Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the family unit and the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The feast usually falls on the Sunday after Christmas. If Christmas is a Sunday, then the feast is celebrated on December 30th.
The Holy Family is the name given to the family unit of Jesus: The Divine Son of God Jesus, his mother Mary, and his foster-father Joseph. Devotion to the Holy Family is a recent development, but one that naturally grows out of a love for Jesus and his family. The cult of the Holy Family grew in popularity in the 17th century, and several religious congregations have been founded under this title. The Holy Family also became portrayed in popular art of the period.
On October 26, 1921 the Congregation of Rites (under Pope Benedict XV) inserted the Feast of the Holy Family into the Latin Rite general calendar. Until then it had been celebrated regionally. Popes before and including Benedict XV (especially Leo XIII) promoted the feast as a way to counter the breakdown of the family unit. Today the Church celebrates the Feast on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day (Known as the Feast of Mary Mother of God in the Catholic Church).
If both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays, no Sunday exists between the two dates, so the Church celebrates the Holy Family Feast on December 30th. If the feast falls on the 30th, attendance is not obligatory. Up until 1969, the Holy Family feast was kept on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. It was transferred to its current date in 1969.
The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the “domestic church” or the “church in miniature.” St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a “family church,” and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit.
Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ and his Church the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying, attending Mass weekly, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, and so forth, all done together. In addition to cultivating positive actions, the Church understands that various actions and behaviors are contrary to God’s Divine plan for the family, and these should be avoided. These include abortion, contraception, gay marriage, fetal stem-cell research, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, and co-habitation. In the Catholic Church, a marriage must be open to children. Anything artificial that prevents this is wrong. Also, poverty, lack of health care, and other social justice concerns must be addressed by faithful Christians because of the negative effect these conditions have on the family unit. St. Paul gives us some advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21:
Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection: And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly, in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as it behoveth in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter towards them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged. (Douay-Rheims)
The Holy Family feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families. We also may take this feast to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit, and to evaluate our own family life. What ways may it be improved? What would Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do? Finally, we can use this feast to ask ourselves what are we doing to promote the family within our own cultures, neighborhoods, and communities.
In 1643 Louis and Barbe d’Ailleboust came to Canada in order to devote their lives to the welfare of the natives there. After her husband had passed away, Barbe, with the assistance of the Jesuit Father Chaumonot, founded the Confraternity of the Holy Family. The confraternity and devotion to the Holy Family spread all over Canada and had the effect of promoting good morals. Monsignor François de Laval invited her to Quebec, and gave her the general management if the confraternity, which still exists today. In 1675, the now Bishop de Laval had a little book printed in Paris instructing the members of the confraternity as to virtuous practices. Bishop de Laval also established the feast of the Holy Family, and had a mass and office drawn up which are proper to the Diocese of Québec. The feast was later added in 1921 to the General calendar of the Western Rite as a way to counteract the breakdown of the family.