Vigils Reading: St. Cecilia

Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Vigils Reading: St. Cecilia

November 22, 2022

A reading on St. Cecilia, from a homily by Ronald Knox. 1

The legends of the early Roman saints, among whom St. Cecilia is numbered, do not always command great attention from the critically minded historian. But whether the story of St. Cecilia as it is told in her acts is all true or only partly true, there is a simplicity about the whole story and a simplicity about St. Cecilia’s character in the story which demands a retelling. Let me remind you in the most general way of her story: how she was married to a young pagan called Valerian, but persuaded him to respect her vow of virginity, because her guardian angel would make him sorry for it if he did otherwise; how Valerian wanted to see this guardian angel, but Cecilia, with her innocent craft, said he could not do that unless he was baptized first; how he was baptized, and saw the angel at her side as she prayed; how he made a convert of his brother Tiburtius, and how first the two brothers, and then Cecilia herself were punished with death for professing the Christian religion. It is an old story, and a familiar one: and while we do all homage to other great saints for their public witness to Christ, we shall always need St. Cecilia as well, quietly working at home for the conversion of her own husband and his family.

Not that St. Cecilia herself was in the position of a modern wife. Like so many Christian ladies of her time, she had taken, in imitation of our blessed Lady, a vow of perpetual virginity. These virgin martyrs were martyrs because they were virgins: it was because they insisted on keeping their vow when their parents wished them to marry that the secret of their attachment to the Christian faith was discovered; and it was their persistency in maintaining it that led to their martyrdom. It would be hard to estimate, I think, how much the unpopularity in Roman society of the Christian faith owed to its tradition of virginity. Virginity is an ideal which the pagan had no right to misunderstand. For, in theory, they, too, honored it; and it should have commended itself to their heathen instinct for sacrifice. For the point of a sacrifice is that the victim should be spotless, the best of its kind. You must offer not what you can well afford to spare, but what will cost you something. That is the pagan idea of sacrifice; and the Christian idea of sacrifice is based on the same principle. In order to give up something to God, we forgo, not the sinful pleasures which we have no right to in any case, but the lawful pleasures which he has given us to enjoy if we will. So, let St. Cecilia’s feast remind us to take our Christian vocation seriously, to follow out in our lives the words we profess with our lips. And may this Roman maiden pray for us who worship here and for those who minister to us, that when Christ, the Master she served, comes again in judgment, we may be found blameless before almighty God.


ASt. Cecilia@, in Occasional Sermons, ed. by Philip Caraman, SJ; New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960, pp. 6-10.


November 22, 2022
Event Category: