Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast of St. Cecilia

Mentioned in the Canon of the Mass, acknowledged in the Litany of the Saints, her name appearing in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum -- the very oldest of all surviving Latin martyrologies -- St. Cecilia has been venerated in a great way since the earliest days of the Church.

She was born in the early 3rd century to a well-placed, noble Roman family and grew up in the Faith. But for some reason unknown to us, her parents pledged her to -- and she reluctantly married -- a pagan named Valerian. The Golden Legend tells us that at her wedding Cecilia:

was clad in royal clothes of gold, but under she ware the hair. And she hearing the organs making melody, she sang in her heart, only to God, saying: O Lord, I beseech thee that mine heart and body may be undefouled so that I be not confounded.

Her singing to God in her heart while music played at her dreaded wedding is likely the reason why she's known as the patroness of music and musicians.

After the wedding feast, which she endured fasting, and when Cecilia and her husband were finally alone, the Golden Legend tells us that she said to him:

O, my best beloved and sweet husband, I have a counsel to tell thee, if so be that thou wilt keep it secret and swear that ye shall betray it to no man...

...I have an angel that loveth me, which ever keepeth my body whether I sleep or wake, and if he may find that ye touch my body by villainy, or foul and polluted love, certainly he shall anon slay you, and so should ye lose the flower of your youth. And if so be that thou love me in holy love and cleanness, he shall love thee as he loveth me and shall show to thee his grace.

Valerian wanted to see this guardian angel of hers, so she told him that he would if he got himself baptized. He agreed, so she sent him along the Appian Way to meet Pope Urban (d. A.D. 230), who initiated him into the Church. Returning home, he found her talking to her angel, whom he could see perfectly. And this angel had two crowns of roses and lilies which he held in his hands, one of which he gave to Cecilia, the other of which to Valerian, saying:

Keep ye these crowns with an undefouled and clean body, for I have brought them to you from Paradise, and they shall never fade, ne wither, ne lose their savour, ne they may not be seen but of them to whom chastity pleaseth. And thou Valerian because thou hast used profitable counsel, demand what thou wilt.

Valerian told the angel that the thing he most wanted was the conversion of his brother, Tiburtius. And his desire came true. Valerian, Tiburtus, and Cecilia than devoted themselves to evangelizing, an endeavor at which they succeeded. They're said to have brought hundreds of souls to Christ.

But this great work angered the powers that be. First the brothers were arrested and then martyred -- but not before converting the officer of the prefect who was supposed to have acted as executioner. He himself was executed alongside the brothers.

Then Cecila was arrested. They first tried to kill her by suffocation in the bath of her own home, but failed. Then they tried to behead her, but only succeeded in striking three blows across her neck. As three blows were the limit allowed by law, she was left alone, languishing for three days on the floor of her bath before dying.

Her remains were laid to rest at Rome's Catacombs of San Callisto (St. Callixtus). Meanwhile, at the site of her home, Pope Urban -- the one who baptized her husband -- built a church in her honor. This church was rebuilt in 822 by Pope Paschal I, and Cecilia's relics -- along with the relics of her husband and brother-in-law -- were moved to it and remain there to this day.

If you visit this church, known as Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, you can see a beautiful Baroque statue of St. Cecilia in death, made by Stefano Maderno in 1600. He made this work of art after having seen St. Cecilia's body, which was entombed in the altar (one can see in the statue the three marks made by the axe against her neck). A marker on the floor in front of the statue relates the artist's sworn testimony that his sculpture reflects the state of the body as he saw it when her tomb was opened in 1599. (Note: a copy of this statue can be seen in the Catacombs in which St. Cecilia was originally interred.) Pay attention to the way Cecilia is holding her hands: she holds out two fingers on her right hand, indicating the two natures of Christ; the single finger she holds out with her left hand indicates the One, True God.

The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is the station church for the thirteenth day of Lent.

St. Cecilia is the patron Saint of music and musicians. She can be recognized in art as a beautiful, young woman typically playing an organ (including panpipes, the organ's predecessor), harp, or other musical instrument. (Note that in ecclesiastical Latin, her name is pronounced "Chay-chee-lia").


Some may prepare for this feast by praying the litany-like Novena to St. Cecilia starting on November 13 and ending on November 21, the eve of this feast. For her feast itself, there is the Litany of St. Cecilia which you can pray.

In Taranto, Italy (in the region of Puglia, found at Italy's heel), St. Cecilia's day is seen as the beginning of the Advent and Christmas seasons. At 3:30am, the church bells are rung, and musicians are blessed. Then a great procession -- with lots of music, of course -- is held, with the statue of St. Cecilia being carried from from the Cathedral of S. Cataldo to the Church of S. Giuseppe. In celebration, the people eat pettole, a fried, crisp-on-the-outside and chewy-on-the-inside snack that can be done up to be either savory or sweet (note that the accent is on the first syllable of the word "pettole"). According to a legend that has been handed down for generations, pettole were born thanks to a Taranto woman who let the bread rise too much on the feast of Santa Cecilia because she was so distracted by the music of the bagpipers parading through the streets of the city. When she realized that the dough was no longer good for making bread, she decided to make balls out of it and fry them in oil.

Pettole di Santa Cecilia (makes 40 or so pettole)

5 cups plain flour, shifted
1 TBSP coarse salt
2 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP active dry yeast (2 packets)
2 cups warm water
1/4 c. olive oil

Oil for frying

Place 4 c. of the sifted flour in a medium bowl, mix in salt and sugar, and make a well in the center. Place the yeast in warm water to dissolve, then pour into the well in the flour. Mix in 1/4 c. oil, blending all together with your hands.Add in remaining cup of flour a bit at a time until the dough becomes less sticky. Knead for about ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has approximately doubled in size. When the dough is ready, heat the oil in a pot. Drop clumps of dough -- somewhere between the size of a walnut and a golfball (they don't have to be round, mind you) -- and fry until golden and puffy, flipping during cooking to make sure they're cooked evenly. Remove and drain on kitchen towels. Eat while they're hot -- either savory-style with olives and/or flavored olive oil, or sweet-style by rolling them in sugar while still hot or by dipping them in honey. (Some people knead chopped olives into the dough itself -- about 10 black or green ones. Some add in chopped sun-dried tomatoes, put cheese, ham, cured meat, or anchovies in the middle of the dough balls, etc.).

Dipping Sauce (one way to eat them as savory)

5 garlic cloves, minced fine
6 tablespoons capers, drained and minced fine
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 TBSP chopped fresh basil (or 2 tsp dried)
2 TBSP chopped fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Big pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Smash the garlic, capers, spices, and cheese all together. Pour the oil over, and let sit a bit to meld. (Note that this type of recipe isn't an Italian one; it's more an Italian-American one. And it's good!).

To go the good old sugar cookie route (recipe here), you can use this 6" tall musical note template to cut your cookies' shapes (you can resize in a graphics program. To use, place it over a piece of cardboard. Cut along the outside lines so that both the paper and cardboad are cut. Then place the cardboard on top of your cookie dough and use a knife to trace around the edges).

So many fine paintings and sculptures have been made to honor St. Cecilia. And there are poetry and other bits of literature, too, two of which you can download here in pdf format:
But it's music that first comes to mind when thinking of her. Much has been written in her honor! There are Henry Purcell's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day (Hail! Bright Cecilia); Handel's A Song for St. Cecilia's Day; M. A. Charpentier's Oratorio (Caecilia virgo et martyr) H.397; Scarlatti's Messa di Santa Cecilia, etc. But among the prettiest is this simple Hymne a Sainte Cecile (Ave Verum) CG. 557 by Charles Gounod:

Now, as transportive and wonderful as it is to listen to music, how much more fun it is to make music! I so encourage you to give music lessons to any child you have who has even the slightest hint of talent or any interest whatsoever. And if you can't play an instrument yourself, sing! And if you can't sing, keep the rhythm! Make music with your family. Harmonize, sing rounds, keep time with drums or by clapping! Play with it; change it up. Consider how very different these three versions of the same song -- Leaning on the Everlasting Arms -- sound with the addition of harmony and changes of rhythm:

Iris DeMent, 2010:

The Sons of the Pioneers, 1937:

The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, 1974:

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!

Leaning (Lean on Jesus), leaning (Lean on Jesus),
    Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning (Lean on Jesus), leaning (Lean on Jesus),
    Leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
  Leaning on the everlasting arms!

Music is such a wonderful gift, one with the power to get us "out of ourselves." And making music with others is such a powerful form of community-building. Listen to music! Expose your children to Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikowsky, Big Band jazz, the great crooners, Gospel music, great rock and roll, OG funk, old school country -- whatever it is that "speaks to you." Play music during family dinners (not so loudly you can't speak to each other, of course, but enough to provide a background and lively the place up). And make music with them, too. Sing on those long car trips! Here, a 15-page song book in pdf format for you that includes the lyrics to the following thirty songs chosen because they're fun to sing (and here is a pdf of the same songs with chords -- 45 pages -- so someone can play a guitar or piano along with):

Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine (Ada Jones)
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (The Tokens)
Loch Lomond
Side by Side
Shaddupa You Face (Joe Dolce)
That's Amore (Dean Martin)
You Are My Sunshine
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer (The Four Vagabonds, et al.)
Mairzy Doats (The Merry Macs)
Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force Song)
Marines' Hymn (Marine Corps song)
The Caisson Song (Army Song)
Anchors Aweigh (Navy song)
Accentuate the Positive (Nat King Cole, et al.)
Sh-Boom (The Chords)
Come Softly to Me (The Fleetwoods)
Two of Us (The Beatles)
Cattle Call (Eddie Arnold)
Henry VIII I Am (Herman's Hermits)
Alphabet Song (The Three Stooges)
Brown-Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
Jeepers Creepers (Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra)
Don't Fence Me In (Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, et al.)
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Eric Idle)
All I Have to Do is Dream (Everly Brothers)
Tonight You Belong to Me (Patience and Prudence)
He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

Here, start with this canon for three voices (think of it as a 3-voice round) -- no Latin (or need of any other words to memorize) other than "dona nobis pacem" ("grant us peace")!  Download the sheet music here: Dona Nobis Pacem Canon for Three Voices (pdf)

Another thing to try with your kids: have each think of his favorite song, and then have him change the lyrics so it's turned into a song about St. Cecilia, his favorite Saint, or God. Then ask him to take his favorite poem -- and set it to music. Or challenge him to come up with an entirely new song, with his own lyrics.

Truly, the importance of music -- and making it -- can't be overstated. Before the ability to record music came along, the only music heard was music performed live for audiences, or made in pubs and in families' parlors. Not so long ago, every middle class home had a piano, and there was no dearth of people able to play it and get an entire household or party to sing along. With the rise of recorded music, parlor pianos, piano lessons, and the phenomenon of people singing together have practically disappeared, and music has become a passive instead of a community-building thing. It's quite a shame. Reverse the trend, and "sing, you sinners!"


The Feast of St. Cecilia

by Dom Prosper Gueranger

Cęcilia united in her veins the blood of kings with that of Rome’s greatest heroes. At the time of the first preaching of the Gospel, more than one ancient patrician family had seen its direct line become extinct. But the adoptions and alliances, which under the Republic had knit more closely the great families by linking them all to the most illustrious among them, formed as it were a common fund of glory, which, even in the days of decline, was passed on intact to the survivors of the aristocracy.

It has now been demonstrated by the undeniable witness of monuments that Christianity from the very beginning took possession of that glory by adopting its heirs; and that by a wonderful disposition of divine Providence, the founders of the Rome of the Pontiffs were these last representatives of the Republic, thus preserved in order to give to the two phases of Roman history that powerful unity which is the distinguishing note of divine works. Heretofore bound together by the same patriotism, the Cornelii and the Œmilii, alike heirs of the Fabii, the Cęcilii, Valerii, Sergii, Furii, Claudii, Pomponii, Plautii, and Acilii, eldest sons of the Gentile Church, strengthened the connections formed during the Republic, and firmly established, even in the first and second centuries of Christianity, the new Roman society. In the same centuries, and under the influence of the religion preached by Saints Peter and Paul, there came to be grated on the ever vigorous trunk of the old aristocracy the best members of the new imperial and consular families, worthy by their truly Roman virtues, practices amid the general depravity, to reinforce the thinned ranks of Rome’s founders, and to fill up, without too sudden a transition, the voids made by time in the true patrician houses. Thus was Rome working out her destiny; thus was the building up of the eternal City being accomplished by the very men who had formerly, by their blood or by their genius, established her strong and mighty on the seven hills.

Cęcilia, the lawful representative of this unparalleled aristocracy, the fairest flower of the old stem, was also the last. The second century was passing away; the third, which was to see the empire fall from the hands of Septimus Severus first to the Orientals and then to the barbarians from the banks of the Danube, offered small chance of preservation for the remnants of the ancient nobility. The true Roman society was henceforth at an end; for, save a few individual exceptions, there remained nothing more of Roman but the name: the vain adornment of freedmen and upstarts who, under princes worthy of them, indulged their passions at the expense of those around them.

Cęcilia therefore appeared at the right moment, personifying with the utmost dignity the society that was about to disappear because its work was accomplished. In her strength and her beauty, adorned with the royal purple of martyrdom, she represents ancient Rome rising proud and glorious to the skies, before the upstart Cęsars who, by immolating her in their jealousy, unconsciously executed the divine plan. The blood of kings and heroes flowing from her triple wound is the libation of the old nobility to Christ the conqueror, to the Blessed Trinity the Ruler of nations; it is the final consecration, which reveals in its full extent the sublime vocation of the valiant races called to found the eternal Rome.

But we must not think that today’s feast is meant to excite in us a mere theoretical and fruitless admiration. The Church recognizes and honors in Saint Cęcilia three characteristics which, united together, distinguish her among all the Blessed in heaven, and are a source of grace and an example to men. These three characteristics are virginity, apostolic zeal, and the superhuman courage which enabled her to bear torture and death. Such is the threefold teaching conveyed by this one Christian life.

In an age so blindly abandoned as ours to the worship of the senses, is it not time to protest, by the strong lessons of our faith, against a fascination which even the children of the promise can hardly resist? Never, since the fall of the Roman empire, have morals, and with them the family and society, been so seriously threatened. For long years, literature, the arts, the comforts of life, have had but one aim: to propose physical enjoyment as the only end of man’s destiny. Society already counts an immense number of members who live entirely a life of the senses. Alas for the day when it will expect to save itself by relying on their energy! The Roman empire thus attempted several times to shake off the yoke of invasion: it fell never to rise again.

Yes, the family itself, the family especially, is menaced. It is time to think of defending itself against the legal recognition, or rather encouragement, of divorce. It can do so by one means alone: by reforming and regenerating itself according to the law of God, and becoming once more serious and Christian. Let marriage, with its chaste consequences, be held in honor; let it cease to be an amusement or a speculation; let fatherhood and motherhood be no longer a calculation, but an austere duty: and soon, through the family, the city and the nation will resume their dignity and their vigor.

But marriage cannot be restored to this high level unless men appreciate the superior element, without which human nature is an ignoble ruin: this heavenly element is continence. True, all are not called to embrace it in the absolute sense; but all must do honor to it, under pain of being delivered up, as the Apostle expresses it, to a reprobate sense. (Romans 1:28) It is continence that reveals to man the secret of his dignity, that braces his soul to every kind of devotedness, that purifies his heart and elevates his whole being. It is the culminating point of moral beauty in the individual, and at the same time the great lever of human society. It is because the love of it became extinct that the ancient world fell to decay; but when the Son of the Virgin came on earth, he renewed and sanctioned this saving principle, and a new phase began in the destinies of the human race.

The children of the Church, if they deserve the name, relish this doctrine, and are not astonished at it. The words of our Savior and of his Apostles have revealed all to them; and at every page, the annals of the faith they profess set forth in action this fruitful virtue, of which all degrees of the Christian life, each in its measure, must partake. St. Cęcilia is one example among others offered to their admiration. But the lesson she gives is a remarkable one, and has been celebrated in every age of Christianity. On how many occasions has Cęcilia inspired virtue or sustained courage; how many weaknesses has the thought of her prevented or repaired! Such power for good has God placed in his Saints, that they influence not only by the direct imitation of their heroic virtues, but also by the inductions which each of the faithful is able to draw from them for his own particular situation.

The second characteristic offered for our consideration in the life of St. Cęcilia is that ardent zeal, of which she is one of the most admirable models; and we doubt not that here too is a lesson calculated to produce useful impressions. Insensibility to evil for which we are not personally responsible, or from which we are not likely to suffer, is one of the features of the period. We acknowledge that all is going to ruin, and we look on at the universal destruction without ever thinking of holding out a helping hand to save a brother from the wreck. Where should we now be, if the first Christians had had hearts as cold as ours? If they had not been filled with that immense pity, that inexhaustible love, which forbade them to despair of a world, in the midst of which God had placed them to be the salt of the earth?Each one felt himself accountable beyond measure for the gift he had received. Freeman or slave, known or unknown, every man was the object of a boundless devotedness for these hearts filled with the charity of Christ. One has but to read the Acts of the Apostles, and their Epistles, to learn on what an immense scale the apostolate was carried on in those early days; and the ardor of that zeal remained long uncooled. Hence the pagans used to say: “See how they love one another!” And how could they help loving one another? For in the order of faith they were fathers and children.

What maternal tenderness Cęcilia felt for the souls of her brethren, from the mere fact that she was a Christian! After her we might name a thousand others, in proof of the fact that the conquest of the world by Christianity and its deliverance from the yoke of pagan depravity are due to such acts of devotedness performed in a thousand places at once, and at length producing universal renovation. Let us imitate in something at least, these examples to which we owe so much. Let us waste less of our time and eloquence in bewailing evils which are only too real. Let each one of us set to work, and gain one of his brethren: and soon the number of the faithful will surpass that of unbelievers. Without doubt, this zeal is not extinct; it still works in some, and its fruits rejoice and console the Church; but why does it slumber so profoundly in so many hearts which God had prepared to be its active centers?

This cause is unhappily to be traced to that general coldness, produced by effeminacy, which might be taken by itself alone as the type of the age; but we must add thereto another sentiment, proceeding from the same source, which would suffice, if of long duration, to render the debasement of a nation incurable. This sentiment is fear; and it may be said to extend at present to its utmost limit. Men fear the loss of goods or position, fear the loss of comforts and ease, fear the loss of life. Needless to say, nothing can be more enervating, and consequently more dangerous to the world, than this humiliating preoccupation; but above all, we must confess that it is anything but Christian. Have we forgotten that we are merely pilgrims on this earth? And has the hope of future good died out of our hearts? Cęcilia will teach us how to rid ourselves of this sentiment of fear. In her days, life was less secure than now. There certainly was then some reason to fear; and yet Christians were so courageous that the powerful pagans often trembled at the words of their victims.

God knows what he has in store for us; but if fear does not soon make way for a sentiment more worthy of men and of Christians, all particular existences will be swallowed up in the political crisis. Come what may, it is time to learn our history over again. The lesson will not be lost if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, for the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers.

The Passion Sancę Cęcilię is marked on the most ancient Calendars on the 16th of September, (Martyrology of Jerome) and took place, according to the primitive Acts, under the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The great feast of November 22nd, preceded by a Vigil, was one of the most solemn on the Roman Cycle; it recalled the dedication of the church raised on the site of the palace which had been sanctified by the blood of the descendant of the Metelli, and had been bequeathed by her when dying to Bishop Urban, representative of Pope Eleutherius. This Urban having been later on confounded with the Pope of the same name, who governed the Church in the time of Alexander Severus, the martyrdom of our Saint was thought to have occurred half a century later, as we still read in the Legend of the Office.

It was most probably in the year 178 that Cęcilia joined Valerian in heaven, whence, a few months before, the Angel of the Lord had descended, bringing wreaths of lilies and roses to the two spouses.

She was buried by Urban, just as she lay at the moment of death. In the beginning of the following century, the family crypt was given by her relatives to the Roman church, and was set apart for the burial of the Popes. In the ninth century, Paschal I found her surrounded by these venerable tombs, and brought her back in triumph on May 8th, 822, to her house in the Trastevere, where she remains to this day.

On the 20th of October, 1599, in the course of the excavations required for the restoration of the basilica, Cęcilia was once more brought forth to the admiring gaze of the city and of the world. She was clad in her robe of cloth of gold, on which traces of her virginal blood were still discernible; at her feet were some pieces of linen steeped in the purple of her martyrdom. Lying on her right side with her arms stretched before her, she seemed in a deep sleep. Her neck still bore the marks of the wounds inflicted by the executioner’s sword; her head, in a mysterious and touching position, was turned towards the bottom of the coffin. The body was in a state of perfect preservation; and the whole attitude, retained by an antique prodigy during so many centuries in all its grace and modesty, brought before the eyes with a striking truthfulness Cęcilia breathing her last sigh stretched on the floor of the bath chamber.

The spectators were carried back in thought to the day when the holy bishop Urban had enclosed the sacred body in the cypress chest, without altering the position chosen by the bride of Christ to breathe forth her soul into the arms of her divine Spouse. They admired also the discretion of Pope Paschal, who had not disturbed the virgin’s repose, but had preserved for posterity so magnificent a spectacle. (Dom Guernager, St Cécile et la société romaine…)

Cardinal Sfondrate, titular of St. Cęcilia, who directed the works, found also in the chapel called of the Bath the heating stove and vents of the sudatorium, where the Saint passed a day and a night in the midst of scalding vapors. Recent excavations have brought to light other objects belonging to the patrician home, which by their style, belong to the early days of the Republic...

...The hour draws nigh when the Spouse is to appear, calling all who are his to gather under the standard of his Cross. Soon will the cry be heard: Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then, O Cęcilia, thou wilt say to all Christians what thou saidst to the faithful band grouped around thee at the hour of thy combat: “Soldiers of Christ! Cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” (Acta St Cęcilię)

The Church daily pronounces thy name with love and confidence, in the Canon of the Mass; and she looks for thy assistance, O Cęcilia, knowing it will not fail her. Prepare a victory for her, by raising up the hearts of Christians to the realities, which they too often forget while they run after the vain shadows from which thou didst win Tiburtius. When the minds of men become once more fixed upon the thought of their eternal destiny, the salvation and peace of nations will be secured.

Be thou forever, O Cęcilia, the delight of thy divine Spouse. Breathe eternally the heavenly fragrance of his roses and lilies; and be unceasingly enraptured with the ineffable harmony of which he is the source. From the midst of thy glory thou wilt watch over us; and when our last hour draws nigh, we beseech thee by the merits of thy heroic martyrdom, assist us on our deathbed. Receive our soul into thy arms, and bear it up to the everlasting abode, where the sight of the bliss thou enjoyest will give us to understand the value of Virginity, of the Apostolate, and of Martyrdom.

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