Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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.