Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast of the Latin Church in honor of the espousals of Mary
Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary (DESPONSATIO BEATAE MARIAE VIRGINIS), a feast of the Latin Church. It is certain that a real matrimony was contracted by Joseph and Mary. Still Mary is called “espoused” to Joseph (“his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph“, Matt., i, 18) because the matrimony was never consummated. The term spouse is applied to married people until their marriage is consummated (Colvenerius, Cal. Marian., January 23). Peter d’Ailly, chancellor of the University of Paris (d. 1420), and his famous disciple, Jean Charlier, called Gerson, were the first energetic propagators of the devotion in honor of St. Joseph. Gerson worked many years to effect the institution of a special votive feast (Thursday of ember week in Advent), the object of which should be the virginal espousal of Mary and Joseph. Gerson’s friend, Henry Chicoti, canon of the cathedral chapter of Chartres, had bequeathed a certain sum for the celebration in the cathedral of this votive feast, for which Gerson had composed a proper Office. It seems that Gerson carried out the will of his friend, but tradition does not tell us on what day the feast was celebrated.
The first definite knowledge of a feast in honor of the espousals of Mary dates from August 29, 1517, when with nine other Masses in honor of Mary, it was granted by Leo X to the Nuns of the Annunciation, founded by Sainte Jeanne de Valois. This feast was celebrated on October 22 as a double of the second class. Its Mass, however, honored the Blessed Virgin exclusively; it hardly mentioned St. Joseph and therefore did not correspond to the idea of Gerson. Also purely as a feast of Mary it appears in the Missal of the Franciscans, to whom it was granted August 21, 1537, for March 7 (double major). About the same time the Servites obtained the feast for March 8. The Office of the Nativity of Mary was recited; changing the word Nativitas to Des ponsatio. After the religious orders, among the dioceses which adopted the feast of the Espousals of Mary, Arras takes the lead. It has been kept there since January 23, 1556. The first proper Office was composed by Pierre Doré, O.P. (d. 1569), confessor of Duke Claude of Lorraine. This Office followed the outlines given by Gerson and commemorated both Joseph and Mary. Pierre Doré in 1546 unsuccessfully petitioned Paul III to extend the feast of the Desponsatio B.M.V. to the Universal Church. But even without the recommendation of the Apostolic See, the feast was adopted by many Churches. In Moravia it was in the sixteenth century kept on July 18. In subsequent times Rome did not favor any further extension of the feast, but after it had been refused (1655) to the King of Spain, it was granted to the German Emperor for Austria, January 27, 1678 (January 23); in 1680 it was conceded to Spain, but transferred (July 13, 1682) to November 26, because in Spain the feast of St. Ildephonsus or St. Raymond is kept January 23 In 1680 it was extended to the entire German Empire, 1689 to the Holy Land (double, second class), 1702 to the Cistercians (February 20), 1720 to Tuscany, and 1725 to the Pontifical States. In our days it is kept in nearly the entire Latin Church on January 23, in the Spanish-speaking countries on November 26, but it has never been extended to the Universal Church. Since Pius V abolished the Office of Pierre Doré and introduced the modern Office, it is again a feast of Mary. The commemoration of St. Joseph in Mass, Vespers, Lauds (decree May 5, 1736) can only be made by a special privilege.
FREDERICK G. HOLWECK