Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Catholic Masterpieces X: St. Cecilia (and an Angel)

Today is the feast day of St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, on both the traditional sanctoral calendar, and on the "new" calendar. Her feast was one of the few that wasn't shifted to another date. She is also one of the saints that is remembered in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) of the Latin-rite Mass (Nobis quoque peccatoribus famulis tuis... cum tuis sanctis Apostolis et Martyribus: cum Joanne, Stephano... Agnete, Caecilia, Anastasia, et omnibus Sanctis tuis...). She was martyred in A.D. 230 under the Roman prefect Almachius, after converting her husband Valerianus, and her brother-in-law Tiburtius to the one true faith.

This installment of Catholic Masterpieces features a painting of today's patronal saint, who is known throughout the Catholic Church as the patroness of music and musicians. It was painted circa 1617-1627 by two artists (Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco) who were close friends of Caravaggio. His influence can definitely be seen, since there is a definite contrast between light and dark. This contrast is often a distinguishing characteristic of Caravaggio's paintings. The original painting is on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and was featured on the cover of the Fall 2004 issue of The Latin Mass magazine.

The paintng not only shows her patronal role, but it is also a depiction of sorts of a story from her liturgical history. St. Cecilia, after being being betrothed to Valerianus against her will, told her husband that she was "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." Valerianus, wanting to see this angel, was told by his wife that he would see the angel only after he was baptized. Pope St. Urban I ended up baptizing Valerianus, and upon returning to Cecilia, "he found her at prayer, and beside her an angel shining with divine brightness."

Dom Gueranger, in his Liturgical Year, sang praises throughout his entry on the saint. The Benedictine abbot notes that St. Cecilia "united in her veins the blood of kings with that of Rome's greatest heroes." Towards the conclusion of the entry, he writes, "[t]he 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 upon the thought of their eternal destiny, the salvation and peace of nations will be secured."

Raise up my heart, O Holy Cecilia, from the depths of my sinfulness, through thy intercession. Please pray for me to the Lord our God!

Sancta Caecilia, ora pro nobis!


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