Our Lady’s Espousals
According to tradition, when Mary was of marriageable age, numerous suitors sought her hand. All were rejected and the humble virgin was given in marriage to St Joseph, who seemed only a lowly artisan. St Joseph was already known as a just and God-fearing man; but he was not so bold as to aspire to the hand of one so accomplished as the daughter of Anne and Joachim.
According to Jewish custom, all the men of the tribe of Juda assembled in the temple at Jerusalem and prayed with the Hight Priests to be shown by a sign from the Lord who it was who should become the husband of Mary. The High Priest told the men to hold their staffs in their hands. In the midst of their prayers the staff of Joseph, a poor carpenter, blossomed into a white lily and a dove of purest white hovered about his head. Meanwhile God spoke to his heart and bade him to cherish and reverence Mary who was most acceptable to God.
What was his joy at being the choice of Providence? What was his happiness in possessing as his spouse a virgin in whom the holiness of God shone so clearly? His whole soul turned to God in thanksgiving! With the magnificence so characteristic of the Orient, the marriage was solemnized in Jerusalem. The wedding gown of the Virgin is said to still be preserved in the Church of Chartres in France.
It was also a great joy for Mary to receive good St Joseph as her spouse. She bore with solicitude a heavenly secret hidden in the depths of her heart. She had made a vow of virginity, and she had prayed to have a spouse who, though truly married to her, would consent to respect her virginity; and this man God had prepared in the person of virtuous St Joseph.
The marriage of Mary and St Joseph was very real since each accepted the other as spouse with all their mutual rights; yet when Mary disclosed her intentions of remaining a virgin, St Joseph acquiesced as to an order that came from heaven. What joy this brought to Mary.
The marriage of Mary and St Joseph would not have served as a model for Christian marriages had it not been visited by some trials. Some months passed when St Joseph perceived that Mary would soon be a Mother. His holy spouse had kept the Annunciation a secret, and St Joseph was naturally troubled at the time. After much prayer, St Joseph decided to leave Mary quietly; but heaven intervened to render homage to Mary’s virginity and to reassure St Joseph’s conscience.
An angel appeared to St Joseph during the night and said, “Fear not, Joseph, to take unto thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins.” Thus St Joseph learned at once the irreproachable fidelity of Mary and the richness of the treasure he had in his home.
The first definite knowledge of a feast in honor or the espousals of Mary dates from August 29, 1517, when it was granted by Leo X to the Nuns of the Annunciation. It was celebrated on October 22. It appears in the Missal of the Franciscans, to whom it was granted August 21, 1537, for March 7, while the Servites obtained the feast for March 8. Although the Feast of the Espousals has never been extended to the Universal Church it is observed in nearly the entire Latin Church on January 23, and in he Spanish-speaking countries on November 26.