A saint for the darkest time of the year

During the darkest time of the year, when daylight seems to last but a breath and when mankind is holding its breath, eagerly awaiting the birth of a savior, we celebrate a saint whose very name means light. The feast of St. Lucy always falls during Advent and heartens us in our earthly vigil. As the flames dance upon pink and purple candles, we can also joyfully light another wreath of pure white candles and call upon St. Lucy to guide us toward the Light himself, for whom we are so desperately yearning.

Though time has garbled her tale, certain truths of this beautiful saint remain. Lucy lived in Syracuse, Italy, during the fourth century when Christians were being persecuted. Though her mother desired her daughter’s betrothal to a pagan nobleman, the young girl prayed that it would not be so; she wanted only to be a bride of Christ. St. Agatha, to whom Lucy had a devotion, appeared to her in a dream and told her that her mother would be cured of her illness. The miraculous healing set Lucy’s mother’s heart ablaze with love for Christ, and she allowed her daughter to commit her life to him. In anger, the pagan nobleman revealed Lucy’s faith to the governor, who attempted to defile the pure young Christian by hauling her to a brothel. However, the guards were inexplicably unable to move Lucy. She was then subjected to various forms of torture, including having her eyes gouged out. The guards attempted to burn her, but the flames would not catch. Finally, they drove a sword through her neck, and the saint won the martyr’s white robe.

Traditions of the saint

For centuries, people have clung to the legend of this spotless soul. They have been drawn in by the radiance of her life, lived so wholeheartedly for the Light of the World. Her purity inspires wonder and her steadfast ardor for the Lord inspires zeal. Around the world, this saint has been terrifically celebrated. On the island of Sicily, the people remember when a ship laden with grain miraculously appeared on her feast day in 1646, rescuing the Sicilians from famine. To commemorate this glorious event, they eat cuccia, a puddling of wheat berries, ricotta and honey. A striking silver statue of the saint is paraded, along with a first class relic, from the Cathedral of Syracuse through the city that becomes illumined with fireworks. The procession ends at the Basilica of Saint Lucy in Piazza Santa Lucia where people pray for the saint’s intercession.

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In Sweden, the celebrations highlight the tradition that St. Lucy bravely brought provisions to Christians hiding in the Catacombs during Diocletian’s persecution. To light the way, she wore a wreath of candles upon her head, thus freeing her hands to carry her offerings. On St. Lucy’s feast day, a young girl is chosen to dress as the saint — complete with the fiery crown — and lead a procession. In individual homes, the eldest daughter often dons the saintly garb and serves saffron buns (lussekatter) and ginger cookies to the family.

Lucy in art

This cause of so many celebrations throughout the ages has also been the subject for many artists. “Saint Lucy Before the Judge” by Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Lotto inspires reflection on the virtues of this early saint. Many hands grasp at her garments, but Lucy seems untouched, unbothered by them. She stands erect, like a grand candle herself (as perhaps the bright yellow of her dress suggests). She points heavenward, encouraging others to cast their gaze in that direction. From above, the Holy Spirit swoops down. To Lucy’s left, a child, likely recognizing his own innocence mirrored in Lucy, reaches out toward her. Despite the commotion all around, there is a palpable peace emanating from the saint’s impassive form. She is grounded in her faith, in her conviction that she is precious in the sight of the King of the Universe.

As we make our way through Advent — whether we are skipping with the delightedness of children or trudging beneath many burdens — a little interlude to celebrate and reflect upon the life of this beloved saint will, undoubtedly, gladden our souls. We may feel fatigued by the days of waiting — this period in which we strive so earnestly to prepare our hearts to welcome our savior. We may feel as if we’ve lost conviction and fervor. We may find ourselves distracted by gilded things and forgetful of that which is truly gold. This saint can redirect us to the proper path, point us in the direction of the tiny babe lying in the manger. She knew so well that, though the way is often dark, the light of Christ can always be found, for it is found within our very selves.

St. Lucy, help us look within and see that he who is Light reigns there. Buoy our devotion and show us what it means to live wholly for Christ. Speak to us of the joys of seeking the Lord in all that we do and casting off the cares and seductions of the world. Despite your blindness, you saw the truth so clearly. Help us in our blindness to see that he is King of Kings, Lord of Lords! St. Lucy, in these final weeks of Advent, illuminate our paths so that we may finally find the One who will satisfy our every longing!

St. Lucy, ora pro nobis!

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