St. Lucy and Advent Ember Week

13 December was the darkest day – with the least sunlight – of the old Julian calendar.

Today in the Gregorian calendar is the feast of St. Lucy, whose name from the Latin lux, for “light”, reminds us who dwell in the still darkening northern hemisphere that our days will soon be getting longer again.

Lucy will usually be depicted in art with a lantern, or with a crown of candles, or – most commonly – with her own eyes on a platter.

Some accounts have Lucy slain by having her throat thrust through with sword.  Other accounts say that to protect her virginity she disfigured herself by cutting her own eyes out and sending them to her suitor, a plot likely to discourage him.  St. Lucy is therefore the patroness of sight.

St. Lucy shows up fairly often in Dante’s great Divine Comedy.  She is first in the Inferno.  It is Lucy who asked Beatrice to help Dante.  In Purgatory the eagle that bears Dante upward in a dream is actually Lucy who is bearing him to the gate of Purgatory.  Eagles, of course, are “eagle-eyed” and see very well.  In the Paradiso she is placed directly across from Adam in the Heaven of the Rose.  She can gaze directly at God.  St. Lucy was something of a patroness for Dante and that he was devoted to her because, as we glean from various works, he may have had a problem not just with his eyes but also struggling with sins of the eyes.

Next week we also have Ember Days, which in Advent come after the Feast of St. Lucy.   Do you remember the little mnemonic poem?  “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”, or else “Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.

Ember Wednesday will be the Missa aurea.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at Lucy’s Collect in the Ordinary Form.

This prayer was not in the pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum. It is based on a prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary for St. Felicity (VIIII KALENDAS DECEMBRIS).

Intercessio nos, quaesumus, Domine, sanctae Luciae virginis et martyris gloriosa confoveat, ut eius natalicia et temporaliter frequentemus, et conspiciamus aeterna.

First, you will have immediately caught the elegant hyperbaton, the separation of intercessio and the adjective that goes with it, gloriosa.  There is also a nice et… et construction.

Confoveo is “to cherish, caress, keep warm.”  It is a compound of foveo which essentially is “to be hot, to roast”.  It obviously deals with heat, flame, light.  This is a good word for this time of year in the northern hemisphere (unless you are in, say, Florida).

Conspicio is “to look at attentively, to get sight of, to descry, perceive, observe”. We are obviously dealing the seeing and sight.  This word should ring mental bells for the throngs of you readers who attended Holy Mass in the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin.  Conspicio is in the Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, used in a an extremely clever way juxtaposed to exspecto.  They share a common root.  But I digress.

Natalicia refers to birthdays.  In the Christian adaptation of this word, we are always referring to the saints being “born” into heaven.


Lord, give us courage through the gracious prayers of Saint Lucy. As we celebrate her entrance into eternal glory, we ask to share her happiness in the life to come.

Here is the usual clunky parataxis we know so well from the dreadful obsolete translation.  As usual, the translation is dumbed-down.  Do you see anything of the concept of vision?  Sight?  Is there anything in there that harks to the time of year?

Can you believe that some people want this back?


May the glorious intercession of the Virgin and Martyr Saint Lucy give us new heart, we pray, O Lord, so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday in this present age and so behold things eternal.

We are obviously much closer to the Latin in this new version.  Also, that behold at the end is consoling.

Reason #7569320 for the new, corrected translation.

Perhaps you might say a prayer today to St. Lucy, that she will intercede with God and implore Him, for us in the vale of tears, to open the eyes of so many of our elected officials – and voters – and our Church leaders too, while we’re at it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ADVENT, WDTPRS and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. scoot says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by Ember days but, coming into the faith late, never learned the mnemonics. Very handy! Ember days are somewhat out of fashion as I understand it–it’s very hard to find a liturgical calendar which has them. Maybe it’s not hard but I don’t know where to look. Is there a vendor you use or recommend? It’d be nice to be proactive on the feasts and fasts!

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    One of my few very good friends died this week, I’d guess from complications brought on by a combination of anti-cancer interventions and semi-homeless loss of the local institutional organs of secularist “charity”.

    My soul seems to have leapt when he passed, so that I spontaneously prayed for his soul, even though I learned in my mind of his passing only 2 days later.

    I seem to think that the soul of my friend, agnostic though he was (I did help to convert him from atheism at least to agnosticism), but he is of an old traditional Catholic family, may be in need of some help.

    My own prayer and prayers are mostly in the form of silent Orison.

    But please, can some of you with the most beautiful Charism of Prayer in Rosaries give nine Rosaries for the help toward Salvation for my friend Dominique ?

    … ut eius natalicia et temporaliter frequentemus, et conspiciamus aeterna

  3. robert hightower says:

    Scoot, the ember days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the first week of Lent, Pentecost Week, the third week of September, and the third week of Advent. Traditionally, fasting and abstinence was observed in the universal church, but in the US, only fasting was observed, except on Friday. With regard to the September embertide, you’ll see pre-1960s calendars sometimes differ with the 1962 missal. The reason is that the Sunday closest to Sept 1 was what opened the first week of September formerly, but the Code of Rubrics (1960) “simplified” things by making the Sunday on or after open the first week of September. In other words, Sunday August 30 being closer to Sept 1 than the following Sunday of Sept 5, and formerly would have begun September for reckoning the matins lessons and thus the ember days. On much older calendars, in that example, Ember Wednesday would be Sept 14. Under the 1960 rubrics, it’s the literal first Sunday of September that opens that month, and so Sept 21 would be ember Wednesday in that example. A minute detail in difference but one worth noting.

  4. rhhenry says:

    [I apologize if this posts twice; the first attempt seems to have disappeared.]

    Dear Scoot,

    The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (the “Gower nuns”) sell a calendar with the Ember Days clearly labeled. While on their web site, you (and everyone else) should also check out their amazing CDs, vestments, rosaries, and other items. :-)

  5. Pingback: FRIDAY LATE EDITION, Still Being Updated – Big Pulpit

  6. VexillaRegis says:

    The most beloved saint in Sweden is Saint Lucy. Every town, school, work place and church has a procession in her honour. Here you are:

  7. Pingback: St Lucy and Advent Ember Week | Catholicism Pure & Simple

  8. Anneliese says:

    An interesting story about St. Lucy, and not sure if this was a direct message from God or just coincidence.
    On the eve or perhaps the morning of the day my father died I had a startling dream in which my aunt and myself were running from room to room in this grand building. I didn’t know what we were looking for and the rooms seemed endless. Then all of a sudden we came across a grand double staircase with a statue of St. Lucy at the bottom in between the two staircases. When I woke in the morning, I couldn’t understand what the dream meant. It left me very curious. And while still in bed I picked up my phone to find a voice mail from the aunt who was in my dream telling me my father had died. In life he had been legally blind. He was Eastern Orthodox and had lapsed for a few decades at the time of his death. I would like to believe that St. Lucy was with him at the time of his death, even if he had been a skeptic when it came to faith.

  9. omgriley says:

    Scott, Angelus Press offers a digital liturgical calendar with all ember and rotation days as well as every feast day of the old liturgical calendar. It helps enormously if you attend the Latin Mass.

    It’s $5 and it syncs directly to your phones calendar. There’s also a standard paper form if you like.

  10. Mariana2 says:


    On it!

Comments are closed.