Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary
We really don’t know too much about Christ’s foster father, but we do know a few things. Guardian and head of the Holy Family, Scripture tells us St Joseph was a just man (sf Matthew 1:19) and a carpenter (sf Matthew 13:55), a techton (worker in wood) in the Greek, and was spoken to by angels in his dreams (sf Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:19).
Although St Joseph, himself, is not quoted in Scripture, he did speak a very important word. As St. John Paul II tells us:
“At the circumcision Joseph names the child ‘Jesus.’ This is the only name in which there is salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). Its significance had been revealed to Joseph at the moment of his ‘annunciation’: ‘You shall call the child Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (cf. Mt 1:21). In conferring the name, Joseph declares his own legal fatherhood over Jesus, and in speaking the name he proclaims the child’s mission as Savior” (Redemptoris Custos, paragraph 12).
Just like the Blessed Virgin Mary, he is a model of kindness, obedience, faith, humility, patience, service, selflessness, faithfulness, and a model of the contemplative, hidden, interior life, ever abandoned to the will of God, a very hidden collaborator in the work of the Redemption.
Thus, St Joseph is the Patron of Unborn Children, Protector of Childhood, Protector of Spouses, Protector of the Family, Patron of Fathers, Patron of Immigrants and Workers, Patron of Employment, Patron of Carpenters and of Realtors, Protector of Virgins, Protector of Fugitives, Patron against Doubt and Hesitation, Protector of the Dying, Patron of a Happy Death, and Patron of Canada, Croatia, Korea, Vietnam, and many others.
Although devotion to St Joseph was slow getting started in the Church, it has grown throughout the centuries. There is reference to him in early patristic writings, with pious and liturgical devotion to him recorded with certainty in the 7th century. It was, however, not until the 13th century that a full liturgical Office was established for him.* Then, in 1870, he was named Patron of the Universal Church by Blessed Pius IX in his decree Quemadmodum Deus.
And, from then on, the Papal Magisterium, except for Venerable Pope John Paul I who was only Pope for 33 days, had a lot to say about St Joseph:
- Pope Leo XIII devoted Quamquam Pluries, an entire encyclical on Devotion to Saint Joseph in 1889.
- St Pius X exalted “the illustrious putative father and patriarch St. Joseph, husband of the Pure Virgin Mother and powerful patron of the Catholic Church before God.”** He composed a prayer to St Joseph, approved the Litany of Saint Joseph and canonically recognized the Pious Union of St Joseph.
- Pope Benedict XV issued a moto proprio Bonum Sane on the 50th anniversary of St Joseph being proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church.
- Pope Pius XI invoked St Joseph as a protector against communism in paragraph 81 of his encyclical Divini Redemptoris.
- Venerable Pius XII instituted the optional memorial of St Joseph the Worker on May 1 (there was a feast of St Joseph the Carpenter on old Coptic calendars of the 8th and 9th centuries) and composed a prayer to St Joseph Model of Workers.
- St John XXIII invoked St Joseph’s protection on the Second Vatican Council and summarized the work of his predecessors above.** St John XXIII also had St Joseph’s name added to our Eucharistic Prayer number I in 1962.
- Blessed Paul VI extolled St Joseph in his homily on the Feast of St Joseph.
- St John Paul II wrote, Redemptoris Custos “The Guardian of the Redeemer“, an apostolic exhortation on St Joseph.
- Pope Benedict XVI, whose name was Joseph before becoming Pope, spoke regularly about St Joseph, such as during his Angelus address in St Peter’s Square on December 18, 2005.
- St Joseph is a favorite of Pope Francis. Through the decree Paternas vices (“Fatherly care”), he promulgated, via the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the adding of St. Joseph’s name to Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV. The statuette of St Joseph which lies on a chest of drawers outside Pope Francis’ room at St Martha’s house, where he lives, is the same one he had in Argentina. And, he often slips prayer requests under the statue. As the Pope told some after his election, “You know, you have to be patient with these carpenters: they tell you they’ll have a piece of furniture finished in a couple of weeks and it ends up taking a month even. But they get the job done and they do it well! You just need to be patient…”
- Many saints, too, have also had tremendous affection for, and recourse to, St Joseph, including St Teresa of Avila, whose frequent advice was “Go to Joseph!” And, when St Joseph appeared to St Faustina Kowalska, he urged her to have great devotion to him.
And so, from a very rich and honored tradition and history in our Church, we do well to celebrate today the Solemnity of St Joseph, we ask his intercession, and together we pray:
O Saint Joseph,
Foster Father of Jesus Christ and True Spouse of the Virgin Mary,
pray for us and for the suffering and dying of this day/night. Amen.
Short and powerful prayer of the Pious Union of St Joseph
* Name of Saint Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayers, USCCB website.
Art for this post on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph: Father and Son, Corbert Gauthier, copyright 2002, used with permission.