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Espousal of Joseph and Mary

Marriage of Mary
Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1486 – 1490
Santa Maria Novella Basilica, Florence, Italy

You give the Church the joy of celebrating the feast of the Holy Spouses, Mary and Joseph: in her, full of grace and worthy Mother of your Son, you signify the beginning of the Church, the resplendently beautiful bride of Christ; you chose him, the wise and faithful servant, as Husband of the Virgin Mother of God, and made him head of your family, to guard as a father your only Son, conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Preface to the Mass, Feast of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph

Today is the lesser-known Feast of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph. It is also known as the Feast of the Holy Spouses.

This feast was first celebrated on August 29, 1517, when Pope Leo X granted the Nuns of the Annunciation permission to do so. In the 19th and 20th century, permission was given for this feast to be celebrated on January 23, though this varies in different parts of the world. This feast is not on the universal liturgical calendar of the Church and is typically celebrated at various shrines dedicated to St Joseph.

St John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos, discusses the importance of St Joseph in the Holy Family. The marriage of Joseph and Mary is the prototype and model of Christian marriage and an example of the profound union of hearts and spousal self-gift that is meant to be the reality of all married couples.

Analyzing the nature of marriage, both St. Augustine and St. Thomas always identify it with an “indivisible union of souls,” a “union of hearts,” with “consent.” These elements are found in an exemplary manner in the marriage of Mary and Joseph. At the culmination of the history of salvation, when God reveals his love for humanity through the gift of the Word, it is precisely the marriage of Mary and Joseph that brings to realization in full “freedom” the “spousal gift of self” in receiving and expressing such a love.[1]

This great saint, who Pope Francis called the “Pope of the Family,”[2] further emphasizes the example of Mary and Joseph…

How much the family of today can learn from this! “The essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church his bride.” This being the case, it is in the Holy Family, the original “Church in miniature (Ecclesia domestica),” that every Christian family must be reflected. “Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families.”[3] (emphasis added)

Like Mary and Joseph, all married couples are called to make a complete gift of self to each other in sacrificial love. Spouses can emulate Mary and Joseph by their total surrender to God’s will in their marriages and obedience to his commands. Jesus was the center of the Holy Family and He is to be the center of all families, through the example and assistance of Mary and Joseph.

The Sacrament of Marriage and family life are under attack in our culture. The Church would do well to include the Feast of the Holy Spouses into the universal calendar of the Church. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, need models of holy family life to encourage them on their own path to sainthood.

We implore couples to turn to Our Lady and St Joseph, asking for their intercession and blessings over their marriages and families. May couples be strengthen and encouraged by their holy example and strive to mirror the love of the Holy Family in their own families.

Prayer to the Holy Family

O God our Father, in Jesus
you call all Christian families and homes
 to be signs of living faith.

By the light of the Holy Spirit,
lead us to be thankful for the gift
of faith, and by that gift may we
grow in our relationship with Jesus,
your Son, and be confident witnesses to
Christian hope and joy to all we meet.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.


[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, §7, internet: http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_15081989_redemptoris-custos.html (accessed January 17, 2021).

[2] Pope Francis, Homily at the Holy Mass and Rite of Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, internet: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140427_omelia-canonizzazioni.html (accessed January 17, 2021).

[3] John Paul II, ibid.