3rd Sunday of Advent: The Marriage of Mary and Joseph

Opening Prayer

Father in heaven,

Grant to us the desire to live out your will in all parts of our life. You have created us to be a people of this world and people of your heavenly kingdom. Grant us the wisdom to see your plan for us and your hope for us in all that we do, just as you did to Mary as she saw your will for her in her earthly life and her heavenly life as the mother of Jesus Christ.


Scripture Reading

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Cesare Nebbia, Marriage of the Virgin, 1350-90
Mosaic on the Façade of the Cathedral
Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy
Source: Photographed at the Orvieto Cathedral by Richard Stracke
Cesare Nebbia, Marriage of the Virgin, 1350-90 Mosaic on the Façade of the Cathedral Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy Source: Photographed at the Orvieto Cathedral by Richard Stracke

Cesare Nebbia, Marriage of the Virgin, 1350-90
Mosaic on the Façade of the Cathedral
Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy
Source: Photographed at the Orvieto Cathedral by Richard Stracke

On the Marriage of Mary and Joseph

While the Gospels pass quickly over the betrothal, in art the marriage of the Virgin is a common subject. Joseph usually holds his flowering rod, with or without a dove, and there may or may not be a ring.

The high priest is sometimes dressed in the artist’s idea of what such an official would have worn in Mary’s time, and sometimes in the garb of a contemporary bishop. In most images the witnesses to the ceremony are numerous.

The image uses details that are simultaneously biblical and contemporary.

On the contemporary side, the couple is standing at the door of the Temple, just as medieval couples said their vows at the door of their church. Joseph gives Mary a ring, a Roman rather than Jewish tradition. And the men standing in the foreground wear contemporary clothing, not the apostolic-era garb of the couple and the women around them.

On the biblical side, the bearded priest is clearly Jewish as he wears the “holy crown” of Exodus 29:6. Yet there is a cross at the front of the headband!

Perhaps the purpose of this mixing of biblical and contemporary may be to inspire contemporary couples to emulate the virtues of Joseph and Mary.

An Oblate’s Pondering
By Fr Patrick Moroney, OMI

This painting is a mosaic set in the façade of the Orvieto Cathedral in Umbria, Italy. The cathedral is said to be one of the most beautiful in Italy and many visitors, including devout pilgrims, come from far and near to visit and view it. Although the building was begun in the year 1290, it was not finally completed, including its beautiful and renowned mosaics, until close on three hundred years later.

Our picture depicts a fairly typical medieval wedding with the participants dressed in the typical clothes of the era and fronted by the celebrating minister.

What makes this particular depiction unique—and introduces the theme of the wedding of St Joseph and the Virgin Mary—is the inclusion of the beautiful lily clasped in the hand of the groom. From earliest times the inclusion of the blooming white lily, particularly with the person of Joseph, is a reminder of the chastity and faithfulness of St Joseph as the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus.

The mosaic depicts the timelessness of the mystery of marriage and commitment of those who enter into it. The clothing of Our Lady and St Joseph may well speak of a particular era or fashion as was traditional in such medieval paintings but in the mind of the artist the mosaic, like the Cathedral itself, symbolized a timeless symbol of faith, commitment, and timelessness.

Reflection Questions

Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

  1. How does this artwork help us to understand or give us an insight into the relationship between Mary and Joseph?
  2. Advent can be a time of much stress and busyness among our families. How can the example of Mary and Joseph help you to prepare for Christmas?
  3. In an increasingly secular world that doesn’t always respect the sanctity of marriage, how can we better promote the Sacrament of Marriage as a calling and vocation?
  4. This Advent, how will you work on how you express sacrificial love for those who are most important in your life?

Reflection Activities for the Week Ahead

Find an alternative artwork of the marriage of Mary and Joseph. What are the similarities and differences with the artwork we focused on? What feature in your chosen artwork speaks to you?

Joseph was asked to trust in the Lord when he found that Mary was expecting a child from the Holy Spirit. In reality, every marriage and relationship should be built on the foundations of trust. Trust can also make us totally vulnerable. Create your own piece of art that reflects how you show and act upon your own trust in the Lord.

Reflect on this video on The Wedding of Mary and Joseph.

Closing Prayer

Holy Father,

We come to you because Jesus asked us to pray that you send workers into your harvest. Therefore, send us generous men and women, passionate for Jesus, willing to make their whole life a total oblation to You, to become close to the poorest and most abandoned, and to proclaim the Gospel.

Send us, Lord, people willing to share the charism of our founder, St Eugene de Mazenod, conscious of the call of God to be a friend and co-missionary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and serve the poor and most abandoned.

Under the inspiration and protection of Mary Immaculate, help us as we encounter our brothers and sisters and offer them Jesus, the source of our hope, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


If you are enjoying these Advent reflections, I invite you to sign up for our Christmas Novena emails I will send daily from December 16-25. Our Catholic faith is rich and offers liturgy unique to these days. The Hispanic community knows these days as las Posadas.

Sign up for our English version featuring reflections from my brother Oblate, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI , who is a professor and former president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio.

Or, sign up for our Spanish version featuring reflections from the Oblate School of Theology’s Instituto para Formación Pastoral.

P.S. During this reflective season of Advent we think about Our Savior who came to help the poor and most abandoned. Would you please help the Missionary Oblates care for them?