The Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Feasts, and Memorials

Today is the Vernal Equinox, Spring is sprung and the season of Rabbits is upon us. Today is also the Solemnity of Saint Joseph in the Roman Catholic Liturgical calendar.  Saint Joseph is a fascinating figure within the Christian mystery tradition and a saint with whom I have an ongoing devotional relationship.

Saint Joseph had no formal veneration until the middle ages and in 1870 Pope Pius IX declared him the Patron and Protector if the universal Family of the Church. he is often depicted holding a lilly as a symbol of virginity and chastity as he was the foster father of Jesus and tradition hold he and Mary never consummated their marriage with physical union.

Joseph is often considered the patron of the Good Death as he is generally believed to have died before the public ministry of Christ. This means that both Mary and Jesus would have been present at his death bed. Joseph is also often called upon in matters of work and career. This extends from the fact he was a carpenter and would have bestowed this trade to his foster child, Jesus. In the Italian tradition, offerings of bread are baked on his day in the shape of carpenter’s tools.  These are placed on large altars thanking Saint Joseph for his intercessions in the previous year.  These are particularly common in areas with a high Sicilian population and in New Orleans.

Personally, I will be making an altar and offering to St Joseph today. He has been an ongoing part of my life the past year and interceded in wonderful ways. I am fortunate that my church in London, which was built in 1791, includes a beautiful shrine to Saint Joseph. I try to light a candle for him after every mass and keep a prayer card at hand. One of my favourite prayers for this saint is the Litany of Saint Joseph.  I will often keep these devotional practices active even when I am not actively seeking some intercession from Joseph. It strikes me as, if anything, polite. I also sense this keeps the channel open and the flame alive.

The liturgical year is punctuated by a variety of special dates specified as Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials. The difference between these is their relative importance and the degree of obligation attached.
Solemnities represent those celebrations of the greatest importance, events which carry the most weight within the cycle of Christian mysteries. These include the most recognisable celebrations of  Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Day, as well as the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God,  the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ,  and the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul. These holy days of obligation each begin on the previous evening at Vespers. During mass on a Solemnity, both the Gloria and the Creed are recited.

Following the Solemnity in importance is the Feast. As a general rule Feasts do  not have their own vigil mass. During Feasts the Gloria is recited at Mass but not the Creed.  Some feasts include the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Feast of Mary, and the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin (also known as Candlemas).

Detail of the Presentation in the Temple by Fra Angelico

Many of these feasts have their own ornate traditions associated. For example,  at Candlemas parishioners may bring their own candles to church for a blessing to be used throughout the remainder of the year. In the French tradition,  Candlemas is known as the day of crêpes.  This association stems from when Pope Gelasius I distributed pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome.  It has also been noted that this tradition carries some vestigial echoes of the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, when Vestal Virgins baked offering cakes.
Lastly, there come the Memorials. These days celebrate the memory and deeds of Saints. Some Memorials are obligatory and others are not. If a Memorial celebrates the patron saint of a particular church, it may be elevated to a Feast status.

Lupercalia. Wolf head, 1-100 CE, bronze, Roman, Cleveland Museum of Art

A traditional Liturgical calendar can be found at this link. The calender here “is based on the most traditional form of the Roman Rite, before the Conciliar-Bugnini changes of 1950, 1956, 1960, and 1962. It is the one that corresponds to the fully traditional version of the Missale Romanum and the Breviarium Romanum in four volumes.”