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Quick Q and A on the Feast of St Joseph

JMJQ. March 19 is always the Solemnity of St Joseph, so why is it being celebrated today, March 20?

A. Because March 19 fell on a Sunday this year, this feast day was superseded by the Third Sunday of Lent. The Solemnity of Saint Joseph was thus moved to the following day this year.

Q. When did this feast originate in the Church?

A. Saint Joseph’s feast can trace its beginnings to the 15th century. It became a feast of the Universal Church (which is another way of referring to the Catholic Church as a whole) in 1621.

Q. Is it true that Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the Universal Church?

A. Yes. In 1847, Pope Saint Pius IX named Saint Joseph patron over the whole Church. He is also the primary patron saint of Canada and many other countries. Pope John XXIII, in the 20th century, included Saint Joseph’s name in Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon). Greater and greater honor has been shown to Saint Joseph over time, as, over the course of centuries, the Church has come to a deeper understanding of the role and importance of Saint Joseph in God’s plan of salvation, and in God’s family.

This is true in a double sense: the Greek word that explains God’s fatherly plan for salvation history is “oikonomia” – literally, “the law of the household”. Saint Joseph had charge of God’s “family” on earth in quite a literal sense – the Holy Family of Nazareth. Joseph was the foster father of the God-Man, Jesus Christ and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And Joseph is also the protector, by his prayers in heaven, of God’s other “family” on earth, the Church, which is also referred to in the New Testament as “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19-20). Saint Joseph’s intercession is powerful indeed – we should learn to take more advantage of his help in our daily lives.

With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. In her autobiography, Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: “To other saints, Our Lord seems to have given power to help us in some special necessity, but to this glorious saint (I know by my experience), he has given the power to help us in all things. Our Lord would have us understand that, as he was subject to Joseph on earth – Saint Joseph, bearing the title of his father and being his guardian, could command him – so now Our Lord in heaven grants all his petitions.”

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Saint Joseph, Powerful Intercessor

Today, March 19, Holy Mother Church gives her children a treat amidst our regular Lenten practices. There are a couple of solemnities that usually fall on Lenten weekdays. One is the great Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. The other is today’s Feast of Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church.

Many Christians do not avail themselves of the intercessions and help that this great Saint longs to provide them. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that the degree of assistance from God that a saint can provide for us is in direct proportion to the holiness of that saint. The words of James come to mind: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16). The more righteous the pray-er, the more powerful the prayer.

Of course, by these standards, the most powerful intercessor in heaven is the great Mother of God. Saint Joseph, “Silent Knight, Holy Knight” that he is, is so often overlooked. As always, the proof is in the pudding, so why not try entrusting a difficult problem to Saint Joseph? Saint Teresa of Avila was a notable advocate of the practice: “Our Lord would have us understand that, as he was himself subject to (Saint Joseph) upon earth – for Saint Joseph, having the title of father, and being his guardian, could command him – so now in heaven (Jesus) performs all his petitions” (Life, 6).

Saint Joseph, Ora pro nobis.

How Old Was Saint Joseph? Part I

The recent Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19 was a welcome feast within Lent – and we’ll have another one next week: the Annunciation. When contemplating Saint Joseph, one of the many interesting unanswered questions about him is this: How old was he? Was he an older man who served as a guardian to the Virgin, or was he younger and more robust? I’ll lay out the two competing views in the next couple of posts. First up: the view that he was older.

The Eastern wing of the Church has traditionally held that Saint Joseph was an older man, who betrothed and married Mary not for the purposes of romance, but protection – to be her legal guardian, as it were. The thinking here is that Mary had always planned on remaining a virgin dedicated to the service of God. Admittedly, this was a relatively rare position to take in Israel in the first century. But there are other examples, even in the same generation: Jesus himself (obviously), Saint Paul, and some of the Essenes, for starters. One could also add the prophetess Anna mentioned by Luke (2:36-38), who, although briefly married in her youth, lived out the rest of her days worshipping in the temple, consecrating herself to the Lord. She ostensibly could have sought remarriage, but didn’t. Mary may have been planning a similar life for herself.

But being an unmarried woman in the first century, especially if one was without extended family members to rely upon, may have been a precarious position to be in. Having a guardian, in the form of an older Saint Joseph, would have been a boon. Mary’s question to the archangel Gabriel, when told she would be the mother of the Messiah (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” – Lk 1:34) is quite an odd question for an engaged woman to ask. Gabriel has said nothing at this point about the conception of Jesus being miraculous in nature – he does that a few verses later. Odd, that is – unless she was planning on remaining a virgin all along.

The concept of Joseph as an older man also carries explanatory power in other ways: most notably, it explains his absence from the adult ministry of Jesus. The presumption is that he had died by this point. Although the mother of Jesus is mentioned at key points in the ministry of the Lord, Joseph is nowhere to be found. This is felt most acutely at the crucifixion, where Jesus gives the care of his mother into the hands of – not Joseph, but the apostle John – inconceivable if Joseph had been living at the time (Jn 19:26-27). As well, in some strains of this tradition, Joseph is said to have been a widower, whose first wife had died some time before, when he married the Virgin. This may shed some light on who the alleged “brothers and sisters” of Jesus might have been. Certainly, they were not other children of Mary, but they may have been Joseph’s children from his previous marriage.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments box, but don’t forget to stay tuned for the other side of the argument, which I haven’t even presented yet – that Joseph was a much younger man. We’ll tackle that argument in the next post.