On March 19, St. Catherine of Siena in Wake Forest celebrated the Solemnity of St. Joseph with a traditional St. Joseph’s Altar. Typically, St. Joseph Altars feature statues, candles, flowers, breads, cakes and cookies in the Saint’s honor and thanksgiving.
The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages during a great drought and famine on the island of Sicily. According to legend, the people prayed for the intercession of St. Joseph, their patron saint, to save their crops. The rains came and saved the fava bean crop and prevented many people from dying of starvation. To show their gratitude, they prepared a feast of special foods from their harvest.
Fr. Phillip M. Tighe, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, celebrated Mass with the school children and community. At the end of Mass, Fr. Tighe granted a dispensation, specific to the Altar, to the participants who had given up sweets or chocolate for Lent, so all could partake in the feast.
Surrounded by children, two dressed as Mary and Joseph, Fr. Tighe blessed St. Joseph’s Altar and commenced the celebration. This is the second year St. Catherine’s has created an Altar. It was initiated by a parishioner, Gretchen Hammond, whose family has celebrated the tradition for several generations. “The St. Joseph Altar is way to say thank you to St. Joseph for his intercession to Jesus on our behalf,” Hammond says, “It is also a great way to give back and share our many blessings. A St. Joseph Altar is a labor of love.”
The Altar, carefully crafted, held symbolic foods representing St. Joseph. Hammond’s mother, Pricilla Shroeder, baked breads symbolizing St. Joseph as a craftsman. There were braided breads in the shape of a staff, hammers and nails and bread crumbs representing saw dust. Various parishioners contributed Italian cookies, cakes and fruit to the feast.
In addition to food traditions, it is also customary to offer written petitions for the intercession of St. Joseph, give money to poor, give away prayer cards and dried fava beans. According to legend, if you carry a fava bean in your pocket you will never be without money.
“St. Joseph’s Solemnity is a perfect day for children to think of the lessons they learn in their homes.” Fr. Tighe said, “Especially lessons of the hidden life of Jesus, and to give thanks for the ways in which our parents help us to grow in the virtues, most specifically the theological virtue of love.”
Next to the St. Joseph Altar (above) was a basket (below) where those in attendance could place slips of paper with intentions for the saint's intercession.