Rorate Caeli

A personal letter to the readers of Rorate Caeli on the Feast of Saint Cecilia

A Personal Letter to the Readers of Rorate Caeli on the Feast of Saint Cecilia

Fr Richard G. Cipolla

I am writing this as a personal letter to the readers of Rorate Caeli for a special reason, which I will address in the third paragraph below. Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr.  We know little about her life and even her martyrdom in the third century from contemporary sources.  But we know the strong and early devotion of Christians to this young woman, and the basilica raised in honor of Saint Cecilia by Pope Urban I in the third century in Rome.  Many of the popular stories about her come from the Acta of her life written much later, probably in the sixth century.  Scholars seem to say that the details of her life and martyrdom as depicted in this work may have little real historical detail. We’ll leave that for the experts in hagiography to work out.  No experts are needed to tell us that the antiphons at Lauds and Vespers come from the Acta, and they are beautiful indeed.

I think we must be careful to dismiss the Acta describing St Cecilia’s life and death as having no relationship to who St Cecilia was and how and why she died.  What is passed on in Sacred Tradition concerning the Saints is sometimes a mixture of historical fact and personal embellishments, the latter providing a lovely “frame” in which the icon of the saint is placed.  But her importance for the Church cannot be over-emphasized, for she is the patroness of all music and especially the music of the Church.  In the times in which we live, St. Cecilia must be invoked with great fervor, given the low state of Catholic Church music that is heard today at Mass in the overwhelming majority of parishes throughout the world.  The banality and sentimentality of what passes for “hymns” in contemporary Catholic worship, foisted on the Church by the Missalette companies who have neither knowledge nor shame, is a great part of the reason for the gross misunderstanding of the Liturgy that has prevailed for the past 50 years.

But there is a re-awakening, especially among the young clergy, of an understanding of the beauty and importance of sacred music that is genuinely Catholic, especially Gregorian chant and polyphony.  I am so very blessed to be pastor of a parish with a superb music program that contributes to the beauty and solemnity not only of the Solemn Mass of the Traditional Roman Rite but to all Masses celebrated in the Novus Ordo rite, both English and Spanish.  The Schola Cantorum that sings at the Solemn Mass is a group of professional singers who know deeply the great music of the Church and who sing, like St. Cecilia, from their heart.  They have produced an amazing CD featuring an English Renaissance Mass Ordinary that has never been recorded before now.  One reviewer called it “a unique work of the highest musical quality.” The CD presents this and other gems of English polyphony in the context of the Mass at Dawn on Christmas Day, with all the proper Gregorian chants, sung lessons and responses, and even the sound of the sanctuary bells (I know the man who sings the lessons on the CD, but that part of the story would take us too far afield…). The recording evokes so wonderfully the mystery and beauty of that feast of Christmas that we will soon celebrate.  All proceeds of the sales of this CD go to help us continue the fine music program at St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk, a parish that is not affluent and depends on the kindness of those like the readers of Rorate Caeli to support what we do.  This CD will make a wonderful Christmas gift to anyone who loves the traditional music of the Church or to someone who knows nothing about Church music but loves beautiful art and music. If the latter is one of the countless Catholics who are still unfamiliar with the splendor of the Traditional Latin Mass, so much the better!

The CD can be ordered on the St. Mary’s website: Special discounted pricing ($15 plus shipping per CD) is available this coming weekend only, November 24th – 28th.

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
            Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder high’r;
            When to her organ, vocal breath was giv’n,
An angel heard, and straight appear’d
            Mistaking earth for Heav’n.  (John Dryden)

A most blessed Advent to you all.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla