Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King. This date, November 22, is also the feast of St. Cecilia, a Roman martyr and the patron saint of musicians. Legend has it that Saint Cecilia heard and sang music from heaven as she was being forced to marry the pagan Valerian. She is often portrayed with a harp, organ or other musical instruments.
Saint Cecilia knew music’s power to heal and transform. Music soothed her, comforted her and gave her hope in a dire situation. Our ancestors in faith also knew the power of music. When the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and were saved from Pharaoh’s army, they sang a song of victory. David sang to the Lord after being delivered from the hands of his enemies and from the hands of Saul. Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn before their journey to the Mount of Olives. St. Paul instructed the followers of Christ to encourage one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs.
Throughout history, we too have experienced the power of music. Consider what are known as freedom songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine.” These anthems became synonymous with the civil rights movement because they embodied the determination, unity and the mission of the movement.
During the current pandemic, music has soothed us, comforted us, and given us hope in many and various ways. Virtual choirs have flourished, Broadway stars have belted nightly tributes to medical personnel, opera singers have serenaded neighbors from their balconies and neighbors have made music in their backyards.
Liturgical music in particular has helped us to cope with the pandemic. Singing familiar and predictable songs at church, whether in our hearts or behind a mask, has soothed, comforted and given us hope amid a situation that is anything but predictable.
Many liturgical and secular concerts and festivals are held on this day throughout the world to honor St. Cecilia as the patron of musicians. So today is a good day to give thanks to God for the gift of music, for the gift of musicians and for the times music has soothed us, comforted us and given us hope.