Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

‘Ne ora te canentium’: a Sermon for Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

‘And close not the mouths of them that sing to you, O Lord our God’ (Esther 13, 17).

Remember that, in Rome, our Lenten Masses take place at different Roman churches each day, at least traditionally. This explains the little note in our missals: ‘statio ad . . .’ But what seems a little detail to us is, in fact, liturgically important: because the stational church often has some influence over choice of texts of each Mass. This can be more or less obvious, but today we have an example. 

Today, our stational church is one dedicated to St Cecelia—who, tradition tells us, not only gave her lifeblood to God in martyrdom, but also, throughout her life, gave him the gift of song. It is why she is the patroness of our musicians, of course. That being the case, we have this line—the concluding sentence—from the prayer of Mordecai in today’s epistle:[1] ‘do not close the mouths of them that sing to you, O Lord our God;’ ne claudas ora te canentium, Domine. And he has not. The wicked men who imprisoned, suffocated, lacerated, and left for dead the virgin Cecelia may have silenced her song in this life—but they will never hear the music she now sings before the throne of the Divine Majesty. 

As it is for St Cecelia, so it is for the Holy Church. When it comes to you and me, it is likely we will never see the great stational churches of the holy city, Rome. And if the mystics are correct, it may be that those churches will fall into ruin as the city of Rome returns to her ancient paganism. But the Catholic and Roman faith will never fail. Which is why we must always keep memory and reverence for these stational churches—because they form an image for us: they remind us of the one everlasting Holy City: ‘And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’[2] And that is the Holy City to which we are sojourning; it is our glad inheritance.    

All the Masses of Lent are filled with the plaintive cries of the martyrs and of the Church Militant; this evening’s Mass is no exception. At each Holy Mass, we have the song of every martyr, because we have the one perfect offering of the King of Martyrs. Which is also why these Lenten Masses are so precious to us. Contrast these prayers with the noise and stupidity of the world; if we take our Lenten rites seriously, how can we be distracted or worried by the world? 

As I was preparing for this Mass, flipping the pages of my missal, one word kept coming back to me: spectacle. Spectacle. The politics in and out of the Church, the mess of our social and economic institutions, the vanities that entertain us: what are these in comparison to one of our Lenten Masses? All the world is a spectacle. God and his holy martyrs take pity on us.        


[1] Cf Schuster, The Sacramentary, vol II, pp 85-86. 

[2] Apocalypse 21, 2.

{Art Credit: John Williams Waterhouse (1849-1917), Saint Cecilia (1895); Legion of Honor, San Francisco}

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