There are seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated in the Roman Canon. Perpetua, Felicity, Agnes, Cecilia, Agatha, Lucy, and Anastasia, all of them martyrs enjoying extensive devotion by the fifth century when this Eucharistic Prayer was first composed.
A few moments ago we prayed that “what has been devoutly handed down concerning [Saint Cecilia] might offer us examples to imitate.” So what has been handed down that we might imitate it?
As far as we know, Cecilia was born into a wealthy Roman family, raised a Christian and piously carried the Gospels with her wherever she went. Consecrated from birth to a life of virginity, she converted her first husband on their wedding night after which the couple spent all their time burying the martyrs provided by the frequent Christian persecutions.
When the prefect of Rome grew tired of this troublesome couple, he executed her husband and soon decided to have Cecilia killed as well.
According to the legend, when the soldiers came to arrest her, Cecilia converted them and they were baptized, “amidst loud hymns of thanks.”
The next day, wishing only to be rid her, the prefect ordered that she be suffocated in the baths. But from within the sealed chambers they heard her voice crying out: "I thank You, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that through Your Son the fire will be been extinguished.” And as they looked below the baths the fires went out.
So they tried to cut off her head; but as the executioner’s blade hit her neck for the third time, she is said to have yelled out “I thank you for your cross…” At which her lips fell silent, never to thank God again, until she stood with the angels before the throne of the God who never abandoned her.
So what has been handed down that we might imitate it?
The grace to give thanks when they arrest you, when they boil you and when the sword falls. “In all things give thanks to God…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a)