Catholic Encyclopedia – Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary


(Desponsatio Beatæ Mariæ 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“, Matthew 1:18) because the matrimony was never consummated. The term spouse is applied to married people until their marriage is consummated. Peter d’Ailly, chancellor of the University of Paris, and his famous disciple, Jean Charlier, called Gerson, were the first energetic propagators of the devotion in honour of Saint 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 honour of the espousals of Mary dates from 29 August 1517, when with nine other Masses in honour of Mary, it was granted by Pope Leo X to the Nuns of the Annunciation, founded by Sainte Jeanne de Valois. This feast was celebrated on 22 October as a double of the second class. Its Mass, however, honoured the Blessed Virgin exclusively; it hardly mentioned Saint 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 on 21 August 1537 for 7 March (double major). About the same time the Servites obtained the feast for 8 March. The Office of the Nativity of Mary was recited, changing the word Nativilas to Desponsatio. 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 23 January 1556. The first proper Office was composed by Father Pierre Doré, OP, 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 Pope Paul III to extend the feast of the Desponsatio Beatæ Mariæ Virginis 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 18 July. In subsequent times, Rome did not favour any further extension of the feast, but after it had been refused in 1655 to the King of Spain, it was granted to the German Emperor for Austria on 27 January 1678 (23 January); in 1680 it was conceded to Spain, but transferred on 13 July 1682 to 26 November because in Spain the feast of Saint Ildephonsus or Saint Raymond is kept 23 January. In 1680 it was extended to the entire German Empire, 1689 to the Holy Land (double, second class), 1702 to the Cistercians (20 February), 1720 to Tuscany, and 1725 to the Pontifical States. In our days it is kept in nearly the entire Latin Church on 23 January, in the Spanish-speaking countries on 26 November, but it has never been extended to the Universal Church. Since Pope Pius V abolished the Office of Pierre Doré and introduced the modern Office, it is again a feast of Mary. The commemoration of Saint Joseph in Mass, Vespers, Lauds (decree of 5 May 1736) can only be made by a special privilege.

MLA Citation

  • Holweck, Frederick. “Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5, 1909. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 March 2010. Web. 29 November 2020. <>