St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church at 1010 Ferguson St. in south Rockford will host its annual St. Joseph’s Day Altar from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, March 16, in the basement church hall. The community is invited to partake in the festive traditional meal of meatless pasta, omelets, vegetables and Italian pastries. The church hall is handicapped accessible.
The St. Joseph Altar is an ancient Sicilian tradition that originated when the poor peasants of the impoverished island faced a famine as a result of 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 the poor of Sicily. This wonderful tradition was brought to America by the Italian immigration.
In past years, the Italian-American community of south Rockford hosted as many as four St. Joseph Altars per residential block in private homes. The public was invited to eat at the altar, which symbolized the beginning of spring and renewal. A family would host these elaborate altars in thanksgiving for prayers answered or in sacrifice for a prayer intention.
Street processions of Italian-Americans carried the statue of St. Joseph throughout the neighborhoods in a festival parade, a tradition that continues today in southern Louisiana and other parts of the country. Some private homes in Rockford still host St. Joseph Altars. However, as busy modern lifestyles intervened, various Rockford Catholic churches carry on the tradition.
The St. Joseph Altar celebrates prayer petitions and gratitude. It is arranged in three elaborate tiers to represent the Holy Trinity. There is great symbolism and artistry in the placement and selection of the items to adorn the altar.
Breads, cakes and cookies, baked in symbolic Christian shapes, are placed decoratively on the altar, which is blessed by a priest. Pastries in the shapes of chalices, crosses, doves and lambs, fishes, wreaths, fruit, flowers and palms adorn the altar.
Pastor Father James Ciaramitaro will bless the altar after the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass March 15. The public is invited, and cookies and coffee will be served.
From the March 12-18, 2014 print edition