Countdown to St. Joseph’s Day: 2 days
Happy Feast of St. Patrick! And with Laetare Sunday tomorrow, there is much rejoicing to be had in the Church in these next 48 hours!
Speaking of Laetare Sunday, as you know, it is one of the two days a year when priests wear rose vestments (the other day is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, and, by the way, don’t ever tell your priest that his vestments are pink).
This name for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is derived from the liturgy’s introit which in most churches has been replaced by the processional hymn at the start of Mass.
Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. (Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus.
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father.
The introit is taken from Isiah 66 and Psalm 122. In these scripture passages, the city of Jerusalem seen as an image of the Church. Likewise, we see in Our Lady the purity, holiness, and splendor of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraphs 507 and 972, quotes Lumen Gentium in viewing Mary as a true icon of the Church.
At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: “the Church indeed…by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.”
“In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.”
Just as Mary gave her Son clothing and nourishment, the Church, our other Holy Mother, clothes us in the white garment of our Christian dignity and nourishes our souls with the Word of God and Bread of Life.
And who was the protector of Mary, her strong and tender guardian? Of course, it was our beloved St. Joseph, the loving and faithful husband of Our Lady. Thus, he who cared for Mary with all his heart, who was her most intimate companion and friend of the Sacred Heart is also the mighty protector and guardian of Holy Mother Church.
In officially naming St. Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church in his decree Quaemadmodum Deus, Bl. Pope Pius IX said (with my emphasis),
As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time had come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures.
Indeed, he had as his spouse the Immaculate Virgin Mary, of whom was born by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord, who deigned to be reputed in the sight of men as the son of Joseph, and was subject to him.
Him whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed. He most diligently reared Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life.
Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.
And now therefore, when in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her, the venerable prelates of the whole Catholic world have presented to the Sovereign Pontiff their own petitions and those of the faithful committed to their charge, praying that he would deign to constitute St. Joseph Patron of the Church…
Accordingly, it has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage, has chosen to comply with the prelates’ desire and has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church.
The Church faced many difficulties in the time of Bl. Pius IX: Rome was seized by the Italian army, the Franco-Prussian War broke out, the First Vatican Council was suspended, and our Holy Father thought about taking refuge outside of the Vatican on a couple of occasions.
As I am sure you are all aware, Holy Mother Church is again under attack. In his encyclical Quamquam Pluries, Pope Leo XIII remarks (again with my emphasis),
Now, Venerable Brethren, you know the times in which we live; they are scarcely less deplorable for the Christian religion than the worst days, which in time past were most full of misery to the Church. We see faith, the root of all the Christian virtues, lessening in many souls; we see charity growing cold; the young generation daily growing in depravity of morals and views; the Church of Jesus Christ attacked on every side by open force or by craft; a relentless war waged against the Sovereign Pontiff; and the very foundations of religion undermined with a boldness which waxes daily in intensity...In circumstances so unhappy and troublous, human remedies are insufficient, and it becomes necessary, as a sole resource, to beg for assistance from the Divine power.
This is the reason why We have considered it necessary to turn to the Christian people and urge them to implore, with increased zeal and constancy, the aid of Almighty God…If, on innumerable occasions, she has displayed her power in aid of the Christian world, why should We doubt that she will now renew the assistance of her power and favour, if humble and constant prayers are offered up on all sides to her? Nay, We rather believe that her intervention will be the more marvellous as she has permitted Us to pray to her, for so long a time, with special appeals. But We entertain another object, which, according to your wont, Venerable Brethren, you will advance with fervour. That God may be more favourable to Our prayers, and that He may come with bounty and promptitude to the aid of His Church, We judge it of deep utility for the Christian people, continually to invoke with great piety and trust, together with the Virgin-Mother of God, her chaste Spouse, the Blessed Joseph; and We regard it as most certain that this will be most pleasing to the Virgin herself. On the subject of this devotion, of which We speak publicly for the first time to-day, We know without doubt that not only is the people inclined to it, but that it is already established, and is advancing to full growth…And as, moreover, 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.
So, when Holy Mother Church is being attacked, when the souls of the faithful are at some greater risk, and when the powers of darkness appear to be tightening their grasp on the world, what have the popes urged? “Go to Joseph” (Gen 41:55)!
Regarding our beloved Joseph’s role as Guardian of the Holy Family, Pope Leo XIII writes,
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 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. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together. Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life’s companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents. From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch’s jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church. From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers. And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust - this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father continues by employing some scriptural typology regarding the first Joseph (by the way, we witnessed another example of typology in today’s Gospel: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”)
You well understand, Venerable Brethren, that these considerations are confirmed by the ,opinion held by a large number of the Fathers, to which the sacred liturgy gives its sanction, that the Joseph of ancient times, son of the patriarch Jacob, was the type of St. Joseph, and the former by his glory prefigured the greatness of the future guardian of the Holy Family. And in truth, beyond the fact that the same name-a point the significance of which has never been denied-was given to each, you well know the points of likeness that exist between them; namely, that the first Joseph won the favour and especial goodwill of his master, and that through Joseph’s administration his household came to prosperity and wealth; that (still more important) he presided over the kingdom with great power, and, in a time when the harvests failed, he provided for all the needs of the Egyptians with so much wisdom that the King decreed to him the title “Saviour of the world.” Thus it is that We may prefigure the new in the old patriarch. And as the first caused the prosperity of his master’s domestic interests and at the same time rendered great services to the whole kingdom, so the second, destined to be the guardian of the Christian religion, should be regarded as the protector and defender of the Church, which is truly the house of the Lord and the kingdom of God on earth. These are the reasons why men of every rank and country should fly to the trust and guard of the blessed Joseph. Fathers of families find in Joseph the best personification of paternal solicitude and vigilance; spouses a perfect example of love, of peace, and of conjugal fidelity; virgins at the same time find in him the model and protector of virginal integrity.
Finally, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Quamquam Pluries, our own beloved Bl. John Paul II invokes the intercession of the Church’s mighty Patron in his Apostolic Exhortation, Redemptoris Custos.
This patronage must be invoked as ever necessary for the Church, not only as a defense against all dangers, but also, and indeed primarily, as an impetus for her renewed commitment to evangelization in the world and to re-evangelization in those lands and nations where-as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christideles Laici - “religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and…are now put to a hard test.” In order to bring the first proclamation of Christ, or to bring it anew wherever it has been neglected or forgotten, the Church has need of special “power from on high” (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8): a gift of the Spirit of the Lord, a gift which is not unrelated to the intercession and example of his saints.
Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.
As the Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council has said, the basic attitude of the entire Church must be that of “hearing the word of God with reverence,” an absolute readiness to serve faithfully God’s salvific will revealed in Jesus. Already at the beginning of human redemption, after Mary, we find the model of obedience made incarnate in St. Joseph, the man known for having faithfully carried out God’s commands.
Pope Paul VI invited us to invoke Joseph’s patronage “as the Church has been wont to do in these recent times, for herself in the first place, with a spontaneous theological reflection on the marriage of divine and human action in the great economy of the Redemption, in which economy the first-the divine one-is wholly sufficient unto itself, while the second-the human action which is ours-though capable of nothing (cf. Jn 15:5), is never dispensed from a humble but conditional and ennobling collaboration. The Church also calls upon Joseph as her protector because of a profound and ever present desire to reinvigorate her ancient life with true evangelical virtues, such as shine forth in St. Joseph.”
The Church transforms these needs into prayer. Recalling that God wished to entrust the beginnings of our redemption to the faithful care of St. Joseph, she asks God to grant that she may faithfully cooperate in the work of salvation; that she may receive the same faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate World; and that she may walk before God in the ways of holiness and justice, following Joseph’s example and through his intercession…
Even today we have many reasons to pray in a similar way: “Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin…graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness…and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.” Today we still have good reason to commend everyone to St. Joseph.
Day 8 of our novena. And look at the banner that the angel holds for all to see, Ite ad Ioseph (“Go to Joseph”, Genesis 41:55)