This year, since there is no Sunday within the octave of Christmas (since Christmas itself fell on a Sunday), the feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on December 30.
Coming as it does just a few days after the feast of the Nativity, it is no great surprise that the vast majority of the imagery associated with the Holy Family over the centuries depicts the family during the infancy of Jesus. Certainly there is nothing wrong with this, but I do wonder whether or not these kinds of images are actually helpful to the majority of families who might want to look to the Holy Family for inspiration and strength in their daily lives. Infancy, after all, is but a short time in the life of a family.
Holy Family with Jesus as an infant
During the time of the Catholic Reformation, when devotion to St. Joseph increased, a smaller but significant collection of religious imagery began to depict an older Jesus apprenticing at woodworking under the tutelage of Joseph. Sometimes the the Holy Family is completed with Mary present, engaged in some other form of labor. As beautiful as some of these images are, and as helpful as they are in reminding us of the dignity of labor, they do not, however, depict the Holy Family engaged as a family in a family activity per se.
Holy Family at work
It is therefore with great interest that I contemplate this early 17th century image of the Holy Family.
Artist: Callot, Jacques (French, 1592 – 1635) Title: The Holy Family at Table (Le Bénédicte) c. 1628 etching and engraving 1969.15.106 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Here, for a change, we have an image of a family engaged together in a family activity – a meal, perhaps a Sabbath meal – with Jesus a child but no longer an infant. Each family member is present and engaged in common activity. There is an explicit evocation of the Paschal mystery in the caption, which translates to: “Come dear boy, drink the cup, another awaits you that will not fall from your hand except in death.”
On this feast of the Holy Family, may families all over the world come to realize that it is within their daily lives as families that they are called to holiness and that the Holy Family is not just for Christmas cards, but can be source of inspiration and grace in their ordinary family lives.