Feast of St. Joseph is a customary break in Lent (March 19, 2011)

By Msgr. Sam Sirianni and Lois Rogers

Recipe by Jeanne Scarpato

St. Joseph’s Day is here.

It’s time to think about honoring this great anchor of faith, love and commitment who saw his foster son and pure, young spouse safely through a sea of troubles. It’s time to make a special place for him in our hearts, in our churches and in our homes.

For this well beloved saint, patron of many places and trades, is the guardian of the Universal Church and our earthly homes as well.

If we lived in Italy, where devotion to St. Joseph flourishes, on March 19 we’d build an altar in our homes of three levels representing the Holy Trinity and dress it with our finest linens, special foods including breads, sweets, fruits and vegetables, holy cards and candles and items symbolic of St. Joseph, including workshop tools in memory of his carpenter’s trade.

We’d top it with a statue of the saint holding the Infant Jesus and clusters of lilies, flowers that represent the purity of Joseph.

In our town square, we’d set up big banquet tables in his honor and invite the public and the poor to come and eat as much as they wanted of the special foods that crown the day.

Begin with Mass

Of course, we’d begin the day by going to Mass, and special breads – representing the mainstay of family life and the Eucharist that take the shape of Catholic symbols such as monstrances, chalices, crosses, doves, lambs and fish, would be blessed and distributed.

In Italy, such devotions and customs began evolving in the Middle Ages when, it is believed, the saint delivered the island of Sicily out of a severe drought much as he delivered the Virgin and her Child safely into Egypt.

The people prayed to him for help and he answered, so it is said, precisely at midnight on March 19, with the rain that saved their crops and their lives. They reacted by setting aside March 19 as a day to honor San Giuseppe with prayer and by sharing their bounty with the poor and the needy.

In keeping these traditions, everyone still brings their culinary best to the public tables and serves their best at home. All manner of beans, including lentils and fava beans, are served and consumed this day in memory of the harvest that sparked the celebration.

Rich pastries such as Zeppole di San Giuseppe and Cavazune (St. Joseph’s pants) are served because Lenten food sacrifices are set aside for the day. But fish, not meat, is definitely the main course of the day.

Cheese, however, is not served. Instead, pasta and even soup are topped with herbed bread crumbs called mudica – representative of the saw dust in St. Joseph’s carpenter shop.

Family life

On this great solemnity, people focus on St. Joseph and through him on family life. They focus on the fact that Jesus grew up in a family with his mother and foster father and that he learned the skills of his foster father.

In these days of blurred family roles and depictions, making a real feast of St. Joseph’s Day in the home and in the Church is as good a way as any to focus on the family.

Many American families of Italian heritage celebrate St. Joseph’s Day in their homes, often, because food is such an important factor, on the Sunday before or just after the March 19 event.

Many will set up a three-tiered St. Joseph’s Altar in their homes. It may sound difficult to accomplish but actually, if you have a stack of old newspapers or some cardboard boxes around it’s relatively easy. We used staggered stacks of The Monitor and covered them with a favorite tablecloth. Then, we dressed it with some favorites from our personal collections: statues of St. Joseph, St. Joseph’s bread, fresh flowers, candles and silk lilies and, of course, sweets.

Adding family photos and clean tools from the family toolbox is a fine idea.

In addition to the altar, it’s the custom in many homes to set a Saints Table for dinner with table linen, dishes and silverware and flowers. Three family members are selected to portray Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In a short ritual, Joseph asks Jesus what he wants to eat and the host or hostess gives that plate to St. Joseph who serves Jesus.

After grace, everyone digs in to the family’s favorite meal.

Here, we offer a side dish, a favorite of Monitor staff member Jeanne Scarpato’s family and a favorite grace.

Scarpato Family’s St. Joseph’s Pasta with Bread Crumbs

  • 6 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ cups coarse, fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 1 lb. perciatelli or spaghetti
  • 1½ tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1pkg broccoli florets

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread crumbs and stir with a wooden spoon to coat them with the oil. Cook the crumbs over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they are golden brown. Remove to a bowl, stir in the sugar and set aside.Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to instructions and drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Steam the broccoli florets until dark green.

Return the pasta to the cooking pot, stir in the water and the remaining olive oil and salt. Transfer the pasta to a platter, sprinkle half of the breadcrumbs over the top with two spoons, toss the pasta to evenly coat the strands with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top, top with broccoli florets and serve immediately.

“Gracious St. Joseph, protect me and my family from all evil as you did the Holy Family. Kindly keep us ever united in the love of Christ, ever fervent in the imitation of the virtue of our Blessed Lady, your sinless spouse, and always faithful in devotion to you. Amen.”

From the Franciscan Mission Associates

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