December 23, 2009

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

By Brian Pizzalato *
First ReadingSir. 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Sam. 1:20-22, 24-28

Responsorial PsalmPs. 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or Ps. 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10

Second ReadingCol. 3:12-21 or 1 Jn. 3:1-2, 21-24

Gospel ReadingLk. 2:41-52


Samuel and Jesus

One option for the Old Testament reading for this Sunday comes from 1 Samuel. There are some amazing parallels between the account of Samuel’s birth and early life and the birth and early life of Jesus.

  1. Hannah is barren; Mary is without child (1 Sm 1:5; Lk 1:27).

  2. There are profound similarities between Hannah’s hymn of praise after Samuel’s conception and birth and Mary’s Magnificat (1 Sm 2:1-10; Lk 1:46-55)

  3. The Greek word for “inn” (katalyma) is used both accounts (1 Sm 1:18; Lk 2:7).

  4. Hannah and Mary name their child (1 Sm 1:20; Lk 1:31).

  5. After his birth Hannah brings Samuel to the sanctuary and encounters an aged priest named Eli (1 Sm 1:20, 24-28). After his birth Mary brings Jesus to the temple, and encounters the aged Simeon who administers a blessing (Lk 2:22-35).

  6. While at the temple Mary also encounters a woman named Anna, which is the same name as Hannah (Lk 2:36-38). Also, in 1 Samuel 2:22 there is reference to women, who like Anna, “served at the entrance of the tent of meeting.”

  7. Both instances have the language of them returning to their home (1 Sm 2:20, Lk 2:39).

  8. We are told that Samuel “grew up in the presence of the Lord…” and “now the boy continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (1 Sm 2:21, 26); Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him…” and “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Lk 2:40, 52).

  9. There is the language of “going up every year” to offer sacrifice (1 Sm 1:3, 2:19; Lk 2:41).

Jesus is being portrayed as a new and greater Samuel. The main point of these parallels is to show that Jesus, like Samuel, is wholly dedicated to the Lord. Hannah’s desire was that Samuel “may appear in the presence of the Lord, and abide their forever” (1 Sm 1:22). But even greater than this is that Jesus is the Lord whose presence is among us so that we might abide with him forever.

Another important point, especially for the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family, comes from the example of Hannah. She realizes that children are ultimately a gift from God. She is willing to give her child back to the Lord so that he might do the will of the Lord.


The other option for an Old Testament reading for this Sunday comes from Sirach. The third chapter of Sirach is an extended reflection on the fourth commandment of the law of the Lord, “honor your father and your mother” (Ex 19:12).

Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) falls within what is considered the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The Navarre Bible tells us, “One could say that the central idea of the book is given in 15:1: ‘He who holds to the law will obtain wisdom,’ and that it was written for those who wish ‘to gain learning, being prepared in character to live according to the law’” (Wisdom Books, p. 383).

It can be read in this Sunday’s readings for the Feast of the Holy Family to make obvious the fulfillment of the commandants by Joseph and Mary. They have just fulfilled the law of the Lord by circumcising Jesus on the eighth day and presenting him in the temple (cf. Lk 2:21, 22). In this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke they are fulfilling the law of the Lord by making a pilgrimage to the Temple for the feast of Passover.

Jesus too completely fulfills the law of the Lord. He will fulfill the fourth commandment all the days of his life. We hear very clearly that Jesus “…was obedient to them [Joseph and Mary]…” (Lk 2:51).

In the fourth commandment God makes a promise to those who fulfill it: “…that you may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Ex 19:12). In Exodus this of course meant the Promised Land of Canaan, but this Promised Land was only meant to point ahead to a greater Promised Land, namely heavenly glory. We can see why Simeon would pray, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace…” (Lk 2:29).

Given all of this we too are being taught to honor Joseph and Mary because they are the father and mother of the Lord, but also because they are mystically the father and mother of all Christians.

If we do not honor Joseph and Mary we will have broken the fourth commandment and will not be allowed to enter the new and greater Promised Land. This, of course, also goes for our earthly mothers and fathers. We must remember the words of Sirach, “Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them” (3:3). Let us then keep the fourth commandment.

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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