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Feast of the Holy Family

The Sunday following Epiphany has its own special Mass from ancient times, but Pope Leo XIII in 1892 (and later Pope Benedict XV) promulgated the Feast of the Holy Family, which had long been celebrated throughout Europe (especially in Italy and France), to be celebrated on this Sunday.

The Liturgy of this feast is quite beautiful, and can be read in its entirety, both the Mass and the Office, here.

We provide here the Hymn and readings from Matins of the Feast, as well as the Hymn from Lauds.


Hymn for Matins of the Feast of the Holy Family

Sacra iam splendent decorata lychnis
Templa, iam sertis redimitur ara
Et pio fumant redolentque acerrae
Thuris honore.

Num iuvet Summo Geniti Parente
Regios ortus celebrare cantu?
Num domus David, decora et vetustae
Nomina gentis?

Gratius nobis memorare parvum
Nazarae tectum, tenuemque cultum,
Gratius Iesu tacitam referre
Carmine vitam.

Nili ab extremis peregrinus oris
Angeli ductu, propere remigrat
Multa perpessus Puer et paterno
Limine sospes.

Arte, qua Ioseph, humili excolendus
Abdito Iesus iuvenescit aevo,
Seque fabrilis socium laboris
Adiicit ultro.

Irriget sudor mea membra, dixit,
Antequam sparso madeant cruore:
Haec quoque humano generi expiando
Poena luatur.

Assidet Nato pia Mater almo,
Assidet Sponso bona nupta; felix
Si potest curas relevare fessis
Munere amico.

O neque expertes, operae et laboris,
Nec mali ignari, miseros iuvate,
Quos reluctantes per acuta rerum
Urget egestas.

Demite his fastus, quibus ampla splendet
Faustitas, mentem date rebus aequam:
Quotquot implorant columen, benigno
Cernite vultu.

Sit tibi, Iesu, decus atque virtus,
Sancta qui vitae documenta praebes,
Quique cum summo Genitore et almo
Flamine regnas.

A thousand lights their glory shed
On shrines and altars garlanded;
While swinging censers dusk the air
With perfumed prayer.

And shall we sing the ancestry
Of Jesus, Son of God most High?
Or the heroic names retrace
Of David’s race?

Sweeter is lowly Nazareth,
Where Jesus drew His childish breath—
Sweeter the singing that endears
His hidden years.

An Angel leads the pilgrim band
From Egypt to their native land,
Where Jesus clings to Joseph’s arm,
Secure from harm.

“And the Child grew in wisdom’s ken
And years and grace with God and men;”
And in His father’s humble art
Took share and part.

“With toil”, saith He, “my limbs are wet,
Prefiguring the Bloody Sweat:”
Ah! how He bears our chastisement
With sweet content!

At Joseph’s bench, at Jesus’ side,
The Mother sits, the Virgin-Bride;
Happy, if she may cheer their hearts
With loving arts.

O Blessed Three! who felt the sting
Of want and toil and suffering,
Pity the needy and obscure
Lot of the poor.

Banish the “pride of life” from all
Whom ampler wealth and joys befall:
Be every heart with love repaid
That seeks your aid.

Glory to Thee, Jesu dear,
Model of holy living here!
Who reign’st, with Sire and Holy Ghost,
O’er heaven’s host.



From the Apostolic Letters of Pope Leo XIII, Breve Neminem fugit of 14 June 1892, as contained in the Divine Office for the Feast of the Holy Family


When God in his mercy determined to accomplish the work of man’s renewal, which same had so many long ages awaited, he appointed and ordained this work on such wise that its very beginning might shew to the world the august spectacle of a Family which was known to be divinely constituted; that therein all men might behold a perfect model, as well of domestic life as of every virtue and pattern of holiness: for such indeed was the Holy Family of Nazareth. There in secret dwelt the Sun of Righteousness, until the time when he should shine out in full splendour in the sight of all nations. There Christ, our God and Saviour, lived with his Virgin Mother, and with that most holy man Joseph, who held to him the place of father. No one can doubt that in this Holy Family was displayed every virtue which can be called forth by an ordinary home life, with its mutual services of charity, its holy intercourse, and its practices of godly piety, since the Holy Family was destined to be a pattern to all others. For that very reason was it established by the merciful designs of Providence, namely, that every Christian, in every walk of life and in every place, might easily, if he would but give heed to it, have before him a motive and a pattern for the good life.


To all fathers of families, Joseph is verily the best model of paternal vigilance and care. In the most holy Virgin Mother of God, mothers may find an excellent example of love, modesty, resignation of spirit, and the perfecting of faith. And in Jesus, who was subject to his parents, the children of the family have a divine pattern of obedience which they can admire, reverence, and imitate. Those who are of noble birth may learn, from this Family of royal blood, how to live simply in times of prosperity, and how to retain their dignity in times of distress. The rich may learn that moral worth is to be more highly esteemed than wealth. Artisans, and all such as are bitterly grieved by the narrow and slender means of their families, if they would but consider the sublime holiness of the members of this domestic fellowship, cannot fail to find some cause for rejoicing in their lot, rather than for being merely dissatisfied with it. In common with the Holy Family, they have to work, and to provide for the daily wants of life. Joseph had to engage in trade, in order to live; even the divine hands laboured at an artisan’s calling. It is not to be wondered at, that the wealthiest men, if truly wise, have been willing to cast away their riches, and to embrace a life of poverty with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.


From the foregoing it is evident how natural and fitting it was that devotion to the Holy Family should in due time have grown up amongst Catholics; and once begun, that it should spread far and wide. Proof of this lieth first in the sodalities instituted under the ínvocation of the Holy Family; then in the unique honours bestowed upon it; and above all, by the privileges and favours granted to this devotion by our predecessors to stimulate fervour and piety in its regard. This devotion was already held in great esteem in the seventeenth century. Widely propagated in Italy, France, and Belgium, it spread over almost the whole of Europe; thence, crossing the wide ocean, through Canada it made is way in the Americas, and finding favour there, became very flourishing. Indeed, among Christian families, nothing more salutary nor efficacious can be imagined than the example of the Holy Family, where are to be found all domestic virtues in perfection and completeness. When Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are invoked in the home, charity is likely to be maintained in the family through their example and heavenly entreaty; a good influence is thus exerted over conduct; the practice of virtue is thus incited; and thus the hardships which are everywhere wont to harass mankind, are both mitigated and made easier to bear. To increase devotion to the Holy Family, Pope Leo XIII prescribed that Christian families should be consecrated thereto. Benedict XV extended the Mass and Office to the whole Church.



Homily of St. Bernard Abbot on Luke 2:42-52 (Homilia super Missus est, n. 7-8)


And he was subject unto them. Who was subject? And to whom? God to man! God, I repeat, to whom the Angels are subject, whom the Principalities and Powers do obey, was subject to Mary; and not only to Mary, but to Joseph also for Mary’s sake. Marvel, therefore, both at God and man, and choose that which giveth greater wonder, whether it be the most loving condescension of the Son, or the exceeding great dignity of his Mother. Both amaze us, both are marvellous. That God should obey a woman is lowliness without parallel, that woman should rule over God, an elevation beyond comparison. In praise of virgins it is sung of them alone, that they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Of what praise do ye judge that woman to be worthy who is thus placed before the Lamb of God.


Learn, O man, to obey! Learn, O earth, to be subject! Learn, O dust, to submit! The Evangelist speaking of thy Creator saith: And he was subject unto them. And there is no doubt that this sheweth us that God was subject to Mary and Joseph. Shame on you, ye proud entities of dust and ashes! God abaseth himself, and dost thou, O creature sprung from the earth, exalt thyself? God maketh himself subject to man, and dost thou, who art always so eager to lord it over men, set up thyself to lord it over thy Creator? For as often soever as I desire pre-eminency over men, so often do I strive to excel God. For of him it was said: And he was subject unto them. If thou disdainest, O man, to follow the example of man, at least thou canst follow thy Creator without dishonour. If thou canst not, perchance, follow him whithersoever he goeth, deign at least to follow him in this thing wherein he hath emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation, for the sake of such as thou.


If thou canst not enter upon the lofty paths of virginity, at least follow God by the most safe road of humility. If any turn aside from this straight way, though they be virgins, they do not follow the Lamb, if the truth be told, whithersoever he goeth. The humble man, though stained with sin, followeth the Lamb; the virgin, though proud, also followeth; but neither of these twain followeth whithersoever he goeth. The former cannot attain unto the purity of the Lamb, for he is without spot; the latter deigneth not to descend to his meekness, who was dumb, not before the shearer, but before the murderer. Yet the sinner who followeth in humility hath chosen a more saving way than the proud man who followeth in virginity; for the humble one maketh satisfaction, and is cleansed of his impurity, but the proud one’s chastity is stained by his pride.


Hymn for Lauds of the Feast of the Holy Family

O gente felix hospita,
Augusta sedes Nazarae,
Quae fovit alma Ecclesiae
Et protulit primordia.

Sol, qui pererrat aureo
Terras iacentes lumine,
Nil gratius per saecula
Hac vidit aede, aut sanctius.

Ad hanc frequentes convolant
Caelestis aulae nuntii,
Virtutis hoc sacrarium
Visunt, revisunt, excolunt.

Qua mente Iesus, qua manu,
Optata patris perficit!
Quo Virgo gestit gaudio
Materna obire munera!

Adest amoris particeps
Curaeque Ioseph coniugi,
Quos mille iungit nexibus
Virtutis auctor gratia.

Hi diligentes invicem
In Iesu amorem confluunt,
Utrique Iesus mutuae
Dat caritatis praemia.

Sic fiat, ut nos caritas
Iungat perenni foedere
Pacemque alens domesticam
Amara vitae temperet!

Iesu, tuis obediens
Qui factus es parentibus,
Cum Patre summo ac Spiritu
Semper tibi sit gloria.

V. Ponam universos filios tuos doctos a Domino.
R. Et multitudinem pacis filiis tuis.

O house of Nazareth the blest,
Fair hostess of the Lord,
The Church was nurtured at Thy breast
And shared thy scanty hoard.

In all the spreading lands of earth
The wandering sun may see
No dearer spot, no ampler worth
Than erst was found in thee!

We know thy humble tenement
Was heaven’s hermitage:
Celestial heralds came and went
In endless embassage.

There, whatsoever Joseph asks
Christ hastens to fulfill;
While Mary loves the household tasks
That wait her joyous will.

There, Joseph toileth at her side
Her joys and griefs to share,
With thousand ties knit to his bride,
Of love and work and prayer.

Yet how their bosoms constant burn
And deeper ardors prove
In love of Christ, whose eyes return
Tokens of mutual love.

O then, in all the homes of earth,
Be Love the bond of life:
May it enthrone at every hearth
The peace that husheth strife.

All praise to Thee, O Jesus,
who parents dost obey;
Praise to the sovereign Father
and Paraclete for aye.

V. All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.
R. and great shall be the peace of thy children.


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