Feast of the Holy Family – Sunday after Epiphany
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
This Sunday has been chosen by the Church for the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family; the liturgy of the day, as expressed in the Gospel, harmonizes well with the mystery of this Feast, for it carries us forward to the childhood of our Emmanuel and gives us those wonderful words of His Blessed Mother, we must ever ponder within our hearts: "And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them."
The Feast of the Holy Family is of recent origin. In 1663 Barbara d'Hillehoust founded at Montreal the Association of the Holy Family; this devotion soon spread and in 1893 Pope Leo XIII expressed his approval of a Feast under this title and himself composed part of the Office. The Feast was welcomed by succeeding Pontiffs as an efficacious means for bringing home to the Christian people the example of the Holy Family at Nazareth, and by the restoration of the true spirit of family life, stemming, in some measure, the evils of modern society. These motives led Pope Benedict XV to insert the Feast into the Universal Calendar, and from 1921 it has been fixed for this present Sunday.
The Lessons for the Second Nocturn of Matins are taken from the Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII, Neminem Fugit, of June 14, 1892:
When a merciful God determined to complete the work of human reparation which the world had awaited throughout long ages, He so established and designed the whole, that from its very inception, it would show to the world the sublime pattern of a divinely constituted family. In this all men should see the perfect example of domestic unity, and of all virtue and holiness. Such was the Holy Family of Nazareth, in which before He had shone forth in full light to all nations, the Sun of Justice, Christ Our Lord and Savior, led a hidden life with the Virgin Mary for Mother and most Holy Joseph for foster-father. There is no doubt that all those virtues of ordinary home life, those acts of mutual love, holy behavior and pious practices shone forth in the highest degree in this Holy Family, destined to be a model for all others. Accordingly, the benign dispositions of Providence fashioned that Family so that every individual Christian, whatever his condition or station, by turning his attention to it, could find in it easily, reason and incentive for the exercise of every virtue.
Fathers of families, for example, have in St. Joseph a shining pattern for watchfulness and foresight. Mothers have in the most Holy Virgin Mother of God an extraordinary model of love, of modesty, of submissiveness of mind, and of perfect faith. Children of the family have in Jesus, Who was subject to Joseph and Mary, a divine example of obedience to admire, cultivate and imitate. Those nobly born may learn from a Family of royal blood how to restrain themselves in good fortune, and to retain their dignity in ill. The rich may learn from this family how much less estimable are riches than virtue. If working men and all those sorely harassed by family distresses and meager circumstances would but look to the most holy members of this domestic society, they would find there reason to rejoice rather than to grieve at their lot. In common with the Holy Family they have to work, they have to provide for the daily needs of life. St. Joseph had to work at his trade to earn a living; even the divine hands toiled at the artisan's profession. Surely then we need not wonder that wise men who were rich, cast their wealth aside willingly, and chose poverty in company with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
For all these reasons, therefore, it was right and proper that devotion to the Holy Family should have been introduced among Catholics and once begun should have grown from day to day. Proof of this lies first in the sodalities instituted under the invocation of the Holy Family; then in the unique honors bestowed upon it; and above all, by the privileges and favors granted to this devotion by Our predecessors to stimulate fervor and piety in its regard. This devotion was held in great honor, even in the seventeenth century. Having been widely propagated through Italy, France and Belgium, it spread through practically the whole of Europe. Passing over the vast tract of the Atlantic Ocean, it was extended in America, throughout Canada, where under favorable circumstances, it flourished. Nothing truly can be more salutary or efficacious for Christian families to meditate upon than the example of the Holy Family, which embraces the perfection and completeness of all domestic virtues. When Jesus, Mary and Joseph are invoked in the home, there They foster charity, there They exert a good influence over conduct, set an example of virtue, and make more bearable the hardships of every life. — To increase devotion to the Holy Family, Pope Leo XIII prescribed that Christian families should be dedicated to It. Pope Benedict XV extended the Mass and Office to the whole Church.
In the Third Nocturn, St. Bernard comments on the Gospel of the day (given below):
"And He was subject to them." Who? To whom? God to man! God, I say, to Whom the Angels are subject, Whom Principalities and Powers obey, He, indeed, was subject to Mary. Nor to Mary only, but to Joseph because of Mary. Marvel, therefore, at both, and choose whether you will most wonder at the benign condescension of the Son, or the exceedingly great dignity of the Mother. Both are amazing; both miraculous. That God should obey a woman is humility without parallel. That a woman should rule God is sublimity without equal. In praise of virgins, it is sung, that they follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes. But what praise can set forth Her dignity, Who leads Him.
Learn, O man, to obey. Learn, O earth, to be subject. Learn, O dust, to submit. The Evangelist, in speaking of thy Maker says, and He was subject to them. Without any doubt he was subject to Mary and Joseph. Be ashamed, O proud ashes. God humbles Himself, and you—do you exalt yourself? God subjected Himself to men, and do you, longing to dominate men, place yourself above your Creator? Should I, at any time, think such a thing, would that God would deign to answer me as He answered in rebuking His Apostle: "Get behind Me, satan... for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men." (Matt. 16: 23) As often as I desire pre-eminence over men, so often do I strive to go before God. Truly then I savor not the things that are of God. For of Him it was said, and He was subject to them. If, man, you disdain to imitate the example of men, surely it will not be an indignity to you to follow that of your Creator. If, perchance, you cannot follow Him whithersoever He goes, deign at least to follow Him when He humbles Himself for you.
If you are not able to walk along the sublime path of virginity, at least follow God by the very safe way of humility. Should anyone depart from this straight way—even though he be a virgin—he does not, the truth must be told, follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes. The one is not able to ascend to the spotlessness of the Lamb Who is without spot, nor does the other deign to descend to the meekness of the Lamb Who remained dumb, not before His shearers only, but before His murderers. Yet the sinner following in humility chooses a more salutary way than the proud man who follows in virginity, inasmuch as the humble satisfaction cleanses the uncleanness of the first, whereas pride defiles the chastity of the other.
In the Holy Sacrifice, the Introit recalls the joy that must have filled the cave of Bethlehem on that Christmas night; let us again rejoice with Mary and Joseph and sing the praises of the resting-place of the Lord of Hosts:
(Prov. 23) The father of the Just rejoices greatly; let Thy father and Thy mother be joyful, and let her rejoice that bore Thee. (Ps. 83) How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts: my soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord. V. Glory be to the Father...
The Church prays in the Collect that the home life of every Christian family may be sanctified and perfected by the example of that of the Holy Family; this is Her unceasing wish for Her children:
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who by subjecting Thyself to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate family life with wonderful virtues: grant that, by Their joint assistance, we may fashion our lives after the example of Thy Holy Family, and obtain everlasting fellowship with It. Who livest and reignest...
After the Commemorations of the Sunday and of the Octave, there follows a Lesson from the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Collosians:
Brethren: Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another, if anyone has grievance against any other; even as the Lord has forgiven you, so also do you forgive. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts; unto that peace, indeed, you were called in one body. Show yourselves thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly: in all wisdom teach and admonish one another by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing in your hearts to God by His grace. Whatever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (c. 3)
If we would attain to charity, the bond of perfection which unites all Christians together in the one great family of God, we must pay heed to those virtues which the Epistle puts before us. We must be full of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty and patience; we must bear with one another and forgive one another, after the example of the Incarnate Word. Then the peace of Christ will dwell not only in our hearts, but in those around us, and our homes will truly become like that of Nazareth, where Jesus, Mary and Joseph were ever singing in Their hearts to God by His grace.
In the Gradual Holy Church again celebrates the praises of the House of the Lord; She proclaims the blessedness of those that obtain lasting fellowship in the heavenly home above; yet in the Alleluia verse She recalls the lowliness of the earthly home of our Emmanuel, which made Him truly a hidden King:
(Ps. 26) One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. V. (Ps. 83) Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they shall praise Thee forever and ever. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Isa. 45) Verily Thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel, the Savior. Alleluia.
The Gospel is taken from the Second Chapter of St. Luke:
When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. And after they had fulfilled the days, when they were returning, the Boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and His parents did not know it. But thinking that He was in the caravan, they had come a day's journey before it occurred to them to look for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem in search of Him. And it came to pass after three days, that they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who were listening to Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished. And His Mother said to Him, "Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have been seeking Thee sorrowing." And He said to them, "How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?" And they did not understand the word that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them; and His Mother kept all these things carefully in Her Heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.
Thus, O Jesus, didst Thou come down from Heaven to teach us. The tender age of Childhood, which Thou didst take upon Thyself, is no hindrance to the ardor of Thy desire that we should know the one and only God, Who made all things, and Thee, His Son, Whom He sent to us. When laid in the Crib, Thou didst instruct the Shepherds by a mere look; when swathed in Thy humble swaddling-clothes, and subjected to the voluntary silence Thou hadst imposed on Thyself, Thou didst reveal to the Magi the light they sought in following the star. When twelve years old, Thou didst explain to the Doctors of Israel the Scriptures which bear testimony to Thee. Thou gradually didst dispel the shadows of the Law by Thy presence and Thy words. In order to fulfill the commands of Thy Heavenly Father, Thou dost not hesitate to occasion sorrow to the Heart of Thy Mother, by thus going in quest of souls that need enlightening. Thy love of man will pierce that tender Heart of Mary with a still sharper sword, when She shall behold Thee hanging on the Cross, and expiring in the midst of cruelest pain. Blessed be Thou, sweet Jesus, in these first Mysteries of Thine Infancy, wherein Thou already showest Thyself devoted to us, and leavest the company of Thy Blessed Mother for that of sinful men, who will one day conspire Thy Death.