This Saints post exists because I owe Saint Cecilia a favor. First, here’s some backstory:
Last weekend, I was on a LifeTeen retreat (not as a teen, of course. I’m a Core member). On Friday my throat felt scratchy and by “lights out” time, my voice was heading down the drain. All day Saturday, I had a raspy, chain-smoker voice and it hurt to talk. As luck would have it, I had to give a teaching on authentic prayer. Normally Saint Blaise is an obvious person to go to for throat trouble because that’s his patronage, but then Saint Cecilia, patroness of music, came to mind. I said, “Okay, Cecilia, if you can help me deliver my talk in the exact way that I had practiced it, I will bump you up in my posting schedule and you will be the next CGB Saints post.”
I delivered my talk without forgetting a single word. Remember when I said that it hurt to talk? As I gave my teaching, my throat felt just fine.
Saint Cecilia has the typical 2nd century A.D. Roman girl backstory; she was born into a wealthy family. They were all Christians, but she had been betrothed to Valerian, a Pagan man who had a brother named Tibertius, who will be important later, so remember him. Anyway, between this and my Saint Lucy post, you have figured out by now that in those days, love was not a central ingredient to marriage. It takes two prominent families to get their younglings to tango.
Of course, Cecilia had promised God that she would be His bride, consecrating her virginity to Him alone. Instead of adorning herself in the fine dresses and jewels that her family could afford, a sackcloth was her clothing of choice.
Cecilia and Valerian were married and so began the wedding night. I’m just gonna paraphrase how I think their conversation went:
CECILIA: Honey, I know I’m your wife now and I have to fulfill my duty to you, BUT…I consecrated my virginity to God and because of that, my guardian angel will be standing guard to protect my purity.
VALERIAN: Uh…all right, prove it. I want to see the angel.
CECILIA: Tell you what; you go visit Pope Urban and get yourself baptized. When you get back, you will see my angel.
VALERIAN: Well, it is fashionable to see the Holy Father and such a visit could benefit our families, so why not?
I came so close to referring “the angel of music” from Phantom of the Opera as I was typing this.
Valerian visited Pope Urban and was baptized. When he returned, his jaw hit the floor. A magnificent angel was standing alongside his new wife while she played the piano.
I’m just gonna go ahead and sing this: “Then I saw her face. Now I’m a believer! Without a trace or doubt in my mind…I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried!”
The angel had two crowns, one for Cecilia and the other for Valerian. The crowns were placed on the heads of husband and wife.
Earlier I told you to remember Valerian’s brother Tibertius. That’s because Tibertius also became a believer once he saw the crowns on Cecilia and Valerian’s heads. Two is plenty, but three’s a crowd.
Now in their day, Christians were being martyred left and right. The prefect of their city had a serious case of bloodlust; not only were Christians were being killed off faster than a Game of Thrones character, but their bodies were left on the streets as a warning to Roman citizens. Valerian and Tibertius were persuaded by Cecilia to bury the martyrs. When onlookers would approach them, the brothers would direct them to Valerian’s home, where Cecilia would tell them about Jesus Christ. A woman in love with Jesus, her eloquence and compassion for nonbelievers brought visitors to their knees as they converted to Christianity.
There is no exact timeline of when shiz went down, but we do know that the prefect of the city put a stop to Valerian and Tibertius’ martyr-burial operation. The brothers were captured, brought before the prefect, and joined the dead.
Preparing her home to be a church, Cecilia turned around when she heard the door open, thinking it was her husband and brother-in-law. Her smile left her face when Roman soldiers stood at her door. She took a breath, entrusting her fate to God.
Standing before the prefect as Valerian and Tibertius had, Cecilia was ordered to be executed by suffocation in the bathhouse. Thrown into the bathhouse, she was locked inside and the flames arose, whipping at her skin and hair. The guards waited for the agonizing screams of the woman caged in the inferno.
They didn’t hear a peep from her.
Then the fires were cooled, the doors unlocked and reopened; Cecilia stood very much alive.
His mind blown from this incident, the prefect ordered her to be beheaded. The executioner approached her, armed with a sword that promised to impale flesh and bone.
The first strike hit her neck, but was ineffective.
The second strike cut through skin and nothing else.
The third strike caught the jugular, but her vocal cords remained.
He ran away after the third blow.
Mortally wounded, Cecilia was left to die in a cell. She was in dire pain, but continued to preach the Gospel as blood flowed down from her maimed neck, soaked up by the sponges and cloths of those who came to hear her speak. She used her final breath to share the Good News.
Saint Cecilia, pray for us.