Saint Cecilia, patron of music


Recycled from 2014

Today is the memorial of Saint Cecilia, an early Roman saint, virgin, and martyr of the Church. Briefly Cecilia was a vowed virgin who was married and wished to keep her virginity. She told her husband of an angel which he asked to see, and to which she replied he needed to be baptized. He did see that angel who spoke to him and gave him red roses and white lilies, as a reward for Cecilia’s love of chastity. Her husband Valerian then had his brother converted to the faith. When the prefect, Almachius, heard of the conversions he ordered them imprisoned and put to death. Cecilia’s tomb was found in 822 and her body incorrupt was transferred to a church bearing her name. The sculptor Stefano Maderno carved a sculpture of that body precisely as it was found when the cypress coffin was opened. It now adorns her tomb.

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of composers, music, musicians, musical instrument makers, poets, and singers. She is the patron of a few others, but these are the ones of interest to me. I think about her and music especially concerning liturgical music. I think of her as I think of a small debate goes on about that sacred music, and I think about the saint and those listed that she is the patron of. One of the arguments that is taking place regards the types of musical instruments fitting for liturgy. There are those that embrace the organ as the instrument of the church, and they feel that this instrument has a special place in the churches. I cannot argue that the pipe organ is strongly associated with liturgical music, but the limiting the instrumentation of the Church to that solitary instrument leaves me a bit divided. It is a grand instrument of the Church, and much sacred music has been composed for it.

 Saint Cecilia though would have never heard music from that instrument, the organ occurs in history probably 1000 years after her death. That is the part that leaves me divided. Cecilia is frequently pictured holding a lyre, and that instrument is related to the harp, and then the violin and guitar. Lyres and tambourines were instruments of the Old Testament. Plainsong and Chant were the foundation of early Christian music. The organ actually occurred late in the Churches musical history. I think of Saint Cecilia too when I think of continents that have no equivalent to that Church organ, but instead have their own assortment of musical instruments. I wonder, what is the traditional music for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? What are the musical instrument traditions of those devout Catholics in places like Korea, China, India, and the South Pacific?

When thinking of that patron saint of music, and instrument makers I do think of the roles of sacred and secular music, and I do think of how music should be applied to the liturgy. I also think of how it is misapplied. I wonder why it is that the popular styles of Church music are not played before and after the liturgy, and why plainsong and chant have diminished during the liturgy, and why the pipe organ fell out of favor for a time. I also wonder why the concertina, and the violin, and the renaissance recorders are used little during Mass, and why the folk guitar is so popular.

oud_frontI add the picture of the oud because it is the ancient instrument of the Middle East that eventually became the L’Oud, and then the Lute, and then the guitar. According to legend the instrument was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. String instruments have a long history in Middle Eastern cultures and religions. Ouds, harps of varying kinds, percussion instruments (doumbek), cymbals, tambourines, and wind instruments such as the Moroccan Oboe all play a part in religious celebrations. Arguably they are the original instruments of the Church. Some might have a spittle flecked nutty, but this is the modern guitars ancestry in the Church. For the lyrics, and style of the contemporary, that’s another story. 

talent 33


No, I did not want to write on the parable of the talents Mt 25:14-30. It is cold, and dark, and will be for a long time. It is after All-Saints and All-Souls day. It’s after Halloween. It is the near end of the year, all are the stuff of November. The end is near.

In reading that parable my mind went to that last person who was given the least. He was the one that buried his talent, the money that was entrusted to him. In a November mindset, he buried it as if he placed it in a grave. He buried it as if it were dead and he was scolded.

The others , they took their money (their talents) and put it to use. Their money was lively, it was fruitful, and it multiplied. It was animated, it was alive.

In a November mindset, the coins become life and death: Jesus proclaims to be the God of the living. He seeks good-fruit. No, the talent buried did not sprout life. It remained unchanged. It did nothing. dead.

The lively money, and it owners that were rewarded, were praised because their riches increased. But what if those stewards took that talent, invested it and then lost. What would the master say then, what would he say to the investment that didn’t pan out? Would those with good intentions who stumbled face the same fate as that deadpan? For that I think there must be a parable of forgiveness.




Lets see, lets guess. Today I read about the age of Aquarius versus the age of Pisces. Yesfish1 bp (2)terday, the Catholics celebrated a church founded before Constantine. Old church, much history. (Yesterday) The age of Pisces. (Today) , the age of Aquarius. One gains that name from a Broadway play.1960, 1970? I cant remember. Nixon, Ford? Was Andy Warhol on the scene? Pop culture, what’s next. Aquarius versus Pisces, yes it is a battle. Yes, the New Age has the numbers: but they are “fools, idiots, morons exploiting others for their own capitalistic gain.” They are the chaff that disappears with the wind. But still within that wind contains a storm and that storm is the one weathered today.  Yesterday celebrated an ancient church, today an old Pope named Leo. An ancient church building, an old pope that confronted the Huns. The Huns are celebrated by the Goths of  Heavy Metal of the Stage: but how many of them have been pierced (by a lance not a needle), or skewered or beheaded or tortured or brutalized in the true sense of Attila’s warfare, not an electrified three chord song? Leo confronted them, and defeated them. And what of Studio 54? The Lateran Basilica in Rome still stands.

He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.

Lk 16:1-8


Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary


Today’s feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted to honor Mary for the Christian naval victory over the Turks at the “Battle of Lepanto.” on October 7, 1571. Pope Pius V, whose treasury bankrolled much of this large military endeavor, ordered the churches of Rome continuously opened for prayer, encouraging Catholics to petition the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary. This naval victory would severely curtail attempts by the Ottoman Empire to control the Mediterranean, causing a shift in East-West relations. The victory of Lepanto is arguably considered the most complete victory ever gained over the Ottoman Empire. This victory prevented Europe from being overrun by the forces of Islam.When word reached the Pope Pius of the victory of “the Holy League,” he added a new feast day to the Roman Liturgical Calendar. October 7th would henceforth be the feast of Our Lady of Victory. Pope Pius’ successor, Gregory XIII would change the name of this day to the feast of the Holy Rosary.

Odd to think such a large and important military battle was victorious from a prayer said on simple beads. Of course it’s not the beads that are important, but the prayers said and whose intercession they call upon. Mary’s psalter has a long history in the Church and it often is considered a replacement for the recitation of the 150 psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours. Mary’s psalter covers the entire mission of her Son, from Nativity to Annunciation. At the same time it also meditates on the life of Mary, she who had the closest relation with the Christ. This feast day starts a month of devotion to the continuous prayer that is the Rosary.

While the feast celebrates a large naval victory, victories of the Rosary are common to all that are able to carry and recite the prayers of those beads. Their intercessions need not be limited to large occasions, but are ideally suited to overcome the battles of everyday life. They are a prayer designed to be recited by every person and every day, a contrast to the grandiose battle that is commemorated today.

Interesting point of the rosary is that its prayers are directed at Mary, and the mysteries that are meditated revolve around her Son. The prayers link Holy Mother of God in a way so similar to the way that their lives were interconnected. One never separated from the other. Uniquely Catholic it is directed at Mary, it proclaims Hail Mary. Each decade meditates on a particular aspect of the Lords life: joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and the luminous. Mary and her Son. They begin and end with the prayer of the Lord directed to the Father, and are recited in the name of the trinity. It is no wonder this simple prayer leads to so many victories.