HONOR THE HOLY FAMILY THROUGH PRAYER
with this free eBook, the Holy Family Novena and Prayer Book
We hope that this special resource will help guide you in prayer through the nine days before the feast of the Holy Family. It is also fitting to pray it during the month of February, which is consecrated to the Holy Family.
The Church celebrates this Feast on the Sunday occurring between the Nativity of the Lord (December 25th) and Mary, Mother of God (January 1st). However, in some years these feasts occur on Sundays themselves, in which case the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on December 30th.
This year (2021) the Feast of the Holy Family is Sunday December 26.
Who are the members of the Holy Family?
Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph are the members of the Holy Family. The central figure is the Word-made-Flesh, the Son of God made man for the salvation of the world.
He was conceived in the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that Mary is His Mother according to His human nature. She is titled Mother of God because Her Son is a Divine Person.
St. Joseph, husband of Mary, while not the biological father of Jesus, was guided by an angel to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood and as the “Custodian of the Redeemer” (Pope St. John Paul II).
The history of the Holy Family is found in only two accounts, what are called the Infancy Narratives––the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Writing to a Jewish audience, St. Matthew provides the Abrahamic and Davidic descent of Jesus, followed by an account of His Birth. In chapter 2 he tells of the visit of the Magi, King Herod’s pursuit of the Child and the flight into Egypt. He concludes his narrative with the return from Egypt to Nazareth, remaining silent on Jesus’ life in Nazareth. Jesus next appears as 30 years of age at His baptism by St. John (Mt. 3).
St. Luke provides the most detail of Jesus’ early life. His precision reflects his profession as a physician (Col. 4:14), his desire for an accurate account (Lk. 1:1-4), and details which could only have been obtained from the Blessed Virgin.
Luke begins with the conception of St. John and the Annunciation of the Lord. He continues with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the birth of the Baptist. He then provides an account of Nativity, the angels announcement to the shepherds, Jesus’ circumcision and presentation in the Temple, and Simeon’s and Anna’s recognition and prophecies. Luke concludes with the return to Nazareth, adding only one further detail, Jesus remaining in the Temple when He was 12 years old.
“Dear brothers and sisters, let us look to the Holy Family of Nazareth as an example for all Christian and human families.” - St. John Paul II
King Herod the Great, a non-Jew who could only conceive of Christ’s Davidic kingship as threatening his own, sought to put the Child to death. Matthew 2:13-15 tells us,
Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Nazareth is a city in Galilee. In Our Lord’s time it may have been populated by craftsmen employed in Roman construction in nearby Sepphoris. Nazareth is where Joseph and Mary were betrothed, the Annunciation took place, and where the Holy Family lived after returning from Egypt after Herod’s death.
The meaning of “Nazareth” is rather obscure. St. Jerome attributes it to the Hebrew word “nazir,” meaning “separated,” in reference to being dedicated to God (cf. Numbers 6:1-21). Other scholars, pointing to Isaiah’s use of a similar word, “netzer,” meaning branch, connect it with the house of Jesse and the Davidic kingship of Jesus.
Isaiah 11:1 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch (netzer) shall grow out of his roots.”
It may be that both possibilities are true, providentially justifying what was said of Jesus,
Matthew 2:23 And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
After returning from Egypt, the Holy Family lived in Nazareth. Other than the fact of living there, both Matthew and Luke are silent on any details of His childhood.
Pope St. John Paul II taught,
The time [Jesus] spent in Nazareth, the greater part of his life, continues to be shrouded in deep silence. Very little information about it has been passed on to us by the Evangelists. However, if we aspire to a deeper understanding of Jesus' life and mission, we must draw close to the mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth to observe and listen. (Angelus message, 30 December 2001)
Some apocryphal writings tell fantastic stories of Jesus childhood, especially miracles He is alleged to have done. The Church rejects them on account of their fabulous content, as well as their lack of apostolic and patristic support.
“[The Holy Family of Nazareth] radiates genuine love and charity, not only creating an eloquent example for all families, but also offering the guarantee that such love can be achieved in every family unit.” - St. John Paul II
Since Jesus is a Divine Person, the Eternal Word or Son, His Father is God the Father. However, St. Joseph was the foster father of Our Lord, or as Pope St. John Paul II called him, the Custodian of the Redeemer.
Did Jesus call Joseph "father"?
In Luke 2:48, when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, Mary refers to Joseph as “your father,” and in Matthew 13:55, Jesus is called “the carpenter’s son.” For earthly purposes, Joseph was Jesus’ father, so we can assume that Jesus called him “father” (Hebrew. “Abba” and Aramaic, “Abun”) or equivalents.
There are two people named Joseph in Sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, Jacob, whom the Lord calls Israel, has twelves sons, who will become the leaders of the twelve tribes. Joseph is Jacob’s youngest and favorite son. Out of jealousy, his brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37-50). Taken into Egypt by a trader he earns a place at the side of the Pharaoh, enabling him to save the Israelites when famine descends upon the land of Canaan.
In the New Testament, Joseph is the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus. A direct descendant of King David, he passes that rightful title to Our Lord, satisfying the prophecies Samuel made to David that his throne would be eternal (2 Sam. 7:16), a hint at the divine and human nature of one of his descendants.
St. Joseph’s story is important because, as the earthly father of Jesus, he and Mary are caretakers of God Himself. Jesus even follows in Joseph’s footsteps by becoming a carpenter. In other words, Joseph helped shape the earthly life for Our Lord during His childhood and young adulthood.
What happened to Joseph, the father of Jesus?
There is no account of Joseph’s passing in Scripture. He was alive when Jesus was twelve years old, and the Holy Family went to Jerusalem for the Passover, but he seems to have died before Our Lord began His public ministry around age 30.
“… the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together.” – Pope Benedict XVI
It is unknown the age that St. Joseph was when Jesus was born. Some scholars have speculated that he was an older man who was a widower. This was offered as an explanation of Jesus’ brothers who are mentioned in the Gospels. However, other explanations than siblings can be offered, such as close natural kinship. In the Church we speak of each other as brothers and sisters, though our kinship is spiritual, not natural.
On the other hand, a tradition that Joseph was a young man has also been maintained, especially in the West. He was unmarried, and Jewish men were encouraged to marry young, such as 18, women even earlier. He was capable of strenuous travel (trip to Bethlehem and flight to Egypt), as well as able to perform the difficult work of a carpenter.
Further, an increasing appreciation of the role of St. Joseph in the economy of salvation suggests it. In his apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, “Custodian of the Redeemer” (Redemptoris Custos), Pope St. John Paul II, citing Pope St. Paul VI, represents this theological trend, assuming a young virginal man fully dedicated to God and the mission given to him, stating
26. The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah's coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that "very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions-such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family.” (emphasis added)
“The Redeemer of the world chose the family as the place for his birth and growth, thereby sanctifying this fundamental institution of every society.” – St. John Paul II
We are unsure about Mary’s exact age, but most Bible scholars believe that in keeping with Jewish practice of the day she may have been as young as 14 or 15.
Why did God choose Mary?
When Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus, he spoke of the Father’s eternal decision, inseparable from the decision that the Word would become flesh, saying,
From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well-pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.
Yes, in the Jewish system of arranged marriages and rabbinical law they were betrothed, and while the woman did not move into the home of her husband for a time, any child that was conceived was his. This was the basis for Joseph’s doubts. The angel showed him through the situation.
Luke 1:18b-21 When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
“For every believer, and especially for Christian families, the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the Gospel.” - St. John Paul II
In keeping with Jewish practice the Holy Family would go to Jerusalem for the greatest feasts. In Luke 2:41-52, we read an account of one such occasion.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
“As we read in holy Scripture, the birth of Jesus means the beginning of the fullness of time. It was the moment God chose to show the extent of his love for men, by giving us his own Son. And God’s will is fulfilled in the simplest, most ordinary of circumstances: a woman who gives birth, a family, a home. The power of God and his splendor come to us through a human reality to which they are joined. Since that moment Christians have known that, with God’s grace, they can and should sanctify everything that is good in their human lives. There is no human situation, no matter how trivial and ordinary it may seem, which cannot be a meeting-place with Christ and a step forward on our journey toward the kingdom of heaven.” – St. Josemaría Escrivá
Joseph is the English version of the Hebrew name “Yosef,” which means “he will add.” It was the name of the great patriarch who saved God’s people Israel at the time of the great famine, when they had to go down into Egypt. Like the patriarch, Joseph of Nazareth had charge and responsibility for the Household of God in Jesus and Mary.
Mary comes from the Hebrew name “Miryam.” It was the name of the sister of Moses. It may ultimately be derived from an Egyptian word “mery,” meaning beloved. This came down in the Greek Scripture of Alexandrian Jews as Mariam. The New Testament Greek also uses this form, as does the Latin of St. Jerome. The pious tradition has taken it as associated with “mar” (sea, in Latin), as in the Marian title “stella maris” (star of the sea).
Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means "Yahweh saves.” Yahweh is the likely proper pronunciation of the Divine Name (I AM) revealed to Moses and written in Hebrew script as YHWH. The biblical precursors include various forms, such as Joshua (the assistant of Moses) and Hosea (the Prophet). Jesus comes to us in English through the New Testament Greek’s “Iesous” and the Latin Vulgate’s “Iesus.”
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This indicates “Jesus, Mary, Joseph.” Sometimes Catholics will use this to begin letters or to sign them, which is written in honor of the Holy Family.
Like JMJ this is shorthand, in this case for the Holy Name of Jesus. In Greek the letter we represent as “e” is not the short “e” of Greek or English, but the “h” (eta), a longer “e” sound. Thus, IHS represents the first three letters of Jesus. This will often be seen in art, on vestments and in other sacred uses. A feast day in honor of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 3rd.
There is no specific Church teaching on when St. Joseph died. All we know from Sacred Scripture is that he died in between the time that Jesus was twelve and when Jesus started His public ministry at age 30.
In ancient times, people did not have surnames as we do. Each generation was named after the father. Jesus, therefore, may have been called Jesus son of Joseph (Yeshua ben Yosef), but we have no ancient example of this usage for the Lord.
“The charity which burned in the household at Nazareth should be an inspiration for every family.” - Pope St. John XXIII
A traditional analogy used in the Church makes reference to the Trinity, in which the Father, the Son and their Love, the Holy Spirit, form a Communion of Persons. The human analogy of this Triune love is imperfect, given the limitations to communion of our physical natures. However, the Church takes the bond of marriage, created by the vows with their total commitment to the other, as creating the marriage and thus the communion.
From this communion comes the fruit of that love, as the works of God outside of the Trinity (creation, redemption, sanctification and glorification) come from the over-flowing love of the Trinity, and tend to communion with the Trinity.
In Familiaris Consortio, the Pope writes,
The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives. Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons.
The inner principle of that task, its permanent power and its final goal is love: without love the family is not a community of persons and, in the same way, without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself as a community of persons.
The Church considers the Holy Family as the ultimate model for family life. Pope St. John Paul II writes,
For every believer, and especially for Christian families, the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the Gospel. Here we admire, put into practice, the divine plan to make the family an intimate community of life and love; here we learn that every Christian family is called to be a small "domestic church" that must shine with the Gospel virtues. Recollection and prayer, mutual understanding and respect, personal discipline and community asceticism and a spirit of sacrifice, work and solidarity are typical features that make the family of Nazareth a model for every home.
“… God chose to enter human history through a family.” - St. John Paul II
The family is the building block of society, and it is through the family that children should learn about God and the faith. Likewise, the parents learn from their children. St. Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, said,
When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. We lived only for them. They were all our happiness and we never found any except in them. In short, nothing was too difficult and the world was no longer a burden for us. For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.
Her husband, St. Louis Martin, said, “It’s this beauty [family] that brings us closer to Him.” This is another aspect of family life—through the love of our family, we can better understand the love of the Trinity.
Finally, the family unit is important to the Church and to the whole world. In fact, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of family life in relation to the Church and her mission. In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II taught,
Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God's family, which is the Church.