Understanding Cecilia

“Scripture can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints.” So says Pope Benedict XVI, and it has caused me to ponder on the three levels on which we can understand the saints, and these  three levels are well illustrated by St Cecilia today.

The first level is the historical. We know of Cecilia as a virgin martyr of the early Roman period, that she died at the hands of torturers during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Because she sang hymns as she went to her death she is the patron of musicians. So we have the facts of her saintly life and heroic death, and these facts alone are an inspiration.

However, a second level on which to understand the saints is the Scriptural. The gospel read for today is that of the wise and foolish virgins. So this virgin martyr lives out the gospel. We interpret the gospel through her life and the lives of other virgin saints. As we ponder her life we see what it means to keep the lamps lit through the oil of divine grace and the fire of the Holy Spirit. In her martyrdom we see what it means to go out joyfully to meet the bridegroom, for the bridegroom is Christ who is coming for his bride. We therefore understand the gospel. It means waiting and watching for Christ and joyfully giving all for his love.

There is a third level of understanding the saints which might be called ‘symbolical’ or ‘universal’. At this level the life and death of the saint connects with something greater and deeper. It connects with universal principles and symbols from the unconscious. So, Cecilia becomes a living symbol of virginity and martyrdom. As such she shows us not just what it means to be pure. She shows us purity. She shows us courage. She shows us innocence and wisdom. She shows us the child like virtues of trust. She abides. She endures. The virgin martyrs connect us with the deep stories of childhood–here are all the young heroines of the stories–Belle who won over the Beast, Humble Cinderella who won the heart of the bridegroom–Beatrice who rose beautiful and represented eternal beauty before young Dante.

The lives of the saints therefore transcend the natural understanding. They are more than inspiring examples or courageous role models or even admirable martyrs for a cause. They are perfected by God’s grace and eternal in the heavens.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10686677110227301244 Father Canu

    What the Catholic Encyclopedia has on Saint Cecilia singing is:“while the musicians played at her nuptials she sang in her heart to God only”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12138257993961072758 ~Katherine~

    As a Catholic musician, I've adopted St. Cecilia as one of my patrons. In fact, my senior recital a) featured that particular picture on the posters and programs and b) was called "Composing Mortals, Immortal Fire." This whole post made me smile; thank you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05336781734419554046 broken

    I had to leave my parish church in Leominster,MA; St Cecilia's. I still miss that church it is beauty. Above the choir loft is an enormous stained glass window of st. Cecilia playing an organ. There is a hand carved statue of her reclining with the visible mark of the axe on her neck. It is a replica of the one that exists in the catacombs of Rome. "The church has a magnificient Cassavant Organ that features 5000 pipes and 64 stops, with a four-manual console and pedal organ that transforms the instrument into five complete and different organs." The church is filled with stained windows depicting the life of christ and the saints. The enormous stained window in the east depicts the creation of the world and the window in the west depicts the last judgement. All of this and more built during the depression by the french community. Needless to say after worshiping at this church I fell in love with God and St. Cecilia. If I can remeber Father I will bring the booklet containing photographs of this awesome church to show you after Mass.