Monday, November 22, 2010


“The Ecstasy of St Cecilia “
by Bernardo Cavallino, 1645


Biographical Information about St. Cecilia [1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Cecilia

Readings and Commentary:

Hosea 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22

Thus says the LORD:
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.
She shall respond there as in the days of her youth,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.
I will espouse you to me forever;
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD
Commentary on
Hos 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22

The Prophet Hosea, voicing God’s hope for the people of Israel, speaks as a husband might address a wife. (In later parts of the book Israel is like the wife who was unfaithful.) In this selection, speaking with the voice of God to the Hebrew people, he sounds as if he is wooing his future bride.  He tells them that if they will be faithful, because God’s love and mercy is eternal, that God is always faithful. In Hebrew tradition this courtship would include the gifts for the bride (cf Genesis 24:53)
CCC: Hos 2 218; Hos 2:21-22 2787
Psalm 45:11-12, 14-15,16-17

R. (11) Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
R. The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord.

Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear,
forget your people and your father's house.
So shall the king desire your beauty;
for he is your lord, and you must worship him.
R. Listen to me, daughter, see and bend your ear.
R. The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord.

All glorious is the king's daughter as she enters;
her raiment is threaded with spun gold.
In embroidered apparel she is borne in to the king;
behind her the virgins of her train are brought to you.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
R. The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord.

They are borne in with gladness and joy;
they enter the palace of the king.
The place of your fathers your sons shall have;
you shall make them princes through all the land.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
R. The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord.
Commentary on
Ps 45:11-12, 14-15,16-17

Psalm 45 is a Royal Psalm originally sung in honor of the King’s marriage to a queen (of foreign extraction). Seen as an image of Christ as bridegroom and Church as bride, we see the love that seals that bond. The reference to the “virgins of her train” is seen as a reference to those who consecrate themselves to the Lord as religious or as consecrated virgins.

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
'Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.'
But the wise ones replied,
'No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.'
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'
But he said in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour."
Commentary on Mt 25:1-13

St. Matthew’s Gospel gives us the parable of the Ten Virgins continuing the Gospel theme of preparedness and vigilance (although strictly speaking this parable is about foresight). In this story the idea of vigilance is expanded to include being prepared. The Jewish wedding customs of the time would have dictated a procession [at night] from the house of the bride to the house of the groom. The whole act is symbolic of the coming of the messianic era also portrayed as a wedding in
Matthew 9:15, Matthew 22:1-14 and John 3:29. The wise virgins brought oil for their lamps while the foolish ones did not. The oil is interpreted by some scholars as referring to good works.

The overarching symbolism is the lamp of faith (light of the indwelling Holy Spirit) being kept burning with oil (good works). Hence, without good works (oil), the lamp will not continue to burn (James 2:17) and the virgins, so deprived of light, are excluded from the heavenly kingdom.
CCC: Mt 25:1-13 672, 796; Mt 25:1 672; Mt 25:6 1618; Mt 25:13 672

St. Cecilia is venerated this day because of the singular extraordinary grace given to her as she resisted all attempts to dissuade her from her love of Christ. First, given to a pagan in marriage, she converted her husband and retained her virginity through divine intervention. Her fidelity likewise converted even those who came to arrest her during a persecution between 176-180 AD.

She is said to have sung to God in her heart as she lay dying of the wounds inflicted by her executioner (who fled after his third attempt to behead her was unsuccessful). It was for this reason she is known as the patron saint of musicians.

As we honor her today we ask for her prayers as well. In this world so impacted by secular values, we must fight our own battle to remain faithful to the one who saves us, Christ Jesus. We are told that after her wedding, she told her husband (Valerianus – also martyred) that her body was protected by an angel because of her spiritual marriage to God. Likewise, our own pledge of faith marries us through the Church to Christ. Through that betrothal we are bound to chastity, a virtue scorned by much of secular society. On this day we ask St. Cecilia to help us remain pure in heart and deed as we confront a world that celebrates hedonism and promiscuity.


[1] The picture is “The Ecstasy of St Cecilia “ by Bernardo Cavallino, 1645
[2] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.


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