image Feast of the Holy Family: Canada’s Gift to the Universal Church

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The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop    Gerrit van Honthors (Dutch, 1592–1656). Oil on canvas

Provenance: French private collection; Julius Weitzner, New York and London, 1955; Bob Jones University Collection, 1955.

The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas Day or on December 30 if Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. There is a strong Canadian connection to this feast as shown in this article from Fr. John Flader, writing in The Catholic Weekly from Sydney,  Australia:

In terms of the 2000 years of the Church’s history, this feast is relatively recent, having been established by Pope Leo XIII in 1893.

In the previous year, by his Apostolic Letter Neminem fugit of the June 14, 1892, Pope Leo approved the statutes of the new universal Association of the Holy Family.

On the first anniversary of that Letter, in response to requests from many bishops, Pope Leo established a new Mass and Office for the Feast of the Holy Family, with hymns said to be composed by the Pope himself. The Pope also encouraged the establishment throughout the world of associations honouring the Holy Family.

All places and institutes already having permission to celebrate the feast were to use the new texts, and other dioceses and congregations could apply for permission to use them. The first Sunday after Epiphany was set as the date for the celebration of the feast throughout the world.

Devotion to the Holy Family had grown in popularity especially since the 17th century, and several religious congregations had been founded under this title.

For example, the Daughters of the Holy Family were founded in Paris in 1674.

The Holy Family also came to be portrayed in popular art during that period.

One of the countries where this devotion was particularly widespread was Canada, where the Association of the Holy Family was established in Montreal in 1663 and a feast of the Holy Family was celebrated for the first time in that same year.

Pope Leo XIII made reference to this devotion in Canada in his Letter Neminem fugit in 1892.

On October 26, 1921, the Sacred Congregation of Rites extended the feast of the Holy Family to the universal Church.

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast was transferred from the first Sunday after Epiphany to the Sunday within the octave of Christmas.

If Christmas falls on a Sunday, the feast is celebrated on December 30.

On establishing the feast in 1893, Pope Leo XIII had the intention of reminding people of the sanctity of the family in view of the challenges to the family at that time, and to provide married people with a model on which to build their own families.

This purpose remains valid, and even urgent, at the present time, when the laws of nations, the media, many films and plays, and prevailing customs all foster a culture which is contrary, even hostile, to marriage and the family.

In this situation, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a model that all families can meditate on and strive to imitate. In the Holy Family we find love, humility, detachment from material goods, self-giving, peace and joy.

We can take advantage of the feast to entrust our own families to the care of the Holy Family.

In this regard the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy says: “This feast day also affords an opportunity for the renewal of our entrustment to the patronage of the Holy Family of Nazareth; the blessing of children as provided for in the ritual; and where opportune, for the renewal of marriage vows taken by the spouses on their wedding day, and also for the exchange of promises between those engaged to be married in which they formalise their desire to found a new Christian family.” (n. 112)

It also suggests having “frequent recourse to the Holy Family of Nazareth in many of life’s circumstances: joining the Association of the Holy Family so as to model their own families on the Holy Family of Nazareth; frequent prayers to entrust themselves to the patronage of the Holy Family and to obtain assistance at the hour of death.” (n. 112)

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