« AnteriorContinuar »
been converted to God by her prayers. Tiburtius, her brother, also laid down his life for the faith at the same time. Her name occurs in all the ancient martyrologies. In the Sacramentary of S. Gregory there is a Preface appointed for the Mass of her feast, which has these words: "Who in weakness dost perfect strength, and overcomest the enemy of mankind, not only by men, but by women also: By Whose gift, the blessed Cæcilia was confirmed both in the purpose of virginity, and in the confession of faith, so that neither by the inconstancy of her age was she turned from her intention, nor softened by carnal blandishments; She was neither terrified through the frailty of her sex, nor overcome by the cruelty of her torments: But, preserving the integrity of body and soul, with the palm of virginity and of martyrdom, she was found worthy to attain to the eternal beatitude. Through Christ our Lord." Her name is commemorated by the Latin Church in the Canon of the Mass. It was famous in the sixth century, as we learn from Fortunatus, who assures us, that some of her relics had been placed in a church at Ravenna. Early in that age, a church was dedicated at Rome in her honour. It is a station on the third Wednesday in Lent, and gives title to a Cardinal priest.
In the beginning of the ninth century this church had fallen into decay, and pope Paschal I. began to rebuild it. It was then supposed that the Lombards had carried away the body of the saint from Rome, about sixty years before. She is related to have appeared to the holy Father, and to have assured him that her body still lay near the city, in a place
which she told him of. He accordingly found it in the cemetery of Prætextatus on the Appian way, wrapped in cloth of gold, which was still stained with blood. The bodies of her companions were lying near. Paschal translated them all into the new church with becoming honour, and laid them under the high altar, in the year 821. He founded a monastery near the church, whence the praises of God might ascend night and day: and gave many costly presents of vestments, ornaments, and vessels for the service of the altar. The shrine which enclosed the body of S. Cæcilia he inlaid within and without with plates of silver.
In 1599, Cardinal Sfondrati, who derived his title from this church, bestowed much care and expense in restoring and beautifying it. While he was making some excavations near the altar, he discovered the opening of the tomb, through which the faithful had been accustomed to put handkerchiefs and cloths, that they might touch the holy body. From the inscription which pope Paschal had affixed, no doubt remained that it was the sepulchre of the blessed S. Cæcilia. Within the marble monument, a chest of cypress was found in which her body had rested since its translation in 821. The bloodstained garments were still visible; and the body was lying, not as usual with the face upwards, but on its right side. The dress was gathered carefully about it, so that it resembled a person asleep rather than dead. It was laid in a sumptuous chest, and was removed on the 22nd of November from under the high altar into a vault richly decorated, called the Confession of S. Cæcilia, in presence of pope Clement VIII., and the
college of Cardinals. This church is called In Trastevere, or Beyond the Tiber, to distinguish it from two others in Rome which bear her name.
S. Cæcilia is generally represented as playing on an instrument of music, and singing the divine praises, which her Acts mention as her frequent employment. Hence she is regarded as the patroness of the music of the Church; and it may help us to discover the true source of its grandeur, if we consider that this distinction has been accorded to a virgin and a martyr. For the author of the Mores Catholici has remarked, that" the unearthly tones which pervade the old Catholic compositions are a sufficient proof of spiritual communion with a holier world. The gift of song was imparted to many purified souls, as to Hildegard, and the saintly sisters of S. Oringa. The holy Katharine of Bologna, with eyes turned to heaven, repeated to her astonished sisters the song which she had heard in praise of God, when so far spent with sickness that she had received the last unction: such jubilation filled her heart, while repeating to them that sweet song, that all who saw her thought that she must die for joy; but she remained one year more on earth. The holy Hermann Joseph, of Steinfeld, while composing a hymn in honour of S. Ursula, is said to have received aid from the pure spirits whom he loved for the sake of Jesus; and Palestrina himself has said of his best compositions, that he only wrote what he had heard angels sing '." It was in the retreats of mortified and contemplative men that the sublime hymns of the Church were
1 Book viii. 3.
written and adapted to holy music. The devout religious brother Cedmon in the convent of S. Hilda at Whitby, in the seventh age, is one example among many; of whom we read, that he composed many songs full of the greatest sweetness and compunction, which kindled in all hearts a contempt of the world, and a longing after the celestial life. He was taught the art of singing by none, but received it as a free gift from heaven. What God had given him he reserved for His service alone, and was never known to compose any thing light or trifling. The last words which he uttered on earth were of praise'.
If such was the character of the ancient musicians of the Church, it is not surprising that their compositions are of a higher order than the genius of secular men could ever attain, or even comprehend. Of some of these it has been truly said that they should never be sung excepting on one's knees. Indeed they never can be separated from the associations of the Divine Office, which gives them an enduring expression, and as it were makes them part of the voice of the Church in the moments when heaven seems nearest. To feel their power they must be heard in the sanctuary, while the solemn rites are proceeding which they were created to honour. "How did I weep in Thy hymns and canticles," exclaims S. Augustin, in his Confessions, "deeply moved by the voices of Thy sweet-sounding Church! their voices flowed into my ears, and the truth distilled into my heart, and the tears ran down, and I was happy in them'.' And in another place he
1 Ven. Bed. Eccl. Hist. lib. iv. 24.
2 Lib. ix. 6.
"When I remember the tears which I shed at the chaunts of Thy Church, in the first days of my recovered faith, and how I am still moved by them, not indeed by the song, but by the things which are sung, when they are chaunted with a clear voice, and suitable modulation, I acknowledge the great usefulness of this institution'." Many, whose hearts were less inflamed with the divine love than his, in succeeding ages, have felt the same. The poet sang truly and beautifully who likened music to "the silver key of the fountain of tears," but his words have a depth beyond his thought, when they are applied to the music of the Church. And it is fitting that in the country of our exile our most joyous, holiest feelings should be allied with tears. But above, there is a song, such as mortal ear has never heard, "which no man can learn but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth; for they are virgins, and they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth "." To hear that song, though he may never sing it, Jesu grant to every tearful penitent.
Blessed Saints! this broken rate
Bids our slowness ply its wings,
Yet even this your school too was ;
1 Lib. x. 33.
Rev. xiv. 3.