Saint Joseph: Celebrate Him, Celebrate His Feast!

As a devout Jew and a man of deep faith, Joseph of Nazareth would have been highly familiar with the Scriptural promises of a Messiah. While he surely prayed for His coming, the humble carpenter never could have foreseen the crucial role he himself would play in the daily life of this Messiah for whom he longed.

Saint Joseph’s qualities of deep faith, humility, and trustworthiness all came into play in his incomparable role as head of the Holy Family. His faith, fostered by an active inner prayer life, engendered acceptance of and obedience to the Father’s will, as related in the few Scripture passages where he is mentioned. His humility was played out in a daily life rooted in hard manual labor and the simplicity that is so often a hallmark of poverty. As for trustworthiness, it goes without saying that the Father would place His beloved Son only in the care of the most trusted custodian.

In some areas of the world, parts of our own country included, the feast of Saint Joseph on March 19th is cause for great rejoicing. What follows next are suggestions for ways we can join in the celebration, a rare break in our Lenten fast, courtesy of this most loving of foster fathers.

The Saint Joseph Altar

This tradition originated on the Italian island of Sicily, where according to legend, the people were suffering greatly during a drought and famine in the Middle Ages. Their impassioned prayers to Saint Joseph, their patron, were answered; rain came and crops thrived. In gratitude, an impressive three-tiered altar, representing the Blessed Trinity, was erected in the town piazza and laden with specially chosen foods, each having some religious significance.

This tradition continues in numerous locations; for example, New Orleans, which has a large population descended from Sicilian immigrants. Public altars are beautifully decorated with flowers, candles, and a statue or image of Saint Joseph. Breads shaped into religious symbols, and fava beans, the only crop that survived during the famine, are customary elements of the altar, as are pasta dishes topped with toasted breadcrumbs signifying sawdust for the carpenter saint. Also traditional are zeppole, sometimes called sfinge, cream-filled pastries and a rare Lenten treat.

Saint Joseph altars can be constructed in private homes as well, a great idea for involving children and very simply done using cardboard boxes. An important element of this tradition has always been sharing its bounty with the poor. Perhaps a local food pantry could benefit from the contents of your own personal St. Joseph Altar, a tangible tribute to the loving husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, who provided so well for the Holy Family.

For more information on this tradition, instructions for making your own altar at home, a Virtual Saint Joseph Altar, and much more, see

Saint Joseph Day Cakes

If you’re looking for a dessert traditionally associated with Saint Joseph’s feast day, the Italian treat called zeppole referred to above fit the bill perfectly. These cream-filled delights are a treat for the eyes as well as the stomach. You can find a recipe here.  Give them a try!

Finally, a fitting conclusion to our celebration of this great saint’s feast day would be to recite his time-honored litany.

The Litany of Saint Joseph
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us .
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Illustrious son of David, etc.
Light of the patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Watchful defender of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most valiant,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of workmen ,
Glory of domestic life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the afflicted,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church,
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

V. He made him the lord of His household,
R. And prince over all His possessions.

Let us pray. O God, Who in Thine ineffable providence didst choose Blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Thy most Holy Mother, grant that as we venerate him as our protector on earth, we may deserve to have him as our intercessor in Heaven, Thou Who lives and reigns forever and ever. R. Amen.

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