“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”Johann Sebastian Bach
St. Cecilia—November 22, Saint of the Day
St. Cecilia is a Roman martyr and the patron of music and musicians. It is written that Cecilia dedicated herself to virginity, but instead was forced by her parents into marriage. As musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Memorializing St. Cecilia is remembering that music is a pathway to connect to the Divine, a way to seek comfort, to praise and to pray.
“Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it is the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.
When monks sing, they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.” (from a previous blog post, Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own)
St. Cecilia was memorialized in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, founded in the 3rd century after Cecilia was martyred. The church is believed to be on the site of the house where she lived and died. Since 1527, a community of Benedictine nuns has lived in the monastery next door. In 1599, Cecilia’s body was found in incorrupt with deep cuts in her neck just as she had died. A sculpture by Stefano Maderno of Cecilia’s body lies in front of the choir.
When I visited Rome during the World Oblate Congress, we made an unscheduled stop at St. Cecilia’s in the Trastevere region. It was a profound experience, one that I cannot quite capture in words. Instead, I share some photos of my visit.
More on music as prayer
Singing in God’s Presence #3: In place of the disability to express ourselves, to sing, The Holy Rule of St. Benedict: A Spiritual Path for Today’s World with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B., PhD.
Let us sing a new song not with our lips but with our lives…Sing to him a new song, sing to him with joyful melody. Every one of us tries to discover how to sing to God…Do not search for words, as if you could find a lyric which would give God pleasure. Sing to him “with songs of joy.” This is singing well to God, just singing with songs of joy…If words will not serve, and yet you must not remain silent, what else can you do but cry out for joy?St. Augustine