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Vatican won’t add 'Holy Spouses' feast to universal calendar

Vatican won’t add 'Holy Spouses' feast to universal calendar

The Vatican has turned down a request from some U.S. bishops to add a feast day celebrating the marriage of Joseph and Mary to the Church’s universal liturgical calendar.

The U.S. bishops' conference told bishops earlier this month that “a number of bishops have written to the Holy See in support of a petition to add the Feast of the Holy Spouses, Mary and Joseph, to the Church’s universal calendar. This celebration, which focuses on the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, has been approved at various times for liturgical use in some places and for certain religious institutes.”

But Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Vatican’s liturgical office, “would like our conference to know that that ‘there are no plans to reinstate this celebration in the universal calendar,’” according to a Sept. 2 memo from Archbishop Leonard Blair, chair of the USCCB’s committee on liturgy.

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The memo, which was seen by The Pillar this week, added additional context for that decision.

“Cardinal Roche pointed out that even before the liturgical reforms inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See had begun to simplify the liturgical calendar…This led to the removal of various devotional feasts from the universal calendar, as well as from local calendars” including the feast which celebrated the betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

The feast, customarily celebrated Jan. 23, was first celebrated in the fifteenth century. The feast gained some popularity in the ensuing centuries, was celebrated across much of Europe in the 1700s, and its liturgical use was permitted in the United States by the 1840s.

Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Spouses was largely discontinued in 1961, when Pope St. John XXIII suppressed the celebration of numerous locally celebrated feasts through the instruction De calendariis particularibus.

Blair’s memo said that recent U.S. episcopal requests to add the feast to the universal calendar came after encouragement from the Oblates of St. Joseph, a religious congregation which in 1989 was permitted by the Holy See to resume its own liturgical celebration of the feast.

A lay association which makes the feast central to its devotions - the Holy Spouses Society - was founded with the encouragement of Fr. Larry Toschi, OSJ, a member of the oblates.

In 2021, the Church’s “Year of St. Joseph,” Bishop Joseph Brennan in the Diocese of Fresno announced that Catholics would begin celebrating the feast, albeit on Jan 29, in his diocese.  

And in January of this year, Bishop-elect Jeffrey Walsh, who had been appointed Bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, the month before, offered Mass for the Feast of the Holy Spouses at the Oblates of St. Joseph’s seminary in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

According to the USCCB, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship “is of the mind that the themes of this devotion are sufficiently addressed through the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as well as the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the Optional Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.”

While the liturgical feast will not be added to the Church’s universal calendar, it may be offered in places or institutes which have a special devotion to St. Joseph, or in places, like the Diocese of Fresno, where the feast has gotten particular support from the diocesan bishop.


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