What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Family

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the Feast of the Holy Family (which, in the traditional Roman rite, is the Sunday after the Epiphany):

Dómine Iesu Christe, qui, Maríæ et Ioseph súbditus, domésticam vitam ineffabílibus virtútibus consecrásti: fac nos, utriúsque auxílio, Famíliæ sanctæ tuæ exémplis ínstrui; et consórtium cónsequi sempitérnum.

Here is my translation:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, hast consecrated domestic life with unutterable virtues: grant us by the help of them both to be instructed by the example of Thy Holy Family, and to attain to their everlasting fellowship.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O Lord Jesus Christ, You Who while subject to Mary and Joseph, hallowed family life with virtues beyond description, grant us by their combined intercession, that, having been taught by the example of the Holy Family, we may attain unto their everlasting companionship.

In this prayer, we ask for the grace of Christ, through the intercession of Mary and Saint Joseph, so that we might learn from the virtuous example of the Holy Family and to share their company in heaven. These petitions follow the acknowledgement of the ineffable (unutterable, indescribable) virtues with which the Incarnate Logos sanctified family life. Let us not pass over this hurriedly. All that Jesus did in his earthly life, including His divine infancy and the very home life of the Holy Family at Nazareth, was “for us men and for our salvation.” As we generally encounter the Religion in the homes where we grew up (adult converts are exceptions here), Jesus sanctified family life precisely as a loving fellowship wherein we might encounter Him.

There is a fascinating article by Dr. Michael Foley on the website of the New Liturgical Movement which goes into the history of this feast, and the glorious role played by our French Canadian brethren in promoting both the cult of the Holy Family and the institution of the feast. Bishop Laval, the first bishop of Quebec, was particularly zealous in its promotion.

But it was Leo XIII who took a European devotion that grew in the fertile soil of Franco-America and made it available to the Universal Church (to those dioceses petitioning for it), giving it the form the feast now has. This was done specifically to counteract the attacks on family life by both socialism and industrial capitalism. (Chestertonians will recall that Hudge and Gudge were GK’s personifications of these modern social banes, neither of which was a friend of Leo, because neither was a friend of the family.)

Here, I quote from Dr. Foley’s article, which references Leo’s Rerum Novarum:

In the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII considered the cult of the Holy Family an antidote to the troubles plaguing the family in the industrialized world. One on hand, Leo worried that capitalist employers might not keep in mind the good of the working man’s soul and might facilitate his neglect of home and family. [10] On the other, the Pope saw that socialists “act against natural justice and destroy the structure of the home” when they replace parents with the State. [11] Leo XIII deplored any power that tried to take away a parent’s right to educate his children:


“It is, then, incumbent on parents to strain every nerve to ward off such an outrage, and to strive manfully to have and to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring, as is fitting, in a Christian manner, and first and foremost to keep them away from schools where there is risk of their drinking in the poison of impiety.” [12]


To counteract these destructive trends, in June 1892 the Holy Father consolidated the various pious associations dedicated to the Holy Family with the Apostolic Letter Neminem fugit, and a year later he instituted a Feast of the Holy Family on the Third Sunday after Epiphany for any diocese that petitioned for it. Leo even composed part of the Mass and Divine Office himself, including the hymns for Vespers, Matins, and Lauds. Passages from Neminem fugit were later included as readings in the Office of Matins that show how there is a lesson in the Holy Family for everyone: for fathers, mothers, children, workers, the poor, and even royalty.

Pope Benedict XV later put the feast on the universal calendar and moved it to its present place in the traditional calendar, the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany.

It is the Christian duty of Catholic fathers and mothers to make their homes into “domestic churches” where prayer, Christian virtue, jealous solicitude for God’s rights, and the dignity of each baptized soul are of uppermost priority. I have said it over and over again: Religion in the family is not to be outsourced to the ministerial priests. That is not an anticlerical statement. Without the ministerial priest we do not have our essential liturgical and sacramental life. But that life cannot blossom to its full fruition where the domestic life puts obstacles in the way. Parents must not only not put up obstacles, but must also proactively instill the Religion in their children as a duty to God and to their offspring in justice and in charity. Moreover, they must impress upon the hearts and minds of those under their care a Christian “Grand Narrative” to combat the secular and diabolical metanarratives that constantly assail impressionable youth.

Through the intercession of Mary and Joseph, may Our Lord grant us many holy families in the Church!