Musicians honor St. Cecilia with first-ever archdiocesan celebration

Brian Nelson, right, directs the St. Lawrence Catholic Center Choir in the Gloria during a Mass honoring the feast of St. Cecilia Nov. 22 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood. The Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, was the first of its kind in the archdiocese and was sponsored by the Catholic Fine Arts Council of Northeast Kansas’ St. Cecilia Guild. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATIE PETERSON

by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven

LEAWOOD — For as long as I can remember, music has been a major part of my life. I was singing before I was talking.

By age 8, I was up on the altar leading music with my dad at Saturday night Mass at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Easton. Soon, I had my own favorite hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and “Old Rugged Cross.”

I continue to cantor regularly at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Catholic Church in Leavenworth.  

When it came time to pick my saint for confirmation in eighth grade, I knew I wanted the patron saint of music and singers. And that’s when I was introduced to St. Cecilia.

Ever since, I’ve kept her as an inspiration, whether it is having her holy card within the pages of my Bible or wearing her medallion around my neck.

So, when I found out the St. Cecilia Guild of the Catholic Fine Arts Council of Northeast Kansas was sponsoring a Mass in honor of her feast day on Nov. 22 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, it was an easy decision to attend.

Little did I know, by attending this Mass, the first of its kind in the archdiocese, I was going to learn just how important music in the liturgy can truly be.

Katie Schmitz, left, directs the Sursum Corda acapella choir, Latin for “Lift up your heart,” of Kansas City, Mo., in song during Mass in honor of the feast of St. Cecilia Nov. 22 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATIE PETERSON

Born in Rome during the second century, St. Cecilia came from a wealthy family who was given in marriage to a man named Valerian.

Despite the marriage, Cecilia told Valerian that she’d taken a vow of virginity and had an angel protecting her.

“During her wedding ceremony, she was said to have sung in her heart to God,” according to Catholic Online. “Valerian asked to see the angel as proof, and Cecilia told him he would have eyes to see once he…was baptized. Following his baptism, Valerian returned to his wife and found an angel at her side. The angel then crowned Cecilia with a chaplet of rose and lily.”

During her lifetime, Cecilia helped convert more than 400 people to the faith. Eventually, she was arrested and condemned to death by suffocation and burning in the “baths.”

Instead of burning, Cecilia “did not even break a sweat,” Catholic Online reports.

Then, they tried to behead her, but were unable to after three strikes.

“The executioner…left her bleeding and she lived for three days,” the site says. “St. Cecilia is regarded as the patronnes of music because she heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married and is represented in art with an organ or organ-pipes in her hand.”

Reading about her life story, it turned out I wasn’t only drawn to St. Cecilia because she was the patroness of music.

I was also drawn to her because of her courage, her faith, and her love for and her unwavering devotion to Christ, which has made her one of the greatest role models in my life.

As I’ve continued to grow in my music, I’ve always thought about the joy and pleasure it gives me.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann begins the liturgy of the Eucharistic surrounded by archdiocesan priests during a Mass honoring the feast of St. Cecilia Nov. 22 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan. The Mass was the first of its kind in the archdiocese and was sponsored by the Catholic Fine Arts Council of Northeast Kansas’ St. Cecilia Guild. More than 200 parish musicians throughout the archdiocese attended the Mass. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATIE PETERSON

But in his homily, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann reminded me of the joy and pleasure music gives to God and the rest of the congregation, and how it is a beautiful way to evangelize to those who don’t know the faith.

“Never be without reason to have a joyful song in your hearts. This is a great means of evangelization today, is to sing with all our hearts this song of joy,” said Archbishop Naumann.

“As we celebrate this feast of St. Cecilia who was a martyr and a virgin and who is patron of all liturgical musicians and cantors and choirs, let us pray that our liturgy tonight might give God glory that is fitting to him, but even more so that our lives will sing this song of joy, this melody of joy that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Listening to the St. Lawrence Catholic Center Choir of Lawrence under the direction of Brian Nelson, and the Sursum Corda Acapella Choir of Kansas City, Missouri, under the direction of Katie Schmitz, and the more than 200 parish musicians throughout the archdiocese proclaim the word of God through song during Mass, the praise and joy exhibited was more evident than ever.

It was St. Augustine who said, “To sing is to pray twice.”

I now appreciate more the importance of this gift of music God bestowed upon me, and that, through the example of St. Cecilia, using that gift to glorify him is the most important thing I can do to share my faith with others.

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