The Holy Family


Today, 26 December, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family, of course, refers to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The cult of the Holy Family became popular in the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century and since then several religious orders have been founded under this title.
A feast of the Holy Family was instituted by the Congregation of Rites in 1921 to build up devotion to family life. It was celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany. When the calendar was reformed after Vatican II, the feast was transferred to the first Sunday after Christmas.
In year A, the first two readings for the feast, from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and Colossians, recall the fourth commandment: Honour your father and your mother. They suggest that we need a model of an ideal family relationship based on a perfect relationship with God, and where else do we find such a model but in the Holy Family? Mary and Joseph provided the family context in which Jesus was able to grow ‘in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour’.
Many people in today’s world can relate to the trials and anxieties experienced by the Holy Family. An emperor’s edict compelled Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem; a king’s cruelty forced the family to flee into Egypt; fear of Herod’s successor made them move from Judaea and settle in Galilee, as we hear in Matthew’s gospel today.
Yet, through all this, they placed themselves in God’s hands and followed where God called them to go. They retained that spirit of thankfulness which is expressed in Mary’s Magnificat and extolled by Paul in the second reading.
The prayers of the feast ask God to ‘help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love’, to ‘live as Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in peace with you and one another’. No special Preface is provided for the celebration and one is chosen from the three prefaces for Christmas.
Both the placing of the Feast of the Holy Family in the octave of Christmas and the prayers for the feast firmly situate the mystery of the Holy Family in the context of the incarnation.
The Son of God is truly one like us in all except sin. He has experienced all human conditions, including being subjected to the rulers of this world and the perils of human existence. Despite this, in fact because of it, he accomplished the will of his Father and the work of salvation. The Son of God voluntarily submitted himself to the plan of the incarnation.
In the same way, it is not by fleeing reality that we find God and are saved. God is to be found in the vagaries of human existence; in the ups and down, the joys and sorrows, of family life.
The feast of the Holy Family emphasises the humanity of Jesus Christ: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn 1: 14). In Jesus we see a God who stands in solidarity with us all.


Elizabeth Harrington