December 13: Lucy (Lucia), Martyr at Syracuse, 304

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this commemoration

Lucy, or Lucia, was martyred at Syracuse, in Sicily, during Diocletian’s reign of terror of 303-304, among the most dramatic of the persecutions of early Christians. Her tomb can still be found in the catacombs at Syracuse. She was venerated soon after her death and her cult spread quickly throughout the church. She is among the saints
and martyrs named in the Roman Canon of the Mass. Most of the details of Lucy’s life are obscure. In the tradition she is remembered for the purity of her life and the gentleness of her spirit. Because her name means “light,” she is sometimes thought of as the patron saint of those who suffer from diseases of the eyes.

In popular piety, Lucy is perhaps most revered because her feast day, December 13, was for many centuries the shortest day of the year. (The reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory VIII (1582) would shift the shortest day to December 21/22, depending upon the year.) It was on Lucy’s day that the light began gradually to return and the days to lengthen. This was particularly powerful in northern Europe where the days of winter were quite short. In Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, Lucy’s day has long been a festival of light that is kept as both an ecclesiastical commemoration and a domestic observance.

In the domestic celebration of Lucia-fest, a young girl in the family dresses in pure white (a symbol of Lucy’s faith, purity, and martyrdom) and wears a crown of lighted candles upon her head (a sign that on Lucy’s day the light is returning) and serves her family special foods prepared especially for the day. In praise of her service, the young girl is called Lucy for the day.

Collects

I Loving God, who for the salvation of all didst give Jesus
Christ as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with thy
daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits
of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the
same Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth
and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II Loving God, for the salvation of all you gave Jesus Christ
as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with your
daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits
of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the
same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives
and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Song of Solomon 6:1–9
Revelation 19:5–8
John 1:9–13

Psalm

131

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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11 Responses to December 13: Lucy (Lucia), Martyr at Syracuse, 304

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Readings. With the exception of the Psalm, this seems an odd group of readings. Maybe it is just me but I was not inspired by the choices. I hope that others might offer some alternatives.

  2. Bruce White says:

    Did like the gospel selected.

  3. I think this feast is a great addition to our calendar (and my staff agrees). I did, however, find the collect a bit cumbersome.

  4. John LaVoe says:

    The Old Testament lesson is fantastic, not in a good sense. Revelation and John are apropos, and the Revelation reading could be extended another verse. Hopefully nobody will read back to the beginning of the chapter to see what the celebration is all about.

    The Psalm is one that I find meaningful and relevant in many contexts, but oddly enough, not in this one. It seems wasted here. Psalm 43:1-4 (with reference to “light” in verse 3) would be a short response to an OT lesson, but if the OT lesson were well chosen for the occasion, this might be a preferable response, intead of Psalm 131.

    As far as reinstating Lucy as a commemoration, all those in favor signify by saying “eye.”
    The eyes have it.

  5. John LaVoe says:

    Given some of the more extreme legends that have accrued around Lucy, I have to commend the restraint shown in this write-up. Her faith and martyrdom is what justifies her inclusion in our calendar, not the far fetched stuff. (Lit candles in children’s hair?!)

    Mention of the Roman Canon of the Mass raised a question. If the ancient Roman Canon is meant, shouldn’t the date of that Canon be mentioned specifically? Otherwise, on the assumption that it might refer to the Roman Catholic Canon of recent times, it looks as if we’re suggesting if they have it it must be kosher. (The bio also reads perfectly well with the removal of the sentence, “She is among the saints and martyrs named in the Roman Canon of the Mass.”)

  6. Philip Wainwright says:

    ‘She is among the saints and martyrs named in the Roman Canon of the Mass’—this adds nothing to our knowledge of her, and is not a reason to commemorate her. I see no reason to include it.

    In the collect, ‘Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ’ is a bit awkward, and can be confusing if you don’t say it exactly right. I’d try something like ‘May we, like your servant Lucy, so walk in the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion’ etc.

    • John Robison says:

      The she was added tot eh Roman Cannon of the Mass, and the Sarum form of it as well, from a very early date indicates her importance tot he Early Church. If she wasn’t widely remembered and revered, she wouldn’t have made it in. We do share that part of Church History and acting as if we don’t just seems odd.

      • Philip Wainwright says:

        Agreed. I just think that the point was sufficiently made in the preceding sentence.

        Speaking more generally, I’d question whether ‘reign of terror’ is the appropriate phrase for Diocletian, as opposed to the more usual ‘persecution’. It’s usually used of a policy of elimination of all political opponents, rather than those in a single minority group. If something more than ‘persecution’ is called for, perhaps a phrase less associated with Robespierre and Stalin could be found.

  7. John LaVoe says:

    Anybody seen John of the Cross anywhere?

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    Line 1, first paragraph: after “Lucia,” add “was born in Sicily about 285”, and delete “, in Sicily”.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: I suggest substituting “traditional” for “special”. This avoids the propinquity of “special” and “especially”.

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