St. Joseph Altar gives hope in troubled times

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX)- Even in a time of trouble, St. Joseph Catholic Church and other churches all over the world filled with hope this weekend.

"This Sunday is set aside to rejoice in the fact that even though things are difficult, we're in the middle of a desert," said Father Mike Austin, who is the Pastor at St. Joseph. "We know God's going to save us."

They set aside this Sunday to celebrate the St. Joseph Altar, an ornate display of candles, baked goods and other things. The tradition of the St. Joseph Altar started centuries ago in Sicily.

As the story goes, the Sicilian people plead to St. Joseph, and the famine ended. They celebrated by sharing a feast with everyone, even those who had very little to offer. The story may be old, but it's significance is still apparent today.

"You know, the altar I think this year has a great significance, especially when we're looking at the world, the economy and the situation that the United States and the whole world is in," said Father Mike Austin to the congregation.

Church members build the St. Joseph Altar every year on March 19 and celebrate on the closest Sunday. The altar is covered with different things, and all of them have unique meanings. Below is a list of some the items on the altar and their significance to Catholics worldwide.

  • Mudica (breadcrumbs): Representing sawdust on St. Joseph's floor
  • Twelve whole fish: Representing the miracle of the loaves and fish, as told in the Bible
  • Wine: Represents the Miracle of Cana, as told in the Bible
  • Sacramental wine and bread: Communion
  • Grapes, Olives and Figs: Sicilian trademarks
  • Pignolatti: Fried pastry balls representing pinecones
  • Poppocavola: Bread with dyed eggs inside to represent Easter
  • Monstrances: Sacred Host
  • Chalices: Last supper
  • Crosses: Christ's crucifixion
  • Doves: Holy Spirit
  • Lambs and Fish: Jesus as the lamb of God and Fisher of Men
  • Hearts: Hearts of Jesus and Mary
  • Crown of Thorns: Christ's suffering
  • Sugar Coated Almonds: Holy Spirit

These and others appear on the altar, and they remind congregations all over the world that even in difficult times, they are not alone.

"I think it's a beautiful sign of their faith and trust in God," said Father Mike Austin. "Because they've built a bigger alter and more beautiful altar than ever in my time here. It keeps getting bigger and bigger each year."

As part of the offering, children act out the Bible story of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus' search for food and shelter. It's a reminder that the traditions of the past are still important, and maybe now more than ever.

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