A Catholic Monthly Magazine

With Blessed Joseph her Spouse

Fr Merv Duffy sm

by Fr Merv Duffy sm

In this Year of Faith we are celebrating 50 years since the opening of the second Vatican Council. One of the things that John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) did to ensure the success of the Council was to put it under the patronage of St Joseph. In doing this he would have been aware of the action of previous popes: Pope Pius IX in 1870 had declared Joseph to be the patron of the universal Church; Pope Leo XIII in 1889 wrote an encyclical (Quamquam Pluries) on St Joseph where he said:

‘It is of high importance that the devotion to St. Joseph should engraft itself upon the daily pious practices of Catholics. We desire that the Christian people should be urged to it above all by Our words and authority. The special motives for which St. Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed to be the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory. In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it’.

A Medieval Holy Family in which Joseph is without a halo.  Illustration from Ms. L70 written by Sr. Regula of Lichtenthal Abbey about 1450 AD

A Medieval Holy Family in which Joseph is without a halo.
Illustration from Ms. L70 written by Sr. Regula of Lichtenthal Abbey about 1450 AD.

As the Council opened, the discussion focussed on liturgy in the preparation of the first Vatican II document – Sacrosanctum Concilium: the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Various of the Council fathers spoke in favour of adding the name of Joseph to the Roman Canon, which was the only Eucharistic prayer used in the Roman rite at the time. This was not just an issue for Bishops: since 1815 the Vatican had intermittently received petitions from groups of Catholic faithful campaigning on the topic. Pope John XXIII did not wait for the Council to decide but decreed in 1962 that the highlighted phrase be added to the Communicantes prayer of the Canon:

‘In union with the whole Church we honour Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honour Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs ...’

Devotion to Joseph seems to have been linked always with devotion to Mary. He is identified in the scriptures as an ‘upright man’ and has always been claimed by the Church as holy. Despite this he is somewhat overshadowed in the Holy Family; Jesus is God incarnate, Mary is the Mother of God, Joseph is merely a saint!

On May 1 of this year, the memorial of St Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis decreed that the phrase “with Blessed Joseph, her spouse” be added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV. This is the result of a process initiated under Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). Our New Zealand bishops have said that priests may start doing this immediately. Not being in the text of the newly printed New Zealand missal may affect the uptake of this instruction but listen for those words and honour Saint Joseph the upright man, the protector of the Virgin, the Patron of the universal Church.

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