St. Joseph Altarfeast2

Our 2013 St. Joseph Altar was open for viewing on Monday, March 18 from 9:00am until 7:00pm. The altar was blessed during a Mass at noon on Monday, March 18; a meal was served immediately following the Mass in The Rebuild Center at St. Joseph Church.

A St. Joseph Altar is an offering of love, labor and sacrifice in honor of the patron saint of the Sicilians and the Universal Church . According to legend about the origin of the St. Joseph Altar, Sicily was plagued by drought and famine many centuries ago. In desperation the people turned to St. Joseph , asking his help and intercession. When the rains came and the crops prospered, the prayers of the people of Sicily were answered. In thanksgiving, the people made offerings to St. Joseph of their most prized possession — foods made from the bountiful harvest. In his honor they erected a lovely altar with three levels, representing the Holy Trinity. They draped it simply and beautifully in white, adorned it with flowers and then selected their finest grain, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wine. The poor were invited to share in the prayers and festivities.

Symbol of Devotion

The custom of preparing the altar as a symbol of devotion to St. Joseph continues today for various reasons, such as giving thanks for a favor granted, for healing the sick, or for success in business. It is also an opportunity for the prosperous to share with those less fortunate. For many years, the Italian Cultural Society of New Orleans presented a large St. Joseph Altar on the steps of St. Joseph Church. Today, our own parishioners prepare the foods that are displayed in front of the St. Joseph statue in the church.

Preparations begin many weeks in advance of the great day. Much hard work is involved, but all participants joyously accept this as a form of sacrifice and a labor of love. Quite a number of the breads are symbolic. The Cuchidata, large golden-brown breads with a glossy finish of eggwash and sesame seeds are rolled and cut into: wreaths representing the Crown of Thorns; hearts symbolizing the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary; the cross representing the Crucifixion; a Chalice; and a Monstrance.

Cookies are always a favorite item. There are large and small fig cakes in many lovely patterns, biscotti in various shapes and sizes, iced in colors of pink, green, white, yellow and chocolate, and flavored with almond, vanilla, lemon, anise and other spices.

In addition to the wheat products, there is a great variety of fruit, vegetables and seafood. Pasta Milanese is a popular entre and stuffed artichokes are a major attraction. The green fava bean is also served in frittata or with garlic sauce. When dried, roasted and blessed, the fava becomes the very popular Lucky Bean or St. Joseph Bean. Legend has it that if you carry it with you, you will never be hungry.

A meal is prepared and served to guests who are then invited to take home pieces of blessed bread and lucky beans. The bread can be eaten, or thrown to the wind during times of bad weather. The bean, according to tradition, is kept in one’s possession as a remembrance of St. Joseph, to whom one should pray for blessing and protection.