The Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph Definition and Summary
The Solemnity of Saint Joseph honors the foster father of Jesus. He is the patron saint of fathers, families, workers, and the Church. Saint Joseph is honored with two different feast days: His primary feast day (which is a solemnity), is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on March 19. The Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker is celebrated on May 1.
This article deals primarily with the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Prayers: Feast of Saint Joseph Prayers
Basic Facts About the Saint Joseph Feast
Liturgical Color(s): White
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
Despite the attention given to him today, Saint Joseph is a relatively minor figure in the New Testament. The four canonical Gospels provide very 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' active ministry. The non-canonical Protevangelium, from around the second century, portrays Joseph as much older.
The Protevangelium also asserts that Joseph was a widower who had grown children from his previous marriage. This story is used by many Church Fathers to explain Scriptural references to Jesus' "brothers," who would have been step-brothers, and not biologically related to Jesus. Finally, we know from the Scriptures that Joseph was a carpenter by trade, and a descendent of the Old Testament King David.
Saint Joseph was betrothed (basically, 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 Saint Joseph. While they are not scriptural and are historically suspect, they are nonetheless fascinating. 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.
Saint Joseph is a model of humility and holiness, and he 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.
Saint 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.
Devotion to Saint 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 (fourth to seventh century) playing a major role in fostering the devotion. The Copts likely kept his feast as early as the fourth century. In one of the oldest Coptic calendars we possess, Saint 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 Saint Bernardino of Siena and John Gerson. The theological foundations they set paved the way for the establishment of the Feast of Saint Joseph. Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Francis De Sales were also known for their strong devotion to Saint Joseph.
The feast of Saint 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 Saint Joseph's name into the litany of the saints. Pope Pius IX declared him patron of the universal Church in 1870. In 1955 the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was promulgated by Pope Pius XII, observed on May 1. This feast was added to the calendar on May 1 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 Saint 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 Saint Joseph and his feast day. March 19 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 Saint 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 Saint Joseph is burying a Saint Joseph statue 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 as a process whereby one joins one's prayers with Saint Joseph, asking God to sell a home more quickly. The statue is not magic. Many people, to thank Saint Joseph for his intercessions, will display the buried statue in their new home.
Worship and Prayer Resources
Traditions, Symbols, and 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
This page written by David Bennett
Updated 04-20-2023 by Elizabeth Craig