Saint Joseph: the Original “Quiet Man”
It’ll soon be that time of year when people all over will gather around their televisions to watch that classic movie, The Quiet Man. But we’ll talk about St. Patrick and things Irish another day. Today we’re going to focus on a feast day that tends to be especially dear to our Italian brothers and sisters, but which we all have a reason to celebrate. It’s the feast day of the original “quiet man”—St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father to the Son of God. The month of March is traditionally dedicated to St. Joseph with his feast day falling on March 19th. One of the things we're going to look at is the tradition of the Saint Joseph Table.
For a man who said, according to Sacred Scripture, not much of anything, St. Joseph had an impact on the world like few men before or after him. Of course, being chosen for the job God chose him for would leave any man speechless. Stand by Mary during improbable circumstances. Done. Be there for Mary as she delivers the Messiah among stabled animals. Done. Hold the lamp higher. Got it. Protect Jesus and Mary at all costs. Spirit them away to Egypt to avoid the murderous King Herod. Done. Oh, yes. And scrape together a living for your family while you’re at it.
Maybe that’s why Joseph never spoke. He was too tired!
While speaking may not have been St. Joseph’s strong suit, he has proven himself a great listener over the centuries, interceding on behalf of countless men, women and children who have turned to him in prayer.
St. Joseph and the prayers of Sicily
With the wonderful devotion so many Americans of Italian heritage show on St. Joseph’s feast day, you might be forgiven for thinking that Our Lady had married a nice Italian boy. But there’s a special reason why St. Joseph is held in such high esteem in Italian American circles.
Two days after St. Patrick’s Day, on the Feast of St. Joseph, many Catholic parishes can be found celebrating a tradition called “Saint Joseph’s Table.” It originated in Sicily and is said to date back to the Middle Ages.
According to tradition, the people on the Italian island of Sicily, in the grip of a severe drought, prayed to St. Joseph asking him to intercede and get them some rain. St. Joseph came through in a big way and Sicily eventually celebrated with a huge feast, inviting the most needy among them to come and share in the bounty resulting from St. Joseph’s friendship.
In keeping with that tradition of almsgiving, Saint Joseph Table of today are often used as fundraising opportunities, with the proceeds from selling the various delicacies on the table going to the needy of the community.
Did someone say “delicacies?”
What sort of delicacies? Cakes. Breads. Cookies. Bottles of wine. There’s only one catch: no meat. The Feast of St. Joseph does happen during lent, after all, and abstinence rules were a whole lot stricter in the Middle Ages than they are these days. If you’re going to preserve a tradition, preserve it right! Serving spaghetti at your parish in celebration of St. Joseph’s Day? No meat in the sauce! You might, however, sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top to commemorate the sawdust of St. Joseph’s day job (which many people do).
That’s just a brief look at one aspect of devotion to St. Joseph. In addition to being patron of the Universal Church, he’s also patron for some very specific areas: fathers, workers, travelers, immigrants, a happy death, cabinetmakers, carpenters, confectioners, craftsmen, engineers, families, house hunters, laborers, people in doubt, pioneers…you get the idea…St. Joseph was, and it seems will always be, a very busy guy.
Let us hear from you!
What Saint Joseph traditions does your family celebrate?