Strong, Serene, Majestic, Invincible
When in 1867 Abbot Prosper Guéranger set about opening a Benedictine monastery for women at Solesmes, he placed the whole enterprise under the protection of Saint Cecilia. Jenny Bruyère, the young woman who would become the first abbess of Sainte-Cécile, had taken the name of Cécile at the time of her confirmation; as a Benedictine her whole life would unfold under the patronage of the Roman virgin martyr.
Abbot Guéranger recognized in Saint Cecilia, “an embodiment of the Roman Church of the first centuries, strong, serene, majestic, invincible.” This fascination with Saint Cecilia was communicated to anyone who came within under the spiritual influence of Solesmes. When the young Suzanne Wrotnowska was received as a Benedictine Oblate of the Abbey of Sainte-Marie de la Source in Paris, a monastery of the Solesmes Congregation, Saint Cecilia was among the saints held up for her imitation and veneration. Later, writing her meditations on the liturgy, she would offer her daughters memorable commentaries on the Mass and Office of Saint Cecilia.
Her Heart Was Enkindled With Fire From Heaven
It is not surprising that Benedictines should feel a certain affinity with Saint Cecilia. One of the responsories for her Office aptly illustrates the monastic life: “The glorious maiden carried the Gospel of Christ always in her breast, and meditated therein day and night, talking with God and praying. V. She spread forth her hands and prayed unto the Lord, and her heart was enkindled with fire from heaven. R. Talking with God and praying.”
Led Into the Desert
The proper lectionary texts given us today present the monastic itinerary. In the First Reading (Hos 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22) the bride led into the desert opens her heart to the word of the Lord; he espouses himself to her forever in love and in mercy. In a place of solitude, she comes to know the Lord, not with a knowledge that is notional and abstract, but with the deep knowing of the heart.
Behold, the Bridegroom Comes
The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 44: 11-12, 14-15, 16-17) prepares us for the First Sunday of Advent. It announces the advent of the Bridegroom; he comes in Word, he comes in the mysteries of his Body and Blood, he will come in glory. The bride, while waiting, inclines her ear. She forgets her people and her father’s house. One thing only holds her attention: the Face of the Beloved who will make her night as bright as day. The Gospel is a call to vigilance. It is an Advent Gospel, an invitation to live in readiness for we know neither the day nor the hour.
Cecilia, Named at the Altar
For centuries, the name of Cecilia was pronounced in every single celebration of Holy Mass. Today Cecilia will take her place close to the altar among the other virgin martyrs of the venerable Roman Canon. She is the first of the holy women whose names will bring warmth and light to the winter liturgy: Cecilia, Lucy, Anastasia, Agnes, Agatha, Felicity and Perpetua. Listen closely. You may hear Cecilia singing today in her native tongue: “Ecce sponsus venit! — Behold, the Bridegroom comes!” May it be given us to go forth to meet him with lighted lamps, today in the holy mysteries, and at the hour of our death.