Tomorrow is the feast of St. Joseph, and it’s a biggie. St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th and the Annunciation coming up on March 25th are both solemnities.
Note for 2017: Because March 19th falls on a Sunday this year, the celebration of St Joseph’s Day is officially transferred to Monday March 20th.
Note for 2016: The Annunciation would normally fall on Friday, March 25, 2016. That day, however, is Good Friday, and Annunciation is never celebrated during Holy Week. It is transferred, therefore, to Monday, April 4, 2016, the first open day after Easter Sunday.
Solemnity. Sounds like a real bummer, right? But, actually, the solemnities of the church commemorate very happy occasions. The “solemn” part refers to how the Mass is celebrated. In liturgical talk solemn equals fancy. So, on solemnities, we celebrate Mass as on a Sunday, with the Gloria and the Apostle’s Creed, and all the stuff that makes Mass take longer than twenty-two minutes. (Although most are NOT holy days of obligation.)
So, what ARE solemnities? Let’s do a quick review of the liturgical calendar: There are about 250 feast days on the liturgical calendar, but most are classified as “optional memorials.” Those are days on which we can choose to remember the life of a particular saint, if we have a personal or family or regional devotion to that saint. Greater than that are actual “feasts.” Those celebrate saints to whom we should ALL have at least a bit of a devotion: the archangels, most of the apostles, some of the doctors of the church. Finally there are solemnities. There are seventeen universal solemnities throughout the year, plus some regions have extra ones (St. Patrick’s day is a solemnity in Ireland, but an optional memorial in the US, for instance). On these days, we remember the most important people and events in our faith history: we celebrate solemnities for the major Marian feast days, some major events in the life of Jesus, plus the Trinity, Saint John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and . . . St. Joseph!
The other cool thing about solemnities is that they trump Fridays! Every Catholic should be making an act of penance every Friday (not just during Lent).
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
It used to be that the required Friday penance for all Catholics was to abstain from meat. However, in the US, the guidelines were changed in 1966 to allow each person to choose his own act of penance, but at the time of the change the bishops stated that abstinence from meat was still the PREFERRED Friday penance.
Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. (Pastoral Statement On Penance And Abstinence)
In our home, we find it easiest and most meaningful to continue the traditional practice of abstaining as a family from meat every Friday of the year. EXCEPT when a solemnity falls on a Friday, then we make a big deal of eating meat that day. A solemnity on a Friday might be the only day all year we’ll cook steaks. Just to make it memorable.
If you’re just starting out trying to incorporate a little liturgical living into your home, I’d recommend starting with the Three Special Days, because those are individual-person centered, so they are easier to remember and simple to celebrate: have cake, sing song, blow out candle. Done.
Once you’ve been doing that and it hasn’t killed you, solemnities are the next (and actually, totally MORE important) place to go. (But still, I’d START with the Three Special Days.)
Some of them you’re already celebrating: Christmas and Easter are covered, right? Right. Many of them are already on a Sunday (and more seem to be heading that way all the time) and hopefully you’re already celebrating Sundays in your home with Mass and a family meal and a dessert. So it’s just an average of one weekday per month (although they aren’t spread evenly) to have a special meal, and a dessert, and maybe get to an extra Mass, and talk as a family about these special people and events that have brought Catholics together throughout the centuries.
In our home, we have traditions that we do again each year for many of the solemnities. We have a bonfire for Pentecost, and a picnic for St. John the Baptist, and all white food for the Immaculate Conception, and waffles for dinner for the Annunciation, and for St. Joseph’s Day we eat with our hands. None are expensive or take much time to prepare, but we do them each year, so they are memorable and meaningful for our family and part of our family culture.
Here are some free printables I made up for the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
image and save it to your computer for your own personal use. You may
print the images and or upload them and have prints made for your
personal use or to give as gifts. (These are sized for 8×10 or square but will
print well much bigger.) You may use my images on your blog, just please
link back to my blog. If you would like to sell my images, please
contact me first. To request a custom printable, visit my Etsy shop here.
This is from the Litany of St. Joseph (and now I kind of want to design a whole nursery around it) . . .
There are all sorts of really great, really complicated traditional ways to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day. But around here, we’re going to keep it simple and memorable. If you don’t yet have anything planned, give it a try! But whatever you do, NO BEING SOLEMN.
If you’d like to keep track of ALL the feasts of the Catholic liturgical year, I’ve created a wall calendar to help you do it!
It features the all the feasts and fasts of the Universal Calendar and then some, illustrated with images featuring the traditional Catholic monthly devotions. It’s an easy visual way to bring liturgical living into your home. You can keep track of the feasts and fasts and seasons of the Catholic year, and be reminded to focus your prayer on a different aspect of our faith each month.
Want to Read More?
- Baby Steps to Living the Liturgical Year as a Family
- Pasta un Gobbola Tabola: The Most Fun You Can Have on St. Joseph’s Day