Invoke the Holy Family in Your Home
MONTH OF THE HOLY FAMILY: Devotion to the domestic church of Jesus, Mary and Joseph infuses our families with grace.
Since the 17th century, when devotion to the Holy Family began to spread around the new world, and especially in what is now Canada, the Holy Family has been honored in the month of February because of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2, also known as Candlemas and the Purification of Our Lady.
On Candlemas we celebrate when St. Joseph, with the Blessed Mother holding the 40-day-old Jesus, ascended the Temple stairs and made an offering to the Lord for their firstborn son. St. Joseph bears the offering of the poor of “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:2-8). The offering is also for the purification of the Blessed Mother as a “sin offering,” an offering that she did not need since she was completely free of sin. Benedictine Dom Prosper Guéranger, in the entry for Feb. 2 in his book The Liturgical Year, explains it beautifully:
“The Holy Spirit revealed to Mary that she must comply with […] these laws. She, the holy mother of God, must go to the Temple like the other Hebrew mothers as though she had lost something which needed restoring by a legal sacrifice. He that is the Son of God and Son of Man must be treated in all things as though he were a servant, and be ransomed in common with the poorest Jewish boy. Mary adores the will of God and embraces it with her whole heart.”
The Holy Family submitted themselves to the precepts of the Old Covenant to model for us the complete humility we should all have before God’s law and his will for us to become holy families through our participation in the life of the Church.
In this month dedicated to the Holy Family, we have an opportunity to pray with this concept, to think about how we accept God’s will in our family lives, and to see that is revealed to us through the precepts of the Church and the movements of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, Pope Leo XIII strove to assist Catholic families by holding up for us the Holy Family as a model in his 1892 apostolic letter Neminem Fugit, which is featured in the Matins for the Feast of the Holy Family in the 1960 Breviary. Pope Leo XIII lived at a time when family life was undergoing radical change as people moved from farms to cities to work in factories. Rather than working together with the same goal, as happened on a farm, families were divided in the workforce, working long hours, and no longer sharing three meals a day together. Pope Leo XIII knew that the family is the essential community structure on which our society is based and that, when it falls apart, so does our society.
In the Holy Family, he says, “Christ, our God and Savior, lived with his Virgin Mother, and with that most holy man Joseph, who held to him the place of father. No one can doubt that in this Holy Family was displayed every virtue which can be called forth by an ordinary home life, with its mutual services of charity, its holy intercourse, and its practices of godly piety, since the Holy Family was destined to be a pattern to all others.”
We all can look to the Holy Family and invite them to transform our home lives. They have something to model for each member of the family, as Pope Leo explains:
“To all fathers of families, Joseph is verily the best model of paternal vigilance and care. In the most holy Virgin Mother of God, mothers may find an excellent example of love, modesty, resignation of spirit, and the perfecting of faith. And in Jesus, who was subject to his parents, the children of the family have a divine pattern of obedience which they can admire, reverence, and imitate.”
While we could expound upon each of the virtues of St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother and God himself as an obedient child, it is more fruitful to invite them into our prayer life, to invite their presence into our home, and to spend our time in prayer meditating on the hidden years of Jesus’ life in the home in Nazareth. The Church even invites us to make a family consecration to the Holy Family, giving a plenary indulgence on the day of consecration and a partial at the renewal of it on the anniversary of the consecration (see Manual of Indulgences, 1999).
Pope Leo XIII tells us that, in simply having this devotion, our family lives will be sanctified:
“When Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are invoked in the home, charity is likely to be maintained in the family through their example and heavenly entreaty; a good influence is thus exerted over conduct; the practice of virtue is thus incited; and thus the hardships which are everywhere wont to harass mankind are both mitigated and made easier to bear.”
In these times, when our nation’s laws allow for the breakdown of the family through divorce, abortion and unnatural unions, as well as the prevalence of school curricula and media that promote ideas contrary to the truth, it can be discouraging to try to live out the “Holy Family ideal.” We may look at all the opposition around us and feel that our attempts would be futile. Or we may look at other Catholic families and think we can never live up to their standard of living the liturgical year. Yet the Lord wants each of our families to be holy as ourselves, allowing the Holy Family’s example to infuse their virtues into our homes to be lived out in our individual family life.
Perhaps your family feels the separation of work and school life from home life that is a normal circumstance of modern living. The family togetherness you had during COVID-19 lockdowns may seem like ages ago. Or maybe you were so busy then that you did not have time to even notice it.
As the month of the Holy Family ends and Lent begins, perhaps it is time to begin a new devotion. Make a practice of invoking the Holy Family in your home. Ask them to show you one thing you can change to draw your family closer to God and each other. Present your family to God within the Church, just as the Holy Family modeled for us on the first Candlemas.
“At Joseph’s bench, at Jesus’ side,
The Mother sits, the Virgin-Bride;
Happy, if she may cheer their hearts
With loving arts.
O Blessed Three! who felt the sting
Of want and toil and suffering,
Pity the needy and obscure
Lot of the poor.
Banish the “pride of life” from all
Whom ampler wealth and joys befall:
Be every heart with love repaid