Is St. Joseph our unofficial patron of Lent?
When we think of St. Joseph, we think of the Nativity, the escape into Egypt. We think of the carpenter and his early life with Jesus. But when do we ever connect him to the Passion? We don’t. He had already passed by the time Jesus made His final entrance into Jerusalem. But each Lent St. Joseph comes to those who celebrate his Solemnity and, like any loving father, double-checks our work. The Solemnity of St. Joseph isn’t just a reminder of our Lenten obligations, it ensures we’ve done our Lenten obligations.
So, the Italian tradition of the St. Joseph altar didn’t begin as a mid-Lent checkpoint. It began with a famine. When the Sicilians’ prayers to St. Joseph were answered with an end to a drought, and an end to the famine, St. Joseph altars were created in his honor and repeated year after year.
This is a great explanation why St. Joseph altars are constructed in Sicily, but why did the tradition spread across the surrounding countries? It probably has a lot to do with the Church’s devotion to St. Joseph. It might also, as it often does, have to do with the spiritual needs of the laity at a particularly challenging time. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving aren’t natural to us toddlers of spirituality. Should any of us choose to not sacrifice much for Lent or given up halfway, the Solemnity of St. Joseph comes around for a day of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
For most of us, adding to our prayer routine each Lent might be as commonplace as giving up chocolate. However, it might be so commonplace that we don’t challenge ourselves enough to grow. Celebrating the Solemnity of St. Joseph will supplement where we are lacking. Attending Mass should be the most important part of our day. In addition, we would want to add a number of prayers asking for St. Joseph’s intercession: the Litany to St. Joseph and Prayer for St. Joseph’s Protection. Protection from evil is a common theme in many prayers to St. Joseph and particularly necessary during Lent.
Though St. Joseph’s Day is a solemnity, the foods traditionally served to celebrate are especially humble due in large part to remind the faithful of the famine from which they were rescued. However, this tradition couldn’t fit more appropriately or beautifully into Lent. Like the fasting guidelines from the Middle Ages, his feast is celebrated without meat, dairy, or eggs. Minestrone soup is a traditional option you’re probably familiar with. More unique options would be spaghetti di San Giuseppe and pasta con le sarde, pasta dishes sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs to resemble sawdust and bring to mind the carpenter.
Charity is the highlight of the Solemnity of St. Joseph. You’ve seen the large tiered altars covered with bread, pasta, fruit, and candles arranged across the lower tiers. St. Joseph is in the center atop it all. The images are breathtaking and to see them in real life has to be a true experience. These altars aren’t just for prayer, and they’re not merely for decoration. What is collected is collected primarily for the poor. This creation is a big undertaking and it could be hard to find a parish or community that is taking it on, especially this year.
4 Steps To A Simple St. Joseph Altar
Though you might not be able to participate in a St. Joseph Altar on a large scale, you shouldn’t be intimidated to create your own at home. This is just as popular and it is done on a smaller scale. These steps should help you get started.
- Find a table you can dedicate to the purpose of a St. Joseph Altar and cloth it with an off-white, brown, or beige (or any other color you imagine St. Joseph wearing) tablecloth.
- In the center, add a statue or other image of St. Joseph.
- Arrange any other religious items you think are necessary: crucifix, statues of other saints, candles.
- Finally, arrange the food. Most often breads are homemade and in the shapes of crosses and hearts, but do what you can. Be sure to add bread, pasta, fruit, and even wine. Avoid meat, eggs, and dairy.
If you are struggling to gather some of the things you need, check out the Feast of St. Joseph box.
During the day you can take from the table while you eat your meal. You can also share with family and friends but the majority of the food must be shared with the poor.
When you celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph with a St. Joseph’s altar, you will plan to do it every year. St. Joseph will forever become warmly connected Lent. His Solemnity will ensure that every Lent you are a little more prepared to face the cross and experience the Resurrection.