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The Solemnity of St. Joseph

St. Joseph Feast History, Information, Resources, Traditions, & More

St. Joseph Definition and Summary

The Solemnity of St. Joseph honors the foster-father of Jesus. He is the patron saint of fathers, families, workers, and the Church. His main celebration falls on March 19. St. Joseph the Worker is celebrated on May 1. Prayers: Feast of Saint Joseph Prayers


Basic Facts About the St. Joseph Feast

Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation (in some regions)
Time of Year: March 19; Feast of St. Joseph the Worker: May 1
Duration: One Day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Saint Joseph
Alternate Names: Feast of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary
Scriptural References: Luke 1-2; Matthew 1-2;

Introduction

Despite the attention given to him today, Saint Joseph is a relatively minor figure in the New Testament. The canonical gospels do provide a few details about his life. He was probably a relatively old man when Jesus was born, since he does not appear in the gospels during Jesus' ministry. The non-canonical Protevangelium, from around the 2nd century, attests to Joseph's advanced age. The Protevangelium also asserts that Joseph was a widower, who had grown children from his previous marriage. This story is used by many early Church Fathers to explain Scriptural references to Jesus' "brothers," who would have been step-brothers, and not biologically related. Finally, we know from the Scriptures that Joseph was a carpenter by trade, and a descendent of the Old Testament King David.

St. Joseph was betrothed (essentially engaged) to a virgin named Mary, and when she became pregnant without sexual intercourse with him, he intended to divorce her secretly. However, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, telling him that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was to take Mary as his wife. The angel also instructed Joseph to name the child Jesus. Joseph, being a humble man, obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife.

Various legends have grown-up about St. Joseph, and while non-canonical, and historically suspect, they are interesting. One legend suggests that the high-priest Zechariah told Mary that he was instructed in a revelation to bring together marriageable men and have each man leave his staff in the temple overnight. The husband chosen by God would be revealed through a sign. In the morning, Joseph the Carpenter's staff blossomed, while the other suitors' staffs did not. This was a sign that Mary was to marry Joseph.

St. Joseph is a model of humility and holiness, and is a model for fathers everywhere. He cared for the Son of God, despite Jesus not being his own biological Son. His devotion to Mary, despite his suspicions of her infidelity, and his willingness to listen to the angel of God, demonstrate his humility.

St. Joseph is a popular patron saint. He is the patron saint of the universal Church, a happy death, workers, carpenters, expecting mothers, families, and more.

History

Devotion to St. Joseph developed slowly, more slowly than devotion to Mary. The devotion seems to have begun in the East, with the apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter (4th-7th century) playing a major role in fostering the devotion. The Copts likely kept his feast as early as the 4th century. In one of the oldest Coptic calendars we possess, St. Joseph was commemorated on July 20. In later Greek calendars, he is remembered on either December 25 or December 26. In the West, devotion to Joseph developed more slowly, with its earliest promoters being St. Bernardino of Siena and John Gerson. The theological foundations they set paved the way for the establishment of the Feast of St. Joseph. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis De Sales were also known for their strong devotion to St. Joseph.

The feast of St. Joseph did not enter the Western calendar until AD 1479. In 1714 Pope Clement XI composed a special office for the feast, and in 1729 Pope Benedict XIII inserted his name into the litany of the saints. Pope Pius IX declared him patron of the universal Church in 1870. In 1955 the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was promulgated by Pope Pius XII, observed on May 1. This feast was added to the calendar on May 1st to counter the Communist May Day celebration that day, by offering a Christian view of labor, and prime example in the husband of Mary. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is not a holy day of obligation. In 1962 his name was added to the list of saints in the Roman Canon (the First Eucharistic Prayer).

Many traditions and customs have developed around St. Joseph and his feast day. March 19th has been a traditional day to show hospitality in the Italian culture. On this day, all who come to the door are invited to dinner. The family table is extended full-length, moved against the wall (like the Church altar), and a statue of St. Joseph surrounded by flowers and candles is made the centerpiece. After the guests have enjoyed the bounteous feast (blessed by a priest prior to the meal), the guests leave so other guests may enter. What is left is given to the poor. On a variation of this theme, a table is set up in the town square, and all families bring food. After Mass, everyone comes and shares a meal, which consists of a variety of foods, including bread baked in the shape of scepters and beards.

Another popular custom associated with St. Joseph is burying St. Joseph statues upside-down in order to sell one's home more quickly. While there is nothing inherently wrong with burying a saint statue, this practice should not be used superstitiously, but simply viewed a process whereby one joins one's prayers with St. Joseph, asking God to sell a home more quickly. The statue is not magic. Many people, to thank St. Joseph for his intercessions, will display the buried statue in their new home.

Worship and Prayer Resources

Feast of Saint Joseph Prayers and Collects
Holy Family Prayers

St. Joseph Art, Photos, and Images

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St. Joseph Statue (D. Bennett)

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Statue of St. Joseph (J. Bennett)

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Holy Family Statues (J. Bennett)

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Holy Family Icon (traditional)

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The Holy Family (Claudio Coello)

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The Holy Family (Pompeo Batoni)

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The Holy Family (Peter Paul Reubens)

More Liturgical Artwork

Traditions, Symbols, & Typology

Traditions and Customs
Inviting visitors for dinner
Setting up a common table/meal in the town Square
Baking bread in the shape of a scepter or beard

Symbols
Blossoming Rod
Lily
Saw and other carpenter's tools
Budding Staff
Jesus and Mary with Joseph

Frequently Asked Questions

Coming Soon!

St. Joseph Feast and Church Year Books

Holy Bible: New Jerusalem Bible
Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Cross and Livingstone, eds.)
New St. Joseph People's Prayer Book
The Study of Liturgy (Jones, ed.)
Spirit of the Liturgy (Ratzinger)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
More Christian & Church Year Books

General Links

All About Christmas
All About the Feast of the Holy Family

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This page written by . Last updated 03-08-2013.



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