilia directed him to St. Urban, who, by reason of the persecution, was concealed in the catacombs; and Valerian, having received the necessary instruction, was baptized by that holy Pope.
On his return home he found St. Cecilia in prayer, and accompanied by the angel, surrounded with rays of heavenly splendor As soon as he recovered from the vision, he determined to use all his energies in order to induce his brother, Tiburtius, whom he tenderly loved, to embrace the Christian faith. To this end he related what had happened to himself; and Cecilia, who was present at their conversation, undertook to demonstrate to Tiburtius the truth of the Christian religion, and to show that the superstitions of the pagans were a collection of fables and falsehoods, invented by the devil for the perdition of souls. While she spoke, the grace of God touched the heart of Tiburtius, and he also was instructed and baptized by St. Urban.
The two brothers being thus happily made followers of Jesus Christ, employed themselves in relieving the poor, consoling the confessors of the faith, and burying the bodies of the martyrs. Almachius, prefect of Rome, and mortal enemy of the Christians, being informed of this, summoned them to his presence, and rebuked them for thus identifying themselves with the Christians; but they answered that, having been illuminated by God, they were led to know the vanity and deceit of all worldly things, and that it was madness to prefer the transitory goods of this life to the inamissible joys of heaven. The prefect asked: “Who has taught ye this folly?” They answered: “It is folly, sir, to worship a statue of stone or of wood, instead of the true God, and to prefer a life that lasts but a few days, to an eternal beatitude. Heretofore we also have partaken of this folly, but henceforth we are resolved to be wiser. And thou, Almachius, sliouldst thou continue to worship false gods, shalt bewail thy folly after death, when there shall be no remedy for thy eternal ruin.”
Almachius, enraged at this admonition, caused the brothers to be scourged so cruelly that they were very near expiring under the infliction; yet these young Christians ceased not their thanksgiving to Jesus Christ for having made them worthy to shed their blood for his sake. The prefect then decreed that they should be brought to the temple of Jove to sacrifice, commanding at the same time that they should be put to death in case of refusal. The execution of these orders was entrusted to an officer named Maximus.
The latter, seeing the joy with which the martyrs anticipated death, inquired the reason of their rejoicings. Tiburtius answered: “How is it possible that we would not rejoice, finding that we are about to pass from this miserable life to one of ineffable and never-ending felicity?” Maximus: “There is, then, another life after the present?” Tiburtius: “Most undoubtedly. Our souls are immortal; and after this life, which, although short, is so full of tribulation, there is another life prepared by God for those who serve him faithfully.” Maximus, moved by these words, but more so by the grace of God, said: “,If things stand thus, I also will be a Christian.” The execution of the sentence pronounced against the two saints was thus deferred to the following day; and Maximus was instructed and received baptism that same night, in the presence of St. Cecilia, who spoke most encouragingly of the glory of martyrdom. On the day following the two brothers were beheaded; and Maximus saw their souls, like two bright stars, surrounded by angels, entering into heaven; whereupon, weeping with joy, he exclaimed: “O ye blessed servants of the true God! Who can comprehend your glory as I see it? As I also am a Christian, why can I not enjoy the same blessed lot?” Almachius having heard that his officer had been converted, and that his conversion had been followed by that of many others, ordered him to be beaten with rods. This order was so cruelly executed, that the saint expired during the infliction. The relics of the two martyred brothers were first buried in a place four miles distant from Rome, but were translated to the church of St. Cecilia, in the year 821, by Pope Paschal I.
St. Valerian and St. Tiburtius had left all their property to St. Cecilia, who, foreseeing that her death was not far distant, sold all, and distributed the proceeds among the poor. Almachius discovered that she was a Christian, and had her arrested. Those who were leading her to prison wept to see a young lady of noble birth and extraordinary beauty about to be condemned to death, and besought her to abjure Jesus Christ; but she on the other hand, weeping over their blindness, said: “Ye speak thus because you are ignorant of the happiness of dying for Jesus Christ. Know, then, that I desire nothing more ardently.” Filled with holy zeal, she showed to the crowd of pagans that surrounded her how happy is the lot of those who believe in the true God, and forego all worldly felicity in the hope of an eternal recompense. Having spoken for some time, she asked them if they believed what she said; and they answered: “Yes, we believe, and wish to become Christians.” This discourse was followed by the conversion of four hundred persons, who were baptized by St. Urban, and the greater part of whom laid down their lives for Jesus Christ.
The glorious conquest of the souls which she had made filled our saint with holy jubilee as she proceeded to prison. Upon being brought before Almachius, he was so enraptured with her beauty and her eloquence that he found himself inclined to dismiss her without any further punishment; but being informed that great numbers had been converted through her means, he endeavored to frighten her by threats of death, in case she refused to obey the edicts. St. Cecilia replied: “You, indeed, condemn us to death; but, instead of the wretched existence which we thus lose, our God gives us an everlasting life of happiness. How, then, can you wonder that Christians have so little fear of death? You adore a statue of stone formed by a sculptor s chisel, or an image made from a block that has grown in the forest. These are your gods! But the Christians, on the contrary, adore one only God, the Creator of all things; and for so doing you condemn them to die! And why? Because, forsooth, they will not commit acts of impiety!” Almachius became infuriated at these words, and told her she should obey the emperor; the saint replied that she considered the obligation of obeying God much more stringent, The governor then remanded her to prison.
Fearing that the public execution of such a person might cause a sedition, he ordered that she should be shut up in an oven and suffocated. This, however, not having produced the desired effect, an executioner was sent to cut off her head. The law, in such case, permitted only three strokes; these the executioner gave with all his might, but, failing in his attempt, left her still alive, although weltering in her blood. She prayed to the Lord that she might survive for three days, in order to strengthen in the faith those whom she had converted; and during the entire of this period the house was filled with these zealous neophytes, who became thoroughly confirmed in their religion by the exhortations of St. Cecilia. At the expiration of the three days she placidly rendered her soul to God, and went to receive the reward of so many heroic actions, on the 22d November, in the year 232. St. Urban, who assisted at her death, had her body buried in the cemetery of Calixtus, and formed her house into a church, which he dedicated.