One of my happiest mornings was spent in 2008 in St Cecilia in Trastevere, built upon the remains of the house of St Cecilia. Time spent in the crypt of this Roman church is truly an extraordinary experience, as it is left almost as the saint would have known it, the large grain pits near which she was imprisoned, the shrine even to Minerva set there by her pagan relatives. Most wonderful was to be favoured with the key to the gated, almost ciborium like, golden chapel under the high altar where one can see the sarcophagi of the Saint, with that of her chaste husband St Valerian, through a stone lattice. I had read the wonderful account of the finding in the 1500s of her incorrupt relics, still stretched downwards as she had fallen, the blood still fresh in the wounds on her neck, and this more than a thousand years after her death. As nobody dared to touch them in this wonderful state, to this day we have no idea of what her face looked like and that is why the famous statues of her, carved by one who had seen the miracle, never show her face directly, she is always stretched downwards. There, close to her shrine, all of this came alive in my mind.
The famous phrase associated with the holy martyr we celebrate today is "singing to God in her heart", it is what holy tradition tells us she did in the direst moment of her life, and it is considered in some way why she is the patroness of musicians. I know this is a little different, and I know the words to this song, which first appeared in 1868 of unknown origin, have been somewhat de-Christianised in this more modern version, but none-the-less they fit St Cecilia very well and raise one’s heart and mind to remember a holy and innocent one, who will surely protect us in our direst needs if we call upon her intercession, singing in our own hearts.
Br Nicodemus Mary, F.SS.R.
"My life goes on in endless song, above earth's lamentations, I hear the real, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing, it sounds an echo in my soul... how can I keep from singing?
"While though the tempest loudly roars, I hear the Truth, It liveth. And though the darkness 'round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I'm clinging. Since Love is Lord of Heaven and earth... how can I keep from singing?
"When tyrants tremble in their fear and hear their death knell ringing; when friends rejoice both far and near... how can I keep from singing? In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging; when friends by shame are undefiled... how can I keep from singing?"