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Linda Kavanagh wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Can you elaborate on the story I heard in a Catholic school of St. Joseph being picked by Mary and holding a lily that sprout up?

I thought I remembered the story being told that men placed lilies on the altar and the one that bloomed was most pure one and Mary was to pick this person.


  { Can you clarify on the story I heard in a Catholic school of St. Joseph and the lilies sprouting up? }

Richard replied:

Hi, Linda —

Various symbolic meanings for the lily have been proposed in connection with St. Joseph. Legends developed over the centuries, but I haven't heard the particular story you've mentioned.

As it happens, the lily is also a symbol of our Lady, based on the Scripture passage at
Song of Songs 2:1, which is:

1 I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys. (Song of Songs 2:1)

So roses and lilies became symbols for Mary.  With that as background, the lily with St. Joseph reminds us that his spouse was the spotless Virgin Mary.

— RC

Richard followed-up:

Hi, Linda —

I found some more material for the St. Joseph question. There is an early Christian document called the Gospel of James, from around 150 A.D.

It includes stories about how Mary and Joseph came to be betrothed.

(Note: this is not reliable history, but it shows where some of our legends of Mary and Joseph came from.)

The Protoevangelium of James

From the above page:

7. And her months were added to the child. And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

8. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him:

    Zechariah, Zechariah, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be.
And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

9. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph's head.

And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; (Numbers 16:31-33) how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary:

    Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you.
    The Lord will protect you.

There is a Wikipedia article about it at:

— RC

Mike replied:

Hi, Linda —

I stumbled across another legend from another website and I've pulled out the appropriate text.

It should be noted that the Gospel of the Birth of Mary is an unapproved writing of the Church.
We refer to this as an apocrypha writing. That said, this legend, as in Richard's answer,
has no weight at all in Catholic doctrine, teaching, or history.

  • Could either of these legends be false? <Maybe.>
  • Could they be true? <Maybe, but more probably they are partially true.>

Because of the following story recorded in The Gospel of the Birth of Mary, and
The Golden Legend, St. Joseph has been pictured with a rod or staff blooming with lilies.

According to this ancient story, when Mary was three years old her parents, Joachim and Anna, took her to the temple in Jerusalem and left her there to serve the Lord with the other temple virgins. At that time, it was the custom for the temple virgins to be sent home to marry and raise children when they reached the age of fourteen. However, Mary had secretly devoted her life and her virginity to the Lord's service.

The high priest, daring neither to dissolve a vow made to the Lord, nor to introduce the custom of adult temple virgins, called together the Elders of Jerusalem. As they were praying over this matter, a voice spoke from the Ark of the Covenant saying,

    "Mary's husband shall be revealed when all the unmarried men of the house of David bring a staff to the altar of the Lord. Then the chosen husband's staff shall flower and the dove of the Holy Spirit shall rest upon it. Thus shall be fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah,

    1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

    (Isaiah 11:1)

Therefore all the unmarried male descendants of David were brought together before the altar of the Lord and each presented his staff. However, Joseph, being well along in years, considered himself ill suited to marry the young virgin and hid his. When no man's staff flowered, the elders again consulted the Lord and the angel's voice betrayed Joseph. Joseph then brought forth his staff which immediately blossomed with lilies and the Holy Spirit perched upon it in the form of a dove.

In this way, Joseph was chosen by God to be the husband of Mary.

I also found this question and answer on the University of Dayton's web site:


  • Is the St. Joseph Lily named after the husband of Mary or Joseph of Arimathea?


    The lily is associated with St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, through an ancient legend that he was so chosen from among other men by the blossoming of his staff like a lily. Likewise, the biblical passage,

      5 The just man shall blossom like the lily, (Hosea 14:5)

    is applied to St. Joseph in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church for his feast day, March 19th.

    Thus in religious art, the lily is used as an emblem of St. Joseph, and similarly in religious flower symbolism the names: St. Joseph's Staff and St. Joseph's Lily have been applied to a number of flowers — depending on the region.

    In the Roman Church, St. Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, is also venerated as the patron of all workmen, with feast day on May 1st, and thus as the patron of all who work for the building of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, we have adopted him as the patron of Mary Gardening work.

Hope this answers your question.


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