Holy Family

Last updated
Miniature in the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, 1503-1508, by Jean Bourdichon Fol. 159v - Joseph Marie et l'Enfant.jpg
Miniature in the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, 1503–1508, by Jean Bourdichon

The Holy Family consists of the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. The subject became popular in art from the 1490s on, [1] but veneration of the Holy Family was formally begun in the 17th century by Saint François de Laval, the first bishop of New France, who founded a confraternity.


The Gospels speak little of the life of the Holy Family in the years before Jesus’ public ministry. [2] Matthew and Luke narrate the episodes from this period of Christ's life, namely his circumcision and later Presentation, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, and the Finding in the Temple. [3] Joseph and Mary were apparently observant Jews, as Luke narrates that they brought Jesus with them on the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem with other Jewish families.


The Feast of the Holy Family is a liturgical celebration in the Catholic Church, as well as in many Lutheran and Anglican churches, in honour of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family. [4] The primary purpose of this feast is to present the Holy Family as a model for Christian families. [3]

From the 17th century, the feast has been celebrated at a local and regional level and at that level was promoted by Pope Leo XIII. In 1921, Pope Benedict XV made it part of the General Roman Calendar and set on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany (cf. Epiphanytide ); that is to say, on the Sunday between January 7 through January 13, all inclusive (see General Roman Calendar of 1954). [5] [6]

In the General Roman Calendar of 1954, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas was in fact celebrated on the Sunday only if it fell on 29, 30 or 31 December, since it gave way to the higher-ranked feasts of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Apostle and the Holy Innocents; otherwise, it was transferred to December 30, and if the feast of Saint Thomas Becket, one of the most popular additions to the calendar in the Middle Ages, was celebrated in double rite (as it was universally after 1907), then it too took precedence over this Sunday, until the 1911 reforms where double feasts no longer did so automatically. The 1962 Roman Missal, whose use is still authorized per the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum , follows the General Roman Calendar of 1960, which ranks the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas as higher than these saints and keeps the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Epiphany.

The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar moved the celebration of the Holy Family to the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, that is, the Sunday between Christmas Day and New Year's Day (both exclusive), or if both Christmas Day and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God are Sundays, on 30 December, which is always a Friday in such years. When not celebrated on a Sunday, it is not a holy day of obligation. [7] In the General Roman Calendar of 1969 the Feast of the Holy Family outranks the various saints whose feastdays fall during the Octave of Christmas, namely Saint Stephen, Saint John the Apostle and the Holy Innocents, in a departure from the General Roman Calendar of 1954.

In the Roman Catholic Church, hyperdulia [8] and protodulia [9] are the names respectively reserved in a specific way to the veneration of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Most Chaste Saint Joseph. Those venerations are more important than the dulia reserved to any other saint. In fact, the Virgin Mary has the Marian title of Queen of Angels and Queen of Saints and Saint Joseph is the patron of the Roman Catholic Church.

In art

Holy Family with Saints Anne and John the Baptist, Andrea Mantegna, 1495-1500 Andrea Mantegna 085.jpg
Holy Family with Saints Anne and John the Baptist, Andrea Mantegna, 1495-1500

The Holy Family became a subject popular in art in the early 16th century, in both Italian Renaissance painting and Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. The popularity of the subject was associated with an increased interest in, and devotion to, Saint Joseph. In the later Middle Ages he had become something of a comic figure, whose age was emphasized, and was often shown asleep in Nativity scenes. In the 15th century confraternities dedicated to Joseph were part of revived devotional interest, who is now at least awake, and often shown taking an active role in parenting. [1]

Many early Holy Family compositions are either Nativity scenes or the Rest on the Flight into Egypt with the removal of other event-specific elements, such as the ox and ass of the Nativity, to concentrate on the three main figures for devotional images, mostly intended for wealthy homes. Alternatively many compositions clearly derive from a Madonna and Child , with a Saint Joseph added. Often the figures were shown close-up, filling much of the picture space. [10]

Related variants add Jesus's slightly older cousin, Saint John the Baptist, and often his mother Saint Elizabeth; but Joseph is often absent in these, removing them from the usual definition of a Holy Family. It was thought that the Holy Family stayed with Elizabeth on their return from Egypt, and these pictures tend to show the children older than newborns. The extended family of Jesus, already popular as a subject in art, is called the Holy Kinship; this might include up to twenty figures. [10]


The Parte Guelfa Holy Family by Luca Signorelli dates from about 1490. Mantegna appears to have invented the very tightly focused group in the late 1490s, painting several variants with John the Baptist and his mother, such as one now in Dresden. Some of these have standing or vertical infants, mostly toddlers rather than new-borns. [11]

By the High Renaissance many Italian paintings had a horizontal format. The subject was popular with Antonio da Correggio (examples are in Pavia, Orléans, the Royal Collection, Los Angeles and Mantua), and Domenico Beccafumi (examples in Munich, Galleria Palatina, Florence and also the Uffizi there). Michelangelo's tempera rendition (c. 1506) hangs in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. [12] A Holy Family by Giulio Romano is in the Prado, with another at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. [13]

Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, c. 1500 Sainte Famille Musee Stadel Francfort SG0449.jpg
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, c. 1500

Lorenzo Lotto also painted the subject several times, tending to add angels and saints from later periods, to produce versions of a sacra conversazione. Examples are Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria , Holy Family with St Jerome and St Anne , as well as one in the Louvre with the families of Jesus and John the Baptist.

Northern Europe

North of the Alps, prints from the 1490s by Albrecht Dürer probably preceded any paintings. An early northern painting is by the Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece around 1500, where the composition has clearly been freshly imagined. By contrast, the Holy Family by the Dutch artist Joos van Cleve of c.1512 in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, [14] essentially reduces Jan van Eyck's Lucca Madonna to a close-up with still life details, and adds Saint Joseph over the Virgin's shoulder. [15]

Patronages and customs

The Holy Family of Nazareth is a model of life for the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Family. In their pastoral ministry, they emphasize the importance of sincere love and devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The founder of the congregation, Fr. John Berthier, wrote that "nothing can strengthen faith, hope and embrace hearts with love as the cult of the Holy Family."

The members of the Holy Family are also the patrons of the Congregation of Holy Cross. The Holy Cross Sisters are dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Holy Cross Brothers to Saint Joseph, and the Priests of Holy Cross to the Sacred Heart. The Sons of the Holy Family is another religious congregation devoted to the Holy Family.

The Cathedral of the Holy Family of Nazareth is the see of the Diocese of Tulsa in Oklahoma. [17]

A pious practice among Christians, especially Catholics, is to write "✝ J.M.J. ✝" often flanked by two Christian crosses at the top of letters, cards, documents and personal notes as a reference to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the Holy Family. [18] Where it is written, "✝ J.M.J. ✝" is an "appeal for the blessing of the Holy Family." [19]

See also


  1. 1 2 Ainsworth, 122
  2. Martin, James. "The Holy Family", Catholic Update
  3. 1 2 "Strasser O.S.B., Bernard. With Christ Through the Year". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
  4. Driver, Cory (27 December 2019). "What are the 12 days of Christmas?". Living Lutheran . Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica: Feast of the Holy Family
  6. "Ss. Cosmas and Damian Roman Catholic Parish: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph". Archived from the original on 2020-01-14. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  7. It is not among the ten feasts listed in canon 1247 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and canon 1246 of the 1983 Code as holy days of obligation. It would be a day of obligatory Mass attendance in years only when it falls on a Sunday by virtue of it being a Sunday, not by virtue of it being the Feast of the Holy Family
  8. Devotion to Mary, Hyperdulia - Mariology for Everyone. Franciscanfriars. Archived from the original on January 25, 2023.
  9. "Why does the Latin church give protodulia to St. Joseph instead of St. John the Baptist?".
  10. 1 2 Hall, 335
  11. The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist, Andrea Mantegna, National Gallery]
  12. ""The Holy Family", Art in the Bible". Artbible.info. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  13. "The Holy Family", The J. Paul Getty Museum Archived 2014-01-02 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ""The Holy Family", New York Metropolitan Museum of Art". Metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  15. Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art, 1985, p. 417, Harry N. Abrams, ISBN   0136235964
  16. University of Dayton Libraries
  17. "Cathedral of the Holy Family of Nazareth". Archived from the original on 2013-10-30. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
  18. Perrotta, Louise Bourassa (March 2000). Saint Joseph. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. p. 149. ISBN   978-0-87973-573-9.
  19. Manney, Jim (1 November 2017). Ignatian Spirituality A to Z. Loyola Press. ISBN   978-0-8294-4599-2.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liturgical year</span> Annually recurring fixed sequence of Christian feast days

The liturgical year, also called the church year, Christian year or kalendar, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years.

In the liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite, a solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank celebrating a mystery of faith such as the Trinity, an event in the life of Jesus, his mother Mary, his earthly father Joseph, or another important saint. The observance begins with the vigil on the evening before the actual date of the feast. Unlike feast days of the rank of feast or those of the rank of memorial, solemnities replace the celebration of Sundays outside Advent, Lent, and Easter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saint Joseph's Day</span> Christian feast day for Jesuss legal father

Saint Joseph's Day, also called the Feast of Saint Joseph or the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and legal father of Jesus Christ, celebrated on 19 March. It has the rank of a solemnity in the Catholic Church. It is a feast or commemoration in the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a feast or festival in the Lutheran Church. Saint Joseph's Day is the Patronal Feast day for Poland as well as for Canada, persons named Joseph, Josephine, etc., for religious institutes, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for carpenters. It is also Father's Day in some Catholic countries, mainly Spain, Portugal, and Italy. It is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Annunciation</span> Announcement of the conception and birth of Jesus to Mary

The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of Our Lady, or the Annunciation of the Lord, is, according to the Gospel of Luke, the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through a virgin birth and become the mother of Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah and Son of God, marking the Incarnation. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Immanuel, meaning "God is with us".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presentation of Mary</span> Liturgical feast

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in the East as The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, is a liturgical feast celebrated on November 21 by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglo-Catholic Churches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Visitation (Christianity)</span> Christian story and feast of Mary visiting Elizabeth

In Christianity, the Visitation is the visit of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, to Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, in the Gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39–56.

This article lists the feast days of the General Roman Calendar as they were at the end of 1954. It is essentially the same calendar established by Pope Pius X (1903–1914) following his liturgical reforms, but it also incorporates changes that were made by Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), such as the institution of the Feast of Christ the King, and the changes made by Pope Pius XII (1939–1958) prior to 1955, chief among them the imposition of the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary upon the universal Church in 1944, the inscription of Pius X into the General Calendar following his 1954 canonization, and the institution of the Feast of the Queenship of Mary in October 1954.

The General Roman Calendar is the liturgical calendar that indicates the dates of celebrations of saints and mysteries of the Lord in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, wherever this liturgical rite is in use. These celebrations are a fixed annual date, or occur on a particular day of the week. Examples are the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January and the Feast of Christ the King in November.

"Octave" has two senses in Christian liturgical usage. In the first sense, it is the eighth day after a feast, reckoning inclusively, and so always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. The word is derived from Latin octava (eighth), with dies (day) understood. In the second sense, the term is applied to the whole period of these eight days, during which certain major feasts came to be observed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God</span> Christian Marian feast day

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the aspect of her motherhood of Jesus Christ, whom she had circumcised on the eighth day after his birth according to Levitical Law. Christians see him as the Lord and Son of God.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic devotions</span> Catholic traditions

Catholic devotions are particular customs, rituals, and practices of worship of God or honour of the saints which are in addition to the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes devotions as "expressions of love and fidelity that arise from the intersection of one's own faith, culture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ". Devotions are not considered part of liturgical worship, even if they are performed in a church or led by a priest, but rather they are paraliturgical. The Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican publishes a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nativity of John the Baptist</span> Christian feast day celebrating the birth of John the Baptist

The Nativity of John the Baptist is a Christian feast day celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. It is observed annually on 24 June. The Nativity of John the Baptist is a high-ranking liturgical feast, kept in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism. The sole biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist comes from the Gospel of Luke.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Feast of the Annunciation</span> Celebration commemorating the visit of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary

The Feast of the Annunciation, in Greek, Ο Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου, contemporarily the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and also called Lady Day, the Feast of the Incarnation, or Conceptio Christi, commemorates the visit of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, during which he informed her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is celebrated on 25 March each year. In the Catholic Church, if 25 March falls during the Paschal Triduum, it is transferred forward to the first suitable day during Eastertide. In Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism, it is never transferred, even if it falls on Pascha (Easter). The concurrence of these two feasts is called Kyriopascha.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joachim</span> Traditional father of Mary

Joachim was, according to Christian tradition, the husband of Saint Anne, the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the maternal grandfather of Jesus.

This article lists the feast days of the General Roman Calendar as approved on 25 July 1960 by Pope John XXIII's motu proprioRubricarum instructum and promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites the following day, 26 July 1960, by the decree Novum rubricarum. This 1960 calendar was incorporated into the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, continued use of which Pope Benedict XVI authorized in the circumstances indicated in his 7 July 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum for use as an Traditional Roman Mass.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII made several changes to the General Roman Calendar of 1954; those changes remained in force until 1960, when Pope John XXIII decreed a new revision of the General Roman Calendar. The changes made by Pope Pius XII thus remained unaltered for only five years.

The ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite is a regulation for the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church. It determines for each liturgical day which observance has priority when liturgical dates and times coincide, which texts are used for the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the hours and which liturgical color is assigned to the day or celebration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saint Joseph</span> Christian saint; husband of Mary and legal father of Jesus

Joseph was a 1st-century Jewish man of Nazareth who, according to the canonical Gospels, was married to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and was the legal father of Jesus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary</span> Catholic festivity

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an optional memorial celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church on 12 September. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was removed from the Church calendar in the liturgical reform following Vatican II but restored by Pope John Paul II in 2002, along with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Mysterii Paschalis is an apostolic letter issued motu proprio by Pope Paul VI on 14 February 1969. It reorganized the liturgical year of the Roman Rite and revised the liturgical celebrations of Jesus Christ and the saints in the General Roman Calendar. It promulgated the General Roman Calendar of 1969.