THE FEAST OF ST. JOSEPH AND THE TRADITION OF THE ST. JOSEPH ALTAR by Loretta Vitale April

Mark your calendars and come celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph Sunday, March 19, 2017 at St. Ambrose Church. It is not often that this annual event for the parish falls on the actual feast day of St. Joseph. That makes this year’s celebration that much more special. “There may be some minor changes, but the feast will continue the same traditions of setting up the altar and the many special food items prepared just for this feast,” said Rosemary Parentin, a member of the St. Joseph Altar Committee.

This year’s committee chairpersons are Toni Pagano and Louisa Cottone. The Committee has been meeting and preparations are underway. There will be a mass in honor of St. Joseph at 11:00 a.m. and then a procession leading to the St. Ambrose School Cafeteria. The altar will be set up in traditional form, filled with St. Joseph bread, sweets and treats. There will be a blessing of the altar by Monsignor Bommarito. Guests will once again be able to sample foods from many of the Hill restaurants and merchants. In addition, guests can purchase items from the altar to enjoy at home. “As the Committee continues its preparation, more details will be made available and we will inform the parish and the community,” said Rosemary.

For those who may not be familiar with the tradition of the St. Joseph Altar, here is a brief history:
The St. Joseph Altar dates back to the Middle Ages in Sicily, when a severe drought brought people to the brink of starvation. Many prayers were offered to St. Joseph and through his intercession, the rains came and the crops returned. So abundant was the harvest that the native fava bean was growing in the rocks. In thanksgiving, the people set up tables of food to honor their patron saint and to share with the poor. The St. Joseph Altar is traditionally set up in three tiers to represent the Holy Trinity.

The table is filled with vegetables, breads, other baked goods and flowers. There are foods made with bread crumbs to represent the saw dust, to remind us St. Joseph was a carpenter. On the top tier is the statue of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child.

There are other traditions that are celebrated as well. Baskets of fava beans are usually displayed near the St. Joseph Altar. They signify the abundance of the harvest through St. Joseph’s intercession. It is said if you carry a fava bean in your wallet, you will never lack for food and the necessities of life.

It is also a custom to pin money on ribbons near the Altar. Offerings of money are made to ask St. Joseph’s intercession for one’s special intentions or in thanksgiving for prayers answered. At St. Ambrose, the money pinned to the ribbons, along with all proceeds from the sale of baked goods and the donations will be given to our school in the form of scholarships to families in need.

There is usually a head table, which represents service to the most vulnerable in the community. Since the beginning of the St. Joseph Altar in Sicily, the poor, widows, and orphans would occupy places at the table. There were 12 places set to represent the 12 apostles.

There is a small table near the Altar that is elegantly set for three. This represents the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. Children usually perform the traditional Tupa Tupa or Knock Knock play. The play depicts the story of the Holy Family knocking on doors looking for a room at the inn. The play ends when St. Joseph finds a place for the Holy Family to stay. The audience claps and shouts “Viva San Giuseppe!”

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