St. Joseph’s Day Altar March 21 at St. Mary’s Oratory
From press release
St. Mary Oratory, 517 Elm St. in downtown Rockford, hosts its annual St. Joseph’s Day Altar Sunday, March 21, after the 9 a.m. Mass until 2 p.m. The community is invited to partake of a traditional Sicilian meal of meatless pasta, omelets, vegetables and Italian pastries in the church’s basement hall.
The St. Joseph’s Altar is an annual Sicilian tradition that originated when the poor peasants of the impoverished island faced a famine from a drought and prayed to St. Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, for intercession. When the rains came and the famine ended, a wonderful tradition began. In gratitude, foods were prepared and distributed to Sicily’s poor. Italian immigrants brought the ancient tradition to America.
In the past, the large Italian-American community of south Rockford hosted as many as four Altars per block in their homes. The family offered the public a traditional meal in thanksgiving for prayers answered or for a prayer intention. Street processions of Italian-Americans carried the statue of St. Joseph through south Rockford in a festive parade, as is currently done in Louisiana and other states with large Sicilian populations. Private homes still host St. Joseph’s Altars, but as busy modern lifestyles intervened, Catholic churches began hosting them.
The St. Joseph’s Altar celebrates spring and renewal, and is organized with elaborately-prepared foods on three artistically-designed tiers that represent the Holy Trinity. Great symbolism and artistry is involved in the placement and selection of foods. Breads, cakes and cookies are baked in symbolic Christian shapes such as chalices, crosses, doves and lambs. Fishes and various vegetables and fruits adorn the Altar with flowers, plants and palm trees.
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