“He who sings prays twice,” St. Augustine wrote back in the fourth or fifth century. Music has always served an integral role in worship, and pastoral musicians, both vocal and instrumental, continue to assist in leading praise and worship across all faiths and denominations.
As many MSP schedulers and volunteers today offer their God-given gifts to build up the community of faith through pastoral music ministry, let’s take a closer look at St. Cecilia.
An early Christian holy woman, St. Cecilia, is commonly known as the patron saint of music and musicians. As we observe her feast on November 22, we likewise pay tribute to pastoral musicians everywhere. But who was St. Cecilia?
Cecilia was born in Rome during the late second century. She was given in marriage to a pagan named Valerius, but she told him that an angel had appeared to her and told her to remain a virgin. Cecilia was able to convince Valerius to respect her vow and won him over to Christianity. She went on to convert some 400 others to the faith. That annoyed the Roman authorities, so they sentenced her to death. She was martyred by beheading in AD 230.
Churches were named for her as early as the fourth century, and her feast was celebrated by the mid-sixth century. However, she became associated with music and as the patron saint of musicians only many years later.
In the religious mind of the 15th century, music was considered the language of the angels and so was popularly connected with revelations – so Cecilia, who had visions of angels, became popularly affiliated with music. A legend developed that Cecilia “sang in her heart to the Lord” at her own wedding. By the 16th century, sacred artists began to depict her playing the organ, viol, or other musical instruments. Soon there were hymns and sacred music festivals dedicated to her name.
In classical religious art, Cecilia is often portrayed as holding a palm branch in one hand, symbolic of her martyrdom, and sheet music in her other hand.
For all we know, St. Cecilia may never have played an instrument or sang a single note! But forever, she will be regarded as the patron saint of musicians, and pastoral musicians especially might turn to her for inspiration.
Many prayers seek Cecilia’s intercession, asking her to pray for us and with us before our heavenly Father. One such prayer invokes her in these words:
Dear Saint Cecilia, one thing we know for certain about you is that you became a heroic martyr in fidelity to your divine Bridegroom.
We do not know that you were a musician, but we are told that you heard angels sing.
Inspire musicians to gladden the hearts of people by filling the air with God's gift of music and reminding them of the divine Musician who created all beauty. Amen.
So on St. Cecilia’s feast, let’s take a moment to offer our prayers and gratitude for all those who lead music in worship and thereby help us to “pray twice”!