“What then is Joseph’s position in the whole Church of Christ? Is he not a man chosen and set apart? Through him and, yes, under him, Christ was fittingly and honourably introduced into the world. Holy Church in its entirety is indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her it was judged worthy to receive Christ. But after her we undoubtedly owe special gratitude and reverence to Saint Joseph.
In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfilment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.
Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster-child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally. Amen.”
– From a sermon by Saint Bernardine of Siena, priest, see today’s Second Reading in the Office of Readings.
Who is St Joseph?
Today’s saint was written by the founder of CTS Herbert Cardinal Vaughan in Who is St Joseph?, first published in 1911.
Joseph, the son of the Patriarch Jacob, was the figure of St Joseph, the son of another Jacob: “Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was bom Jesus, who is called the Christ.” (Matt. i.)
What was truly said of the first Joseph, as to his future, and as to his goodness, his chastity, his patience, his wisdom, his influence with the king, his power over the people, and his love for his brethren, is verified much more perfectly, even to this day, in the second Joseph.
Of old it was said to the needy and suffering people in the kingdom of Egypt: “Go to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you.” (Gen. xli.)
The same is now said by the Sovereign Pontiff to all needy and suffering people in the kingdom of the Church—“Go to Joseph.”
If you labour for your bread; if you have a family to support; if you endure privation and suffering; if your heart is searched by trials at home; if you are assailed by some importune temptation; if your faith is sorely tested, and your hope seems lost in darkness and disappointment; if you have yet to learn to love and serve Jesus and Mary, as you ought, Joseph, the Head of the House, the Husband of Mary, the Nursing-Father of Jesus—Joseph is your model, your teacher, and your father. Truly in all things, St Joseph is the people’s friend.
But once more you ask:
WHO IS SAINT JOSEPH?
He is the adopted Father of the God-Man: St Luke.
He is the most faithful Coadjutor of the Incarnation: St Bernard.
He is one whose office belongs to the order of the Hypostatic Union: Suarez.
He is the Lord and Master of the Holy Family: St Bernardine.
He is the only one found worthy among men to be the Spouse of Mary: St Gregory.
He is the Consoler of Mary in her sorrows and trials: St Bernard.
He is the Saviour of the life of the Infant Jesus: St Matthew.
He is the Saviour of the honour of His Mother: St Jerome.
He is the man who lived thirty years with Jesus and Mary.
He is the man more beloved by Jesus and Mary than all other creatures: St Isidore.
He is the third person of the earthly Trinity: Gerson.
He is the model and image of apostolic men: St Hilary.
He is more an angel than a man in conduct: à Lapide.
He is the model of priests and superiors: Albertus Magnus.
He is the master of prayer and of the interior life: St Teresa. Lallemant.
He is the guardian of chastity, and the honour of virginity: St Augustine.
He is the leader in the great procession of the afflicted: Avila.
He is the patron of the married state: Paul de Pal.
He is the procurator of the Church of God: Little Office of St Joseph.
He is the patron of a happy death: St Alphonsus.
He is the patron of the Catholic Church: Decree S.C.R.
WHO IS SAINT JOSEPH?
St Teresa shall tell us; listen to her words; she is giving the experience of her own life:
“I took for my Patron and Lord the glorious St Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly that this my Father and Lord delivered me out of this, and other troubles of greater importance, touching my honour and my soul. He rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have at any time asked him for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours God has granted me through this blessed Saint, and the dangers from which he has delivered me, both of body and soul.
“To other Saints Our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know it by experience, He has given the grace to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that as He was subject to Joseph on earth (St Joseph bearing the title of His father, and being His guardian, could command Him), so now Our Lord in Heaven grants all his petitions.
“I have asked others to recommend themselves to St Joseph, and they too know the same thing by experience.
“I used to keep his feast with all the solemnity I could.
“Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious Saint; for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God. I have never known anyone who was really devout to him, and who honoured him by particular services, who did not visibly grow more and more in virtue: for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him. It is now some years since I have always on his feast asked him for something, and I always have it. If the petition be in any way amiss, he directs it aright for my greater good.
“If I were a person who had authority to write, it would be a pleasure to me to be diffusive in speaking most minutely of the graces which this glorious Saint has obtained for me and for others. But I ask for the love of God that he who does not believe me will make the trial for himself—when he will find out by experience the great good that results from commending oneself to this glorious Patriarch and from being devout to him.
“Those who give themselves to prayer should in a special manner always have great devotion to St Joseph; for I know not how any man can think of the Queen of Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Infant Jesus, without giving thanks to Joseph for the services he rendered them then. He who cannot find anyone to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious Saint for his master, and he will not wander out of the way.”— St Teresa’s Life, c. vi.
Go, then, to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you;
Go to Joseph, and obey him as Jesus and Mary obeyed him;
Go to Joseph, and speak to him as they spoke to him;
Go to Joseph, and consult him as they consulted him;
Go to Joseph, and honour him as they honoured him;
Go to Joseph, and be grateful to him as they were grateful to him;
Go to Joseph, and love him as they loved him, and as they love him still.
However much you love Joseph, your love will always fall short of the extraordinary love which Jesus and Mary bore to him. On the other hand, the love of Joseph necessarily leads us to Jesus and Mary. He was the first Christian to whom it was said, “Take the Child and His Mother.” This led a father of the Church to say, “You will always find Jesus with Mary and Joseph.”
Collect for Saint Joseph
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that by Saint Joseph’s intercession your Church may constantly watch over the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation, whose beginnings you entrusted to his faithful care. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut humanæ salutis mysteria, cuius primordia beati Ioseph fideli custodiæ commisisti, Ecclesia tua, ipso intercedente, iugiter servet implenda. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
Today’s Gospel: Matthew 1:16,18-21,24
Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.
Consecration to St Joseph
Extracted from St Joseph: Prayers and Devotions.
O Blessed Joseph, such are your virtues and the power of your intercession with God, that you are worthy to be venerated, loved and invoked before all the Saints. In
the presence of Jesus who chose you as His father on earth, and of Mary who accepted you as her husband, I ask you to be my advocate with both, and my protector and father. I place my soul and body in your special protection. To you I entrust all my hopes and consolations, pains and miseries, my whole life and its last moment so that, through your holy intercession and your merits, everything I do may be in accordance with the will of your Divine Foster-Son.
A History of Devotion to St Joseph
Extracted from St Joseph: Prayers and Devotions.
Devotion to St Joseph is ultimately based on the Scriptural affirmation that he was a “just man” (Mt 1:19), which is high praise in itself, but on reflection, it must be the case that Joseph’s holiness was of a truly astonishing nature. That is, he must have been second only to Our Lady in terms of sanctity; and yet devotion to him developed only quite slowly in the Church. If we consider that he was given the immense privilege of protecting Mary and the Baby Jesus from Herod’s rage after the visit of the Magi, then we can see that this privilege – which was not without grave concerns and great responsibilities – was an immense one.
And then further consider his role in providing for them as the child grew to maturity. St Joseph was also the human model of fatherhood that Jesus grew up with, the person on whom he would pattern his own life, in a human sense, and who would provide him with his first ideas of human fatherhood, and thus of the fatherhood of God. He must also have been the perfect husband to Mary, totally attentive to her, and totally devoted to her welfare.
St Joseph’s exalted vocation
To be chosen to be the foster-father of the God-man, and the spouse of the Virginal Mother of God, are signs of an incredibly exalted vocation, and we can get a glimpse of this if we consider his position in relation to the Holy Trinity. Our Lady’s relationship to the Trinity, as Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, is absolutely unique. No other creature comes even remotely close to her in terms of sanctity, and it is this status which has traditionally seen her as being more exalted than all the angels and Saints put together.
With St Joseph, we are obviously on a much lower plane, but even so, he was given the extraordinary responsibility of being the spouse of Our Lady, and the foster-father of Jesus, which clearly puts him in a separate and very eminent category with regard to the rest of humanity.
In the light of such reflections, it is clear that St Joseph’s sanctity was of an astounding nature, and that the devotion to him which has developed in the Church in recent centuries is in no way exaggerated.
The cult of St Joseph
Despite all this, it is understandable why the cult of St Joseph was relatively slow to develop in the early Church, and indeed for a long time after that. The early years were times of fierce persecution, and it was usually only the martyrs who were venerated. In addition, the theological focus during that period was on clarifying the trinitarian nature of God, and on trying to understand the mystery of how Jesus could be both God and man. And there was a focus, too, on the role of Our Lady as the Theotokos, or God-bearer. Even so, St Joseph was mentioned by some of the Church fathers, and from what they said it seems clear that there was devotion to St Joseph present in the Eastern Church.
In the West though, it developed quite late, and it was only in the twelfth century that a church was first dedicated to him, in Bologna. It was mainly through the influence of figures such as St Bernard of Clairvaux, St Thomas Aquinas, St Gertrude, and St Bridget of Sweden, along with the work of some religious orders, such as the Carmelites and the Dominicans, that devotion to him began to develop more widely. By the early fifteenth century a feast day in honour of St Joseph was celebrated in various dioceses in Western Europe, and his cult was strongly promoted by influential figures such as St Vincent Ferrer and St Bernadine of Siena, while Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) approved a universal feast day for him in the Roman calendar, on 19th March.
As the cult of St Joseph grew, succeeding popes elevated the status of his feast progressively. And other feasts associated with him, for example celebrating his espousals to Our Lady, were also introduced. Under the influence of St Teresa of Avila, the reformed Carmelite Order chose him as their patron in 1621.
More recent devotion to St Joseph
By the nineteenth century, devotion to St Joseph had become very widespread in Catholic circles, to the extent that, in 1847, Pope Pius IX, who was personally very devoted to the saint, extended the feast of his patronage to the whole Church. In 1870, he declared him the Patron and Guardian of the Universal Church, and further raised the status of his feast day. At first glance, this might seem excessive, but if we consider that in relation to Christ, Joseph acted as foster-father and guardian, then, in the economy of salvation, he holds the same position in a spiritual sense with regard to the Body of Christ, that is the Church. So it is no exaggeration to describe him as the Guardian of the Church.
Pope Leo XIII also strongly supported this devotion, and ended his encyclical on devotion to St Joseph, Quamquam pluries, issued in 1889, with these thoughts about his wonderful holiness: “No other saint . . . so nearly approaches that place of dignity which in the Mother of God is far above all created natures.” The Pope associated a special indulgenced prayer to St Joseph with this encyclical and ordered that it be added to the public recitation of the rosary during October. He also praised the practice of dedicating the month of March to St Joseph.
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