Sermon: Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy)

The podcast can be found here.


Fr. John Julian writes: “When a martyr lives and dies in Sicily, has a world-famous song written about her which is still sung 1500 years after her death [Santa Lucia], has her name included in the Canon of the Roman Mass, is listed in the oldest Christian Sacramentaries, has two churches dedicated to her in pagan England before the 8th century, is the most popular saint in Sweden and Norway, had her biography written by a member of the Saxon royal family, and a poem about her by John Donne, and whose feast day was originally the date of the winter solstice, she has to have been some remarkable lady! And such a person is Saint Lucy—the ever-popular Santa Lucia.”

Legend has it that Lucy was born to a noble Sicilian family, but secretly decided to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to Christ. Since her mother was unaware of this commitment, she went and promised Lucy to be married, but when Lucy finally told her of her intentions, her mother allowed Lucy to do as she pleased. However, the suitor was sorely disappointed, he was apparently looking toward a sizable dowry, so when the wedding was called off, he became angry and turned Lucy into the governor for being a Christian, which, under the current emperor, Diocletian, was illegal. Brought before the governor, she refused to recant her faith and was ordered to work in a brothel, but when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her from the spot she stood. It only gets gruesome from there, but she was put to death for her faith. A virgin martyr.

Using the old Julian calendar, her feast day, December 13th, was the winter equinox, which is the returning of the light with longer days. Given her name in Latin means light, you can understand why those in the far northern hemisphere would celebrate the saint who brings the light and the lengthening of daylight to their short winter days. Such is her renown, that in these Scandinavian countries on this night, it is said that you may hear cattle speaking or see running water turn to wine. If, during this season, you have ever seen a young girl wearing a white dress, with a red sash, and crown of candles, then you have seen a representation of Santa Lucia.

It is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, but it and the equinox are also reminders to us of the words from John’s prologue, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” We celebrate this same coming of the Light through our own traditions and celebrations, from the lights on our trees to the candles of the Advent wreath—all of which point to the birth of our Savior and the light he brings into the world.

Santa Lucia’s Song speaks of this coming, so I’ll close with it:

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

(Much of the information for this sermon comes from Fr. John Julian’s book, Stars in a Dark World.)

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