St. Joseph Altar
Our St. Joseph Altar will be held on Sunday March, 19, 2017
Many are involved in preparing foods, praying the Novena, and gathering to visit the Altar!
See the photos tab to see a gallery of pictures or click the link below to see a video slideshow!
The Feast of St. Joseph
According to legend, the St. Joseph Altar originated in Sicily many centuries ago during a period of drought and famine. In desperation, the people turned to St. Joseph asking his help and intercession. When the rains came and the crops prospered, their prayers were answered. In thanksgiving, the community made offerings to St. Joseph of their most prized possession - food! They selected their finest grain, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wine and invited all to share in their prayer and festivity. The custom and devotion continue to this day. Reasons for having altars vary: to fulfill a promise, to give thanks for a favor granted, such as the safe return of a loved one from war, for healing the sick, for a happy family life, for success in studies or business. It is also an opportunity for the prosperous to share with those less fortunate. Every item placed upon an altar has a meaning. The altar has 3 levels or steps representing the Holy Trinity. On the top step, in a special place of honor is a statue of St. Joseph and white lilies which have become a symbol of his purity.
The speda is pastry made with unleavened, hard cookie dough and is filled with a mixture of ground figs. The speda are formed into shapes and carved with intricate designs, baked and frosted. The designs include a Monstrance containing the Host, a heart which represents the Sacred Heart of Jesus, peacocks representing immortality and flowerpots which stand for springtime and new life.
Breads are baked with unleavened dough into shapes that represent the staff (cane) and beard of St. Joseph Large loaves called Cuchidati shaped into wreaths represent the Crown of Thorns. A portion of this bread is dried and saved to protect homes from violent storms. Some people tear a bit of dried St. Joseph bread and throw it outside during storms believing St. Joseph will quiet the storm.
The cookies, cakes, pastries and candies are extraordinary delicacies. Cream puffs shaped like tiny swans; cakes shaped like lambs with white fluffy icing sprinkled with coconut resembling soft fleece. The pignolati are pastry kernels molded with caramelized sugar and honey into pyramids which represent the pine cones Jesus played with as a child.
In addition to all the wheat products, there is a great display of fruits, vegetables and a variety of seafood. The St. Joseph Day Feast is entirely meatless, perhaps because the Feast day occurs during the Lenten season of fast and abstinence or because there was always a scarcity of meat.
The main dish is the same at every altar. Pasta con Sarde or Pasta Milanese, is spaghetti with a tomato sauce made of a fish base, anchovy or sardines, the ferny tops of fresh anise, pine nuts and currants. Instead of grated cheese, browned seasoned bread crumbs (modica) is sprinkled on top. The bread crumbs symbolize the sawdust in St. Joseph's workshop.
Every altar has a bowl of dried uncooked fava beans. This myth began during one of the famines in Sicily. At that time the fava bean was used as fodder for cattle. In order to survive, that farmers prepared them for their table. Every visitor to an altar is invited to take one as it represents abundance. It becomes his "lucky bean". Its legend says that the owner will never want while it is in his pocket.
Nine days before the feast a novena begins and is prayed by the faithful. Prayer is a most important part of the feast.
A lovely and important custom is that of having children enact the roles of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Sometimes favorite saints are chosen to accompany them. A table is set especially for the saints, who after the altar has been blessed, are served a small portion of the different foods. After they have completed their meal, guests are then invited to enjoy a dinner of Pasta Milanese. No one wishing to eat is ever turned away.
Prayer to St. Joseph
Oh Saint Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers. Oh Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms, I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return that kiss when I draw my dying breath. Saint Joseph, Patron of departing souls, Pray for us. Viva Gesu, Giuseppi e Maria