Homily – November 20th, 2011
ST. CECILIA MUSIC & SINGING IN LITURGY November 20, 2011
Saint Cecilia has prominence in Rome. Tourists in the eternal city often visit the basilica named to honor her. Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs.
According to legend, Cecilia was a young Christian of high rank betrothed to a Roman named Valerian. Through her influence, Valerian was converted, and was martyred along with his brother. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. Thus unbelievable legend has filled the vacuum that should offer us facts.
However, this much we do know. Pope Urban I established a Church near the Tiber River in the third century, and that church honored the saint and bore her name. Furthermore, we read of this church in the fifth century. Also, On November 22, in the year 545, Pope Vigilius was captured while offering Mass in this Church. A church named for Saint Cecilia has ever since rested on this spot, and it today remains open to pilgrims and to tourists.
The Church, from early centuries, has looked to this martyr as patron of Church art. The Saint Cecilia in Transtevere itself has a variety of paintings and statuary and sculpture by famous artisans. Of primary interest to you and me is that religious singing has St. Cecilia, the martyr, as patron. Because she is patron of this parish, we employ her name, and we invoke her strength to call on the Lord on our behalf, and we have a link through centuries to our faith in the early times, not so long after the establishment of the papacy in Rome. And Saint Cecilia has traditionally been depicted with a stringed musical instrument. Patron of religious art, patron of this parish, Saint Cecilia encourages you and me to engage with music in today’s liturgy.
In his epistles to various religious communities, Saint Paul tells us of the musical practices in the Jewish synagogues. To the Ephesians Paul writes: “Be filled with the spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your hearts… (5:19).” And Paul repeats this encouragement to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:16). Thus in St. Paul, we recognize that prayer and singing co-mingle and entwine themselves. Recall that at the time of Christ, the singing in the synagogues simply depended on the oral tradition of the leader. Until the late Middle Ages, there is no history of music except that music related to the liturgy. The first music of Western Europe that is written is Gregorian Chant. Beginning in the latter half of the ninth century, we find Gregorian Chant notated in many monasteries. Monks chanted the psalms in monastic choirs, and they sang with it at Mass. Conscious of their own sharing in the Mass, monks participated in the Mass with their singing.
Participation in the Mass has always been the aim of celebrants and of the Church. With some amaze, I recently read that the homily often precipitated responses from the assembly; in the fifth century Saint Augustine’s congregation alternately cheered, sighed, laughed, or audibly beat their breasts when the great bishop preached (Edward Foley, From Age to Age, p. 156, rev., 2008). A priest named Burchard of Worms (Germany) (d. 1025) mentions the neglect to respond to the prayers as unbecoming behavior in Church. One old line response clearly suggests such participation: “and with your spirit, Amen.”
We join the liturgy by sharing in the music. Vatican Council II states this: “The faithful fulfill their liturgical role by making that full, conscious and active participation which is demanded by the nature of the liturgy itself and which is, by reason of baptism, the right and duty of the Christian people.” People join the liturgy in first place by an internal desire. In second place, their joining is also external, and this shows in their gestures and bodily attitudes, by their acclamations, responses and singing. The faithful “should unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God” (Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, New Rev. 1992, “Music in the Liturgy,” p.84.)
This parish encourages us to join with the choir in responding to the prayers at Mass. Every pew has Today’s Missal. By its title, the Responsorial Psalm encourages to a religious outburst answering to the first reading. That reading occurs at the consecration of every bishop when at Mass he is installed in his new diocese. And that reading reminds the newly elect and the congregation that as the shepherd tends his sheep, so a bishop must act as does God in actively tending the people committed to his care. In singing Psalm 23, you and I enter into this inspired reading and we react to the voice of the Lord in Ezekiel’s verses. Furthermore, we should arouse to the joyful “Alleluia” when we prepare to hear the gospel. Parishioners of Saint Cecilia have the right and privilege by reason of their baptism and their patron to join with others in their liturgical song. It belongs to us. Amen.