Thursday, December 13, 2007

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Traditional, beautiful and dangerous: Scandinavian maidens wear wreathes with lighted candles on St Lucy's day, impersonating the saint.  Surely OH&S would never allow this in Australia!   (Don't believe me, believe Wikipedia: see entry referring to all this.  And yes, there is an allusion here to her name, referring to light.)

According to the Breviary, the wicked (they always are) Prefect Paschasius (odd name for a pagan) first tried to have the virginal Lucy dragged off to a whorehouse (the Lesson is very explicit as to why), but the Holy Ghost made her immobile as a column, whereupon nasty Paschasius (cunningly inventive, these Romans) ordered a fire lit around her (hence the surely dangerous custom of presumably Lutheran maidens wearing candles in their hair): but when this didn't work, at last after many torments – the worst, her eyes were plucked out (yet still she could see! hence she's patroness of the blind) –  her throat was cut.

Advice to tormentors of martyrs: whipping, branding, throwing to beasts, cutting out tongues and cutting off hands (St Maximus Confessor), ripping off breasts (St Agatha), plucking out eyes (see above!), burning, raking with iron claws, shooting with arrows (St Sebastian), tying to a revolving wheel set afire (St Catherine of Alexandria), etc. may or may not work, but chopping off the head or at least slitting the throat does.  The saint may walk off with his head (St Denis et al.) or it may bounce thrice in honour of the Trinity, producing three miraculous fountains (St Paul), or, it not being properly chopped off, the saint may spend three days in prayer, consecrating her house as a church (St Cecilia), but eventually they go to reign forever with Christ; whereas (unless converted by their very victim) the persecutor ends up in hell with the devil.

Don't get me wrong: the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who win through to it must endure much.  Hence the expression "to storm heaven".  As St John the Baptist did, so did St Lucy, and the other martyrs who suffered this day.  (I am alluding to the readings as I heard them at Mass today in the ordinary form, for Thursday in the second week of Advent.)  To be so devoted to the Lord as to offer oneself a victim, to die as a faithful and true witness to Him, is perhaps the greatest grace given to men.  Would that one be graced with such constancy as to persevere to the end and be saved, as the holy martyrs.

The new Martyrology very finely says of St Lucy (excuse my translation):

The Ides of December, the fourth day of the moon [in 2008].

Of the memory of holy Lucy, virgin and martyr, who guarded, whilst she lived, her lighted lamp for the coming of her Spouse, and, dragged to death for Christ at Syracuse in Sicily, with Him she merited to enter into the wedding feast and to possess undying light.

I append the lovely Office hymn, Jesu corona Virginum; it has several tunes, but this is a favourite; the translation is also a favourite, even tho' it omits the second verse (see below):

O Jesu, Thou the Virgins' Crown, 
Thy gracious ear to us bow down, 
Born of that Virgin whom alone 
Both Mother and a Maid we own.


In Thee, their Bridegroom and their Lord, 
The virgins find their bright reward, 
And wheresoe'er Thy footsteps wend 
With hymns and praises Thee attend.

O gracious Lord, we Thee implore 
Thy grace into our minds to pour; 
From all defilement keep us free, 
And make us pure in heart for thee.  

All praise to God the Father be, 
All praise, Eternal Son, to Thee, 
Whom we the Spirit we adore, 
For ever and for evermore.  Amen.

(*Verse 2: Amongst the lilies Thou dost feed, / And thither choirs of Virgins lead; / Adorning all Thy chosen brides / With glorious gifts Thy love provides.)

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