December 13, 2013 by lucieromarin
Well, you know you’re a popular saint when your Feast Day makes it on to the IKEA website! Granted, this is to do with Swedish-ness rather than Catholic-ness, but it still goes to show that people would rather love things than not love them, and that, given the choice between historical criticism on one hand, and processions, cake, music, candles and tales of young heroines on the other, (particularly when that young heroine once appeared in your country during a famine with a boatload of food) they’re going to go for the heroism and the cake. (I read one semi-pious page about St Lucy which mentioned her devotion to St Agatha, and then added something like, “It is to be hoped that this was not a later addition to the story at the hands of someone with an interest in linking two national identities.” Well, sure, and it’s also to be hoped that your dubiousness isn’t because you have a secret agenda against anything that demonstrates an early Church cult of the saints, buddy!)
Saint Lucy is most certainly the saint for anyone who foresees an inescapable trial. When she prayed at the shrine of St Agatha, the saint appeared to her and said, “How can I refuse you, when you are like me?” and then promised her that she would be the glory of Syracuse, “…as I am the glory of Catania.” She wasn’t talking about shrines and holy cards here; she was talking about grisly and horrible martyrdom, so from that moment on, St Lucy knew what was coming. We’re told that she returned home and began distributing her goods to the poor, saying to her mother only, “Let us give away that which we cannot take with us.” This is usually interpreted as a sign of her generosity and single-minded devotion to Our Lord, but I can’t help wondering if it was also a way of forewarning her mother – after all, why say, “I won’t need this when I’m dead,” if your death is decades and decades away? I can’t prove this, of course; I just wonder.
She’s also a salutary reminder to any wannabe mystic that receiving a personal visitation from a saint is not necessarily something to aspire to. (I know how I’d feel if she appeared to me right now and said, “Oh, Little Sister, my destiny is yours.”)
Both St Lucy and St Agatha between them defy the stereotype of the consecrated virgin as something rather pale and limp, like a drooping lily. When St Agatha’s persecutors cut her pieces, she scolded them, “How can you cut that very organ with which your own mothers nourished you?” and when St Lucy was threatened with force, she answered (I’m paraphrasing a bit here), “How can you think that force will rob me of my virtue? For as long as I do not will it, I cannot sin.”
Notice that she didn’t say, “I’m not afraid, because Jesus will protect me.” She was prepared for the possibility that she would actually be violated in that brothel, and all she had to say about it was that her persecutors didn’t know their philosophy. I wonder if this is why so many of the later St Lucys have been notable for their speech during their hours of trial – it was the 18-year-old St Lucy Wang Cheng who comforted and encouraged her three younger companions before their martyrdom during the Boxer Rebellion, and the Korean St Lucy Pak Hui-Sun answered her captors as bluntly as they questioned her – even after torture.
From this, to candlelit processions! I suppose that the Swedish love of St Lucy’s Day might be seen as a kind of accretion to the legend, a Now not really related to Then. To me, though, it is just a natural side-effect of a saint having a life after her death; she brought that boatload of food to Lake Varnem, and they never forgot it. Either way, who wouldn’t want to dress up a little starboy, given the chance?