The Patronage of Saint Joseph
The Easter mysteries are superseded today by a special subject, which is offered for our consideration. The holy Church invites us to spend this Sunday in honouring the Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of the Son of God. And yet, as we offered him the yearly tribute of our devotion on the 19th of March, it is not, properly speaking, his Feast that we are to celebrate today. It is a solemn expression of gratitude offered to Joseph, the Protector of the Faithful, the refuge and support of all that invoke him with confidence. The innumerable favours he has bestowed upon the world entitle him to this additional homage. With a view to her children’s interests, the Church would, on this day, excite their confidence in this powerful and ever ready helper.
Devotion to St. Joseph was reserved for these latter times. Though based on the Gospel, it was not to be developed in the early ages of the Church. It is not that the Faithful were, in any way, checked from showing honour to him who had been called to take so important a part in the mystery of the Incarnation; but Divine Providence had its hidden reasons for retarding the Liturgical homage to be paid, each year, to the Spouse of Mary. As on other occasions, so here also; the East preceded the West in the special cultus of St. Joseph: but, in the 15th Century, the whole Latin Church adopted it, and, since that time, it has gradually gained the affections of the Faithful. We have treated upon the glories of St. Joseph, on the 19th of March; the present Feast has its own special object, which we will at once proceed to explain.
The goodness of God and our Redeemer’s fidelity to His promises have ever kept pace with the necessities of the world; so that, in every age, appropriate and special aid has been given to the world for its maintaining the supernatural life. An uninterrupted succession of seasonable grace has been the result of this merciful dispensation, and each generation has had given to it a special motive for confidence in its Redeemer. Dating from the 13th century, when, as the Church herself assures us, the world began to grow cold (Frigescente mundo. Collect for the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis), each epoch has had thrown open to it a new source of graces. First of all came the Feast of the Most Blessed Sacrament, with its successive developments of Processions, Expositions, Benedictions and the Forty Hours. After this, followed the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, (of which St. Bernardine of Sienna was the chief propagator,) and that of Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross, with its wonderful fruit of compunction. The practice of frequent Communion was revived in the 16th century, owing principally to the influence of St. Ignatius and the Society founded by him. In the 17th, was promulgated the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was firmly established in the following century. In the 19th, devotion to the Holy Mother of God has made such progress, as to form one of the leading supernatural characteristics of the period. The Rosary and Scapular, which had been handed down to us in previous ages, have regained their place in the affections of the people; Pilgrimages to the Sanctuaries of the Mother of God, which had been interrupted by the influence of Jansenism and rationalism, have been removed; the Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart of Mary has spread throughout the whole world; numerous miracles have been wrought in reward for the fervent faith of individuals; in a word, our present century has witnessed the triumph of the Immaculate Conception, a triumph which had been looked forward to for many previous ages.
Now, devotion to Mary could never go on increasing as it has done, without bringing with it a fervent devotion to St. Joseph. We cannot separate Mary and Joseph, were it only for their having such a close connection with the mystery of the Incarnation: Mary, as being the Mother of the Son of God; and Joseph, as being guardian of the Virgin’s spotless honour, and Foster-Father of the Divine Babe. A special veneration for St. Joseph was the result of increased devotion to Mary. Nor is this reverence for Mary’s Spouse to be considered only as a just homage paid to his admirable prerogatives: it is, moreover, a fresh and exhaustless source of help to the world, for Joseph has been made our Protector by the Son of God Himself. Hearken to the inspired words of the Church’s Liturgy: “Thou, O Joseph! art the delight of the Blessed, the sure hope of our life, and the pillar of the world (Caelitum, Joseph, decus atque nostrae; Certa spes vitae, columenque mundi. Hymn for Lauds of the Patronage of St. Joseph.)! Extraordinary as is this power, need we be surprised at its being given to a man like Joseph, whose connections with the Son of God on earth were so far above those of all other men? Jesus deigned to be subject to Joseph here below; now that He is in heaven, He would glorify the creature, to whom he consigned the guardianship of His own childhood and His Mother’s honour. He has given him a power, which is above our calculations. Hence it is, that the Church invites us, on this day, to have recourse, with unreserved confidence, to this all-powerful Protector. The world we live in is filled with miseries which would make stronger hearts than ours quake with fear: but, let us invoke St. Joseph with faith, and we shall be protected. In all our necessities, whether of soul or body, in all the trials and anxieties we may have to go through, let us have recourse to St. Joseph, and we shall not be disappointed. The king of Egypt said to his people, when they were suffering from famine: go to Joseph (Gen. xli. 55.)! the King of Heaven says the same to us: the faithful guardian of Mary has greater influence with God, than Jacob’s son had with Pharaoh.
As usual, God revealed this new spiritual aid to a privileged soul, that she might be the instrument of its propagation. It was thus that were instituted several Feasts, such as those of Corpus Christi, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the 16th century, St. Teresa, (whose Writings were to have a world-wide circulation,) was instructed by heaven as to the efficacy of devotion to St. Joseph: she has spoken of it in the Life, (written by herself,) of Teresa of Jesus. When we remember, that it was by the Carmelite Order, (brought into the Western Church, in the 13th century,) that this devotion was established among us, we cannot be surprised that God should have chosen St. Teresa, who was the Reformer of that Order, to propagate the same devotion in this part of the world. The holy solitaries of Mount Carmel, devoted as they had been, for so many centuries, to the love of Mary, were not slow in feeling the connection that exists between the honour paid to the Mother of God and that which is due to her virginal Spouse. The more we understand St. Joseph’s office, the clearer will be our knowledge of the divine mystery of the Incarnation. As when the Son of God assumed our human nature, He would have a Mother; so also, would He give to this Mother a protector. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, these are the three whom the ineffable mystery is continually bringing before our minds.
The words of St. Teresa are as follows: “I took for my patron and lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly that he rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for any thing which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath 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 by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that, as He was Himself subject to Him upon earth, for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being His guardian, could command Him, so now in heaven He performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth. (The Life o St. Teresa:–Translated by David Lewis. 1870: page 34)”
We might quote several other equally clear and fervent words from the writings of this seraphic Virgin. The Faithful could not remain indifferent with such teaching as this. The seed thus soon produced its fruit; slowly, it is true, but surely. Even in the first half of the 17th century, there prevailed amidst the devout clients of St. Joseph a presentiment, that the day would come, when the Church, through her Liturgy, would urge the Faithful to have recourse to him as their powerful Protector. In a book published in the year 1645, we find these almost prophetic words: “O thou bright sun, thou father of our days! speed thy onward course, and give us that happy day, whereon are to be fulfilled the prophecies of the Saints. They have said, that in the latter ages of the world, the glories of St. Joseph will be brought to light; that God will draw aside the veil, which has hitherto prevented us from seeing the wondrous sanctuary of Joseph’s soul; that the Holy Ghost will inspire the Faithful to proclaim the praises of this admirable Saint, and to build Monasteries, Churches and Altars in his ” honour; that, throughout the entire kingdom of the Church Militant, he shall be considered as the special Protector, for he was the Protector of the very founder of that kingdom, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ; that the Sovereign Pontiffs will, by a secret impulse from heaven, ordain that the Feast of this great Patriarch be solemnly celebrated through the length and breadth of the spiritual domain of St. Peter; that the most learned men of the world will use their talents in studying the divine gifts hidden in St. Joseph, and that they will find in him treasures of grace incomparably more precious and plentiful, than were possessed by every the choicest of the elect of the Old Testament, during the whole four thousand years of its duration. (La gloire de saint Joseph; par le P. Jean Jacquinot, de la Compagnie de Jesus. Dijon: 1645)”
These ardent wishes have been fulfilled. It is now more than a century ago, that the Carmelites sought and obtained the approbation of the Holy See for an Office in honour of the Patronage of St. Joseph. A great number of Dioceses obtained permission to use it. A Sunday was selected for the celebration of this new Feast, in order that the Faithful might be, in a way, compelled to keep it; for the Feast of St. Joseph in March is not a day of obligation for the universal Church, and, as it always falls during Lent, it cannot be kept on a Sunday, since the Sundays of Lent exclude a Feast of that rite. That the new Feast might not be attended with the same risk of being unnoticed, it was put upon a Sunday, the third Sunday after Easter, that thus the consolations of such a solemnity might be blended with the Paschal joys. The new Feast went on gradually spreading from one diocese to another; till at last, there was unexpectedly issued an Apostolic Decree, dated September the 10th, 1847, which ordered it to be kept throughout Christendom. The Church was on the eve of severe trials; and her glorious Pontiff, Pius the Ninth, by a sacred instinct, was prompted to draw down on the Flock intrusted to him the powerful protection of St. Joseph, who, assuredly, has never had greater miseries and dangers to avert from the world, than those which threaten the present age.
Let us then, henceforth, have confidence in the Patronage of St. Joseph. He is the Father of the Faithful, and it is God’s will, that he, more than any other Saint, should have power to apply to us the blessings of the mystery of the Incarnation, the great mystery whereof he, after Mary, was the chief earthly minister.
O glorious St. Joseph! Father and Protector of the Faithful! we bless our Mother the Church, for that she, now that the world is drawing to the close of its existence, has taught us to confide in thee.
Many ages passed away, and thy glories had not been made known to the world; but even then, thou wast one of mankind’s most powerful intercessors. Most affectionately didst thou fulfil thy office as head of the great human family, whereof the Incarnate Word was a member. Nations and individuals experienced the benefit of thy prayers; but there was not the public acknowledgment of thy favours, there was not the homage of gratitude, which is now offered to thee. The more perfect knowledge of thy glories, and, the honouring thee as the Protector of mankind, these were reserved for our own unhappy times, when the state of the world is such as to require help beyond that which was granted to former ages. We come before thee, O Joseph! to honour the unlimited power of thine intercession, and the love thou bearest for all the children of the Church, the Brethren of Jesus.
Thou, O Mary! art pleased at seeing us honour him, whom thou didst so tenderly love. Never are our prayers so welcome to thee, as when they are presented to thee by his hands. The union, formed by heaven between thyself and Joseph, will last for all eternity; and the unbounded love thou hast for Jesus is an additional motive for thee to love him who was the Foster-father of thy Child, and the Guardian of thy Virginity. O Joseph! we also are the children of Mary, thy Spouse; treat us as such, bless us, watch over us, and receive the prayers which now more than ever, the Church encourages us to present to thee.
Thou art “the pillar of the world,”–columen mundi; thou art one of the foundations whereon it rests; because of thy merits and prayers, our Lord has patience with it, in spite of the iniquities which defile it. How truly may we say of these our times: There is now no saint; truths are decayed from among the children of men (Ps. xi. 2)! How powerful then, must not thine intercession be, to avert the indignation of God, and induce Him to show us His mercy! Grow not weary of thy labour, O thou universal Protector! The Church of thy Jesus comes before thee, on this day, beseeching thee to persevere in thy task of love. See this world of ours, now it is become one great volcano of danger by the boasted liberty granted to sin and heresy! Delay not thine aid, but quickly procure for us what will give us security and peace.
Whatever may be our necessities, thou art willing and able to assist us. We may be the poorest and last among the children of the Church; it matters not; thou lovest us with all the affectionate compassion of a Father. What a joy is not this to our hearts, O Joseph! We will therefore turn to thee in our spiritual wants. We will beg thee to assist us in the gaining the virtues we stand in need of, in the battles we have to fight against the enemies of our souls, and in the sacrifices which duty asks at our hands. Make us worthy to be called thy Children, O thou Father of the Faithful! Nor is thy power limited to what regards our eternal welfare; daily experience shows us how readily thou canst procure for us the blessing of God upon our temporal interests, provided they are in accordance with His divine will. Hence it is, that we hope for thy protection and aid in what concerns our worldly prospects. The house of Nazareth was confided to thy care; deign to give counsel and help to all them that make thee the Patron of all that regards their earthly well-being.
Glorious Guardian of the Holy Family! the family of Christendom is placed under thy special Patronage; watch over it in these troubled times. Hear the prayers of them that seek thine aid, when about to choose the partner who is to share with them the joys and the sorrows of this world, and help them to prepare for their passage to eternity. Maintain between husbands and wives that mutual respect, which is the safeguard of their fidelity to each other. Obtain for them the pledge of heaven’s blessings. Fill them with such reverence for the holy state to which they have been called, that they may never deserve the reproach given by St. Paul to certain married people of that day, whom he compares to heathens, who know not God (Thess. iv. 5).
Grant us, also, O Joseph, another favour. There is one moment of our lives, which is the most important of all, since eternity depends upon it: it is the moment of our Death. And yet we feel our fear abated by the thought, that God’s mercy has made thee the special Patron of the Dying. Thou hast been intrusted with the office of making Death happy and holy to those who invoke thee. To whom could such a prerogative have been given more appropriately than to thee, O Joseph! whose admirable death was one of the sublimest spectacles ever witnessed by Angels or by men, for Jesus and Mary were by thy side, as thou didst breathe forth thy soul. Be, then, our helper at that awful hour of our Death. We hope to have Mary’s protection, for we daily pray to her that she would aid us at the hour of our Death; but we know that Mary is pleased at our having confidence in thee, and that where thou art, she also is sure to be. Encouraged by thy fatherly love, O Joseph! we will calmly await the coming of our last hour; for if we are careful in recommending it to thee, thou wilt not fail to take it under thy protection.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.