Solemnities are NOT for Being Solemn: What They Are, Why They Matter, and New Free Printables for the Solemnity of St. Joseph

by | Mar 18, 2015 | Liturgical Living, March | 18 comments

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 2024: The Annunciation would normally fall on Friday, March 25, 2016. That day, however, is Monday of Holy Week, and Annunciation is never celebrated during Holy Week. It is transferred, therefore, to Monday, April 8, 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.

As with all my printables, you are welcome to right click on the
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.

This is from the Litany of St. Joseph (and now I kind of want to design a whole nursery around it) . . .

And this is a quote from Saint John Paul II . . .
 But the husband thought it was coming across a bit feminine, so I tried again . . .

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!

2024 wall calendar

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.

January:The Holy Name of Jesus
February: The Holy Family
March: St. Joseph
April: The Blessed Sacrament
May: Mary
June: The Sacred Heart of Jesus
July: The Precious Blood
August Immaculate Heart of Mary
September: The Seven Sorrows of Mary
October: The Holy Rosary
November: The Poor Souls in Purgatory
December: The Immaculate Conception

As the Church year begins with December, so does this calendar. You get December 2023 through December 2024, thirteen months.

Update: this year’s version is available for purchase here. Or as a digital download here!


  1. Tracy Bua Smith


    Thank you for this informative post! I just love our Catholic faith because I'm always learning something new through your blog and so many others! Your printables are beautiful, as always and I just love St. JPII quote! I wanted to let you know that as a team member of SaintNook ( I added this post to St. Joseph's Craft Directory. Here is the link if you want to check it out 🙂 Have a blessed solemnity of St. Joseph!

  2. Kathryn Ward

    I love love st. Joseph's day! My husband and I chose this day to get married on 4 years ago. Now, with 2 babies I am trying to celebrate it as a growing family. Last year I made ben (hubby) a wreath with paper lilies. Not sure what to do this year. Running out of time. We are going to a church dinner and I am bringing cream puffs, which I read was a traditional dessert for st Joseph's day.

  3. Anonymous

    Love this! The printables are awesome – love that St. John Paul II quote! Thanks so much for teaching all these "intricacies" of our faith, you have such a good way of putting things! 🙂

  4. Elisa | blissfulE

    This is so helpful! And I love how you encourage baby steps. We were convinced about NFP seven years before joining the Catholic church, so we became sort-of this instant Catholic family (actually, even before we thought about entering the Catholic Church, the pastor's wife at our Protestant church told us we would make great Catholics! so much nicer than the other people in our congregation offering to take us to be sterilised… but I digress…). For us just to celebrate the three special days for five kids feels like a lot of work, and we are not there yet. But we go to daily Mass – so excited Jesus is there!!! – which makes things easier in a lot of ways, including that we will automatically celebrate the solemnities. I'm glad they don't mean WE need to be solemn! 🙂

  5. Katie Paladino

    Thanks for this post Kendra! I've been trying to be more conscious about Liturgical living and your blog is beyond helpful! This post is awesome! Today is my oldest son's name day too so it gave me some great tips on making it even better! Tomorrow is his third birthday, so there is lots of celebrating this week! Thanks to you we have started the Theee Special days in our house! You're blog is so inspiring! I'm the oldest of seven children and your family reminds me of us and I love looking at pictures of your cute family!

  6. Joan

    Thanks for the post, Kendra! I had no idea that solemnities during Lent trumped the "no-meat Fridays" – interesting! Hope you have a blessed St. Joseph feast day! 🙂

  7. Nanacamille

    Steak and spaghetti it is for today with tiramisu gelato for dessert. It said cream puffs but gelato says Italy to me. Thanks to Sicily for having a drought and to St Joseph for his intercession in ending it. Italians are the best in celebrating with food and wine

  8. Rosa Patterson

    I have heard of the tradition to sprinkle breadcrumbs over your pasta on the feast of San Giuseppe to represent sawdust from the trade of st. Joseph. Might be fun to do with your pasta on the table!

  9. Schafergal

    Love the graphics! I thought for sure Josie would want Mac n cheese (her very favorite food) for dinner tonight for her feast day – and then she was disappointed because she was certain that's NOT what St Joseph ate. But homemade Mac n cheese was already made by grandma. So we ate it. And dessert. So delicious.

  10. Grace

    Thank you for this post! It was so helpful!

    (PS: Christmas is also 8 days, just like Easter. We always make a big fuss over eating meat on the Fridays after Easter and Christmas as we also avoid meat on the other Fridays during the year.)

    • Grace D

      The Friday after Christmas is not a solemnity (so you are still required to do a sacrifice).

      • Kendra

        Correct, thank you. Sorry I missed that comment before!

  11. Athena Carson

    Wait – WHERE do you go to Mass that Mass is only 22 minutes? Mass is so long at my church that it might actually save time for me to come to your church on Sunday.


    P.S. Okay, now that's off my chest, I'll go back and read the rest of the post now.

    • Kendra

      I just mean for an ordinary weekday Mass, with no singing and no creed and no gloria. I think half an hour is pretty standard for weekday Masses, isn't it? But our old pastor emeritus really could blow through the Mass in close to 20 minutes. I don't necessarily recommend it, but it got the job done.

      • Becky Tichenor

        23 minutes is daily mass at the chapel in our local Catholic hospital- and it is the perfect break daily for our home schoolers!! Today they kept track, and the Solemnity brought us to 27 minutes. LOVE that they can receive Jesus and hear the reading from Scripture with such a small commitment for the day.

  12. Megan

    Hi! Could I have a clarification if possible?
    I am getting different results when looking up canon 1251!
    This site which says part of the Vatican does not mention Solemnities

    Yet, this site that also says it is from the Vatican mentions a solemnity falling on a Friday.

    I am confused. Any thoughts?

    • Kendra

      Yes, I see what you’re talking about, that’s very odd! But it looks to me like there’s just a typo on the Vatican site. It says “Can. 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or some other food according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops is to be observed on ,of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year of age.” And where the “on ,” part is, should be “all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday” That’s how it appears other places, like here. And here. You can see it in its entirety on a different Vatican page here. I have no idea who one would contact about an important typo on the Vatican website! But I’m going to look into it.

      • Kendra

        I did a little more sleuthing and if you look at the Vatican page in another language, the solemnity part is there, so it’s definitely just a typo on the English page. But I can’t find any leads on how to get it fixed!


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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