The apocryphal work, History of St. Joseph the Carpenter, is principally a discourse on the death of St. Joseph. A work of the first centuries undergoing many early translations, including Coptic, it has a liturgical nature to it. The Coptic church in Egypt links the figure of Joseph to the journey of the Holy Family there to purify the idols, to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and to bless their land. It seems to be this cult in Egypt that developed into the most ancient feast of St. Joseph, that of his passing or death. The Synaxary (list of feasts of the saints with short accounts of their significance), written around 1425 for the Coptic Church of Alexandria, states for the 26th of their month Abîb: “The repose of the elderly and just Saint Joseph the carpenter, the husband of the Virgin Mary Mother of God, chosen to be called the father of Christ.”
Coptic Egyptians still celebrate this feast in their monasteries Abîb 26 (July 20 in the old Julian calendar, and now August 2 in our current Gregorian calendar reformed in 1582). A proper Office (Liturgy of the Hours) for St. Joseph has been in use since the Middle Ages.
An Ethiopian Synaxary similarly states that for the 26th of their month Hamlê: “On this day died at a good old age the righteous man Joseph, the carpenter, who was worthy to be called the father of Christ in the flesh, and concerning whom the Holy Gospel bears witness that he was a righteous man, and that because of this our Lady Saint Mary was in safe keeping with him.” For the 16th of the month Sanê, it also reads at the end: “And on this day the angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him to take the Child and His mother, and to return to the land of Israel.”
Tenth-century calendars in the East compiled in the Palestinian monastery of St. Saba mention the feast of St. Joseph. The menology (liturgical calendar of saints) of Basil II commemorates St. Joseph on the actual day of Christmas, and the flight into Egypt on the following day.
Other Synaxaries celebrate on December 26 a feast of Mary and her husband Joseph; on the Sunday before Christmas the feast of Jesus’ ancestors from Abraham to Joseph, the husband of Mary; and on the Sunday within the octave of Christmas the feast of St. Joseph together with king David and James the brother of the Lord. Early on, in the Greek Church there are found beautiful hymns and prayers honoring St. Joseph as a sharer in the supreme mysteries entrusted only to him, Gabriel and Mary, and hidden from the Prince of Darkness. He is called a living, shining temple of the Creator, for his zeal in the works of God. His virtues are meekness, justice, obedience and purity.
The churches of Syrian origin have a feast that is closer to being an exclusively Josephite feast. For Maronite Catholics the second Sunday before Christmas is the “Sunday of the Revelation to Joseph,” with many beautiful Josephite texts for the liturgy of the Mass and the Hours. For Chaldean Catholics this same feast of St. Joseph is celebrated on the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas.
In the West the history of St. Joseph in the liturgy, from early times until the present, is closely linked with the history of the feast of March 19, which is long and gradual.
Several examples exist listing St. Joseph in early Western martyrologies. Among these is an eighth century calendar of a Benedictine abbey of Rheinau in the Canton of Zurich, commemorating him on March 20. Another Benedictine abbey in Reichenau, southern Germany, founded in the ninth century, commemorates him on March 19 and also seems to be a forerunner for the spread of his devotion. The tenth century martyrology of Fulda has for March 19 the early title “In Bethlehem, St. Joseph, Provider for the Lord.”
The origin or significance of the particular date that endures to this day as our principal feast seems unknown. An uninspiring but possible theory relates to the listing of Joseph of Antioch for March 20 in earlier martyrologies. Perhaps out of confusion or perhaps out of a desire to remedy the absence of the husband of Mary from the calendar, St. Joseph was remembered on the date of his namesake, or a day previous to it. It has also been noted that in pagan Rome March 19 was a workers’ feast in honor of the goddess Minerva, and that Joseph the worker would be a natural Christian substitute, although there is no evidence that the Christian feast existed in these early centuries. Whatever the origin, in western history the date of March 19 is most firmly associated with St. Joseph for over a millennium now.
By about 1030 the Benedictine Abbey of Winchester was celebrating St. Joseph’s feast. Carmelites coming to the West in this century seem also to have increased the cult.
By 1129 the Benedictines of St. Helen constructed a church dedicated to St. Joseph at Borgo Galliera, Bologna. It seems to have been a center from which the devotion extended far and wide. Here the name “Joseph,” which was already quite common in the East, began to be given frequently to children at Baptism. It is probable that early Franciscan devotion to St. Joseph was influenced by contacts with Bologna.
In the thirteenth century we find proper texts composed to celebrate the feast. In Liege there is a proper oration to St. Joseph. The Benedictine Abbey of St. Lawrence there has a full Liturgy of the Hours in his honor, complete with musical notes. St. Florian Monastery in Austria has a missal with one Mass in honor of St. Joseph, and another “Against the calumny of wicked men,” in which his merits are invoked.
During the thirteenth century the Franciscans spontaneously celebrated the feast, and one martyrology already listed March 19 as a greater double, whereas a previous one had it as a lesser double. In France, the Franciscan church at Toulouse had a chapel in honor of St. Joseph, and on July 7, 1275 a church next to their friary at Bourbonnais in Champaign was solemnly consecrated under his title.
The crusades, of course, were the occasion for bringing from the Holy Land supposed relics, such as St. Joseph’s staff and the betrothal ring he gave Mary. In 1254 a chapel was constructed in St. Lawrence Church at Joinville sur Marne, France, to reverence his cincture, and this became a center for pilgrimage. It is likely that in the various areas where chapels sprang up in his honor, the feast of St. Joseph was celebrated in March.
On May 1, 1324 the Servite Order became the first to declare in General Chapter that the feast be celebrated by all their members in all their churches, setting the date as March 15 in their calendar. The Servites had taken over the St. Joseph Church in Bologna since 1301, and they certainly worked to spread from there the celebration of the feast. The Franciscan General Chapter of 1399 also established a feast of St. Joseph with a nine-lesson Office and a Mass using the common of confessors, and decreed that it be celebrated perpetually throughout the order, but the effects of the decree are uncertain.
At Agrigento where Franciscans, Dominicans and Carmelites were present, there is a fourteenth century “Office of Most Holy Joseph, foster and adoptive father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the antiphon for Mary’s Canticle, he is addressed as the chosen offspring of Bethlehem, “freed from all stain.” At Avignon, where there was a chapel to St. Joseph in St. Agricola Church, the sisters sang his Office and wore crowns of blessed flowers symbolic of virginity.
Up to this point the instances cited witness to the origins of the March feast celebrated with increasing frequency in the West. It was in the fifteenth century, however, that the feast first began to take on a more universal nature. At the Council of Constance (1414-1418) the assembled bishops heard the fervent chancellor Jean Gerson preach on the powerful intercession of St. Joseph, who had commanded the child Jesus and who could be invoked efficaciously to end the schism afflicting the Church. Gerson asked the council to consider official bestowal of greater honor for St. Joseph. Franciscan influence in this century, however, seems to have been the main factor in extending the feast.
Franciscans such as Bernardine of Sienna (d. 1414) not only preached on St. Joseph, but also saw the distribution of their sermon outlines. Franciscan Bernardine of Feltre founded throughout Italy “Mounts of Piety” credit unions dedicated to St. Joseph, which at times were called “Mounts of St. Joseph.” In 1461 at Salamanca the General Congregation of transalpine (or ultramontane) Franciscan Observants fixed the date for the feast as March 19. In 1471 a friend of Bernardine of Feltre and a former Minister General of the Franciscans became Pope Sixtus IV. In November of 1480, he permitted the cisalpine (Italian) Franciscan Observants to celebrate the feast as a greater double, which at that time was the same rank as that of the Epiphany, Annunciation and Easter. Although it was a particular concession, this public action of approval by the Roman Pontiff opened the way to a more widespread and official acceptance of the feast. Some editions of both the Roman Missal and Breviary, such as those published by Franciscan Philip of Rotingo in Venice in 1481, then listed the feast as a greater double and included an entire proper Office for it. Sixtus IV is usually credited with having extended the feast to the universal Church with the rank of simple, although the feast was not of obligation, and implementation was gradual. A Roman Missal edited in Venice by Giovanni Sessa in 1497 contained the Franciscan calendar with the feast, and the proper texts that would be used to a great extent in Pius V’s post-tridentine missal.
For the sixteenth century there is ample evidence of the extension of the feast of March_19 throughout the dioceses and religious orders, with its inclusion in the various liturgical calendars and its texts being published in the various breviaries and missals. The liturgical reform following the Council of Trent saw the previously unparalleled promulgation of more uniform texts for the entire Latin rite. When Pope Pius V published the revised breviary in 1568 and the missal in 1570, the feast of March 19 was included in both as of double rank, “St. Joseph the Confessor,” thus becoming definitively set in the Universal Church Calendar and the cycle of the saints. In general the texts of the prayers were borrowed from those for other saints, such as St. Matthew and St. Thomas, and did little for developing a proper devotion to St. Joseph. Nevertheless, the new liturgical books certainly had the value of extending scattered popular devotions to the whole Church. Many rich texts, especially hymns and sequences in honor of St. Joseph were produced during this century in the various particular breviaries and missals published prior to those of Pius_V. Even after 1570 particular liturgical books, such as those of the Dominicans and the Carmelites, for example, had variant texts.
A number of local churches and fraternal unions had made the feast one of precept. On May 8, 1621, at the request of rulers and devotees of St. Joseph, Pope Gregory XV declared the feast a holy day of obligation for the whole world. It was Pope Urban VIII, however, who with the constitution Universa per orbem of 1642, gave uniformity to the names of the holy days of obligation for the universal Church and limited their jurisdiction to the Apostolic See. He reduced the number to thirty-five besides Sundays, retaining the feast of March 19 and those of a local and national patron, while revoking many others. On December 6, 1670, Pope Clement X raised the feast to the rank of double of the second class and introduced into the breviary of 1671 the three hymns Te, Ioseph celebrent; Caelitum, Ioseph, decus; and Iste, quem laeti.
On February 4, 1714 Pope Clement XI approved new proper texts for the feast of March_19, still a second class double, including the hymns approved by Clement X. In the catalogue of feasts drawn up in 1742-43 under Benedict XV, the number of feasts for each of the six ranks was as follows: first class double, 10; second class double, 27; greater double, 12; lesser double, 23; semi-double, 34; simple, 63. At this time it was decided that all feasts falling during Lent were to be omitted, except those of the Annunciation, St. Peter’s Chair, and St. Joseph.
The decrees of December 8, 1870, ordered by Pius_IX to proclaim St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church, raised “the natal feast of St. Joseph on March 19” to the liturgical rank of double of the first class, without an octave because of Lent, and without renewing it as a day of double precept (obligations to attend Mass and to abstain from servile work).
In 1883 the feast was inserted into the Episcopal Ceremonial, and thus became a day when bishops officiate at solemn pontifical functions, and when those entitled to wear the pallium do so. (The pallium is a band made of lamb’s wool and worn in more solemn liturgical celebrations around the neck of the metropolitan, or archbishop in charge of an ecclesiastical province, which consists of several dioceses united to his own archdiocese.) In his 1889 encyclical, Quamquam Pluries, Leo XIII expressed his wish that in places where March 19 was not a day of obligation, it should be observed with the same devotion and zeal as if it were of precept.
In 1911 Pius X by motu proprio moved the feast to the Sunday after March 18 so as to lessen the number of weekdays of precept, but he also added an octave to the feast, expressing his desire that the devotion remain undiminished. Within three weeks, however, he responded to objections to the liturgical conflicts with Lent occasioned by this decision, and returned the feast to March 19, without precept and without octave (which was given to the feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph, occurring during the Easter season); he kept March 19 as a double of the first class, with the new title of “Solemn Commemoration of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary, Confessor,” an inversion of the previous title in which “confessor” preceded “spouse.” With further liturgical changes in 1913, March 19 was reduced to a double of the second class, and its title in the martyrology reverted from “Solemn Commemoration” back simply to “Feast.”
When the Code of Canon Law was promulgated under Benedict XV in 1917, canon 1247 again made the feast a day of precept for the whole Church, with the admonition that those places which had abolished or transferred it must consult the Holy See. As a result, a few months later the liturgical rank was once again restored to double of the first class. In the 1983 revised Code, the feast is still one of the ten holy days of obligation in the universal Church, except where the Conferences of Bishops have obtained permission to eliminate this obligation.
In 1956 a major decision following the institution of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was to abolish the Solemnity of the Patronage of St. Joseph celebrated on the Wednesday after the second Sunday after Easter. This decree joined that solemnity’s title, “Patron of the Universal Church,” to the principal feast of St. Joseph on March 19.
The 1963 Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy suppressed the hour of Prime in its decision to simplify the Liturgy of the Hours, thus also removing some of the liturgical texts for the Feast of St. Joseph, and mandating a number of principles of reform that would result in major revisions also to the Feast of St. Joseph. In 1969 Paul VI approved the revised liturgical calendar, listing March 19 as a “solemnity,” according to the simplified system of liturgical ranking, and giving it the title of “St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” With this change of title on top of the 1956 abolition of the Feast of the Patronage, there was removed from the Church’s liturgy not only a feast established in the universal calendar since 1847, but even the title “Patron of the Universal Church,” solemnly proclaimed since 1870.
The substance of the modern liturgical renewal lies not so much in the calendar as in the new choices of liturgical texts for the Scripture readings and the prayer formulae. The new Lectionary for Mass was promulgated in 1969, assigning to March 19 readings from 2 Samuel 7:4,12-14a,16; Romans 4:13,16-18,22; and Matthew 1:16,18-21,24 or Luke 2:41-51a. The wisdom reading of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 45:1-6, present in the Roman Missal as early as the mid-sixteenth century, was no longer included. In 1970 the new Sacramentary (Roman Missal) was promulgated with new prayer texts for the Mass and a new Preface of St. Joseph. In 1971 there followed new texts for the Liturgy of the Hours for the feast. The current texts focus clearly on St. Joseph in relation to Christ, on St. Joseph’s role in the mystery of salvation, and on the Church’s joy at having St. Joseph as a model and intercessor.
March 19, the earliest liturgical feast of St. Joseph in the West, remains to this day his principal feast.
In reviewing the development of the Feast of St. Joseph, we have also mentioned instances of the parallel development of the Liturgy of the Hours, or “Office” in his honor, and its presence in the “breviary” or official liturgical book of the hours.
A Benedictine monastery at Liege had an Office to celebrate the feast as early as the thirteenth century, and the Franciscans adopted a nine-lesson Office in 1399. Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) was credited with having the March 19 feast of St. Joseph inserted into the official Roman breviary. Many diverse breviaries of the sixteenth century had the Office of St. Joseph. After the Council of Trent, texts were standardized under Pius V (1566-1572). Complete new proper texts for the Liturgy of the Hours were promulgated on February 4, 1714, by Clement XI, who is said to have written them himself and who died on the Feast of St. Joseph in 1721. The Office has been called a “masterpiece.”
Basically the 1714 texts of Clement XI remained unchanged in the Office for two and half centuries, until 1963 when some of them were lost due to suppression of the hour of Prime, and until 1971 when the major revision of the Breviary included new texts for the Feast of March 19, and also added the new Office for the Feasts of the Holy Family and of St. Joseph the Worker.
On July 5,1883 Leo XIII approved Wednesday recitation of the votive Office of St. Joseph. (A “votive” Office is one that may be recited at permitted times, in place of the regular Liturgy of the Hours for that day, provided the day is not a feast day or a day of a privileged season.)
Multiple Little Offices of St. Joseph also existed from the early 1600s throughout Europe. (These are simplified devotional versions used by individuals or communities not obliged to pray the full Liturgy of the Hours.) Nineteenth century French editions were printed in Montpellier 1858, Aix-les-Bains 1861, Annecy 1862, Brive 1866, Paris 1868, Lille 1870, Beauvais 1872, Rennes 1874, Hevers 1885. Spanish versions exist in Barcelona 1873, 1885, 1891, and in Mexico 1945. An English Little Office for Wednesdays was issued in Green Bay in 1893, and in 1923 there was a Chinese translation from the French. This proliferation of private versions saw some official recognition when on May 10, 1921, an indulgence was attached to the recitation of the text reported in the decree, and this was renewed in 1932.
At the Council of Constance in 1416, John Gerson proposed that a votive Feast of the Betrothal of Mary Most Holy and St. Joseph be observed mainly by priests on the Thursday of Advent ember week when the Gospel of the espousal would fit nicely. In 1474 Franciscan Bernardine of Bustis wrote an Office for the feast. By 1517 the Annunciation Sisters founded by St. Jane of Valois already celebrated the feast. In 1537 the Franciscans adopted it to be celebrated on March 7, and soon after the Servites for March 8, and the Dominicans for January 22. A 1550 work invites people in Holland to celebrate the recently instituted feast on January 15.
In 1684 Innocent XI permitted its celebration in the empire of Leopold I, and later also in Spain. In both France and Canada it was observed on January 22, while Polish confraternities celebrated January 23. In 1725 Benedict XIII extended it to the Papal States, setting the date for January 23.
During the last century and during our own century various particular permissions have been given to celebrate the feast, usually on January 23, but occasionally on other days. In 1840, for example, it was granted to the United States of America. The extent of usage merited its inclusion in editions of the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal for January_23 in the section for particular places, pro aliquibus locis.
Under Pius IX, the Dioceses of Lausanne, Geneva, and Perpignan were allowed to celebrate the feast as a double major with the commemoration of St. Joseph. The feast is listed in the 1848 martyrology of the Benedictine nuns of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1849 the feast was extended to the Kingdom of Saigon, and in 1850 to the Province of Oregon. Various dioceses were granted permission to add the commemoration of St. Joseph to their celebration of the feast. At least since 1859 the feast is listed for February 11 in the Proper Office for the Archdiocese of Fribourg (and for February 13 in the 1894 edition). The feast and commemoration are contained in the calendar of St. Martin’s Monastery in Portugal, and in that of the Diocese of Cordoba, Argentina, both approved in 1878. For Cordoba, the feast is celebrated on November 26, rather than January 23 as in the other instances listed.
During the pontificate of Leo XIII, similar such permissions continued to be extended. Among the calendars approved with the feast and commemoration of St. Joseph on January 23 were those of the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Martyrology of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon; the Capuchin Breviary; and the newly founded Swiss-American Benedictines. The Augustinian Canonesses of the Congregation of Notre Dame at Épinal, France, and the Hungarian Cistercians were granted the same feast, but without explicit mention of the commemoration of St. Joseph. In Spain, the Pious Society of Devotees of St. Joseph in Barcelona, the Diocese of Huesca, and the Cistercian Nuns of Segovia all celebrated the feast on November 26, and the first two of these were permitted an extrinsic celebration on the Last Sunday after Pentecost.
During the twentieth century the Feast of the Espousals on January 23 continued to be found in more particular calendars: St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, 1913; Marello’s Oblates of St. Joseph, 1921; the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Canada, 1940; and Murialdo’s Congregation of St. Joseph, 1946. The Diocese of Zacatecas, Mexico, was granted the November 26 feast in 1958. In Vienna, Austria, the Piarist Church of the Espousals, which includes a Corradini sculpture of Mary and Joseph being blessed by the high priest, was named a minor basilica in 1949.
In 1961 the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued an instruction that removed from particular calendars numerous particular feasts, including the Feast of the Espousals of Mary and St. Joseph, except in places where the feasts have a special connection with the place itself. In the post Vatican II period of liturgical renewal, the feast is again being permitted for particular liturgical calendars. In 1989, for example, the Oblates of St. Joseph obtained permission to celebrate on January 23 “The Holy Spouses Mary and Joseph” with the liturgical rank of “Feast,” and full proper texts, including a preface:
You give the Church the joy of celebrating the feast of the Holy Spouses, Mary and Joseph: in her, full of grace and worthy Mother of your Son, you signify the beginning of the Church, resplendently beautiful bride of Christ; you chose him, the wise and faithful servant, as Husband of the Virgin Mother of God, and made him head of your family, to guard as a father your only Son, conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
As early as 989, a nuptial ring held to be that which Joseph gave Mary was venerated in Chiusi, Tuscany. Stolen in 1473 it was taken to Perugia, when the thief repented after becoming lost in a thick fog. The inhabitants of the town considered it to be divine providence and began to celebrate solemnly the Feast of the Holy Ring every July 10. In the Chapel of the Holy Ring, on the left side of the Cathedral, a frame dating to 1501 bears the inscription: “Here is venerated the holy Virgin together with her husband.” A golden heart dedicated in 1716 contains a parchment on which is written the solemn pledge to observe the vigil of the Feast of the Holy Ring and the Feast itself as a Holy Day of Obligation.
In 1857 during his journey through the Papal States, Pope Pius IX is said to have had the relic exposed and venerated. In 1868 there is reference to celebration of the Feast of the Patronage of the Ring of the Blessed Virgin Mary given her by St. Joseph, as a double second class in the Archdiocese of Perugia on the Second Sunday of July. In 1871 the Archdiocese was granted a proper Office for the feast.
Although in France other places also have rings which are claimed to be the nuptial ring of Mary and Joseph, and although the authenticity of this one is highly doubtful, the constancy and devotion with which this local feast has been celebrated is beyond doubt.
In 1416, Gerson in his preaching to the Council Fathers of Constance, invoked St. Joseph as “Patron of the Church,” in the hopes of unifying the Church torn and confused by the existence of two anti-popes in addition to the authentic pope. In 1621 a General Chapter of the Carmelites chose St. Joseph to be patron and father of the whole order. By 1680 the Holy See granted the Carmelites permission to celebrate the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph. Observed on the Third Sunday after Easter with proper texts for the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the feast was extended to the Augustinians in 1700, to the Discalced Mercedarians in 1702, to the Diocese of Mexico in 1703, and soon after to many other religious orders and dioceses. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the feast was so widespread, that on September 10, 1847 Pius IX easily extended to the Universal Church the proper Mass and Office of the “Patronage of St. Joseph,” to be celebrated as a second class double on the third Sunday after Easter. The important decree of December 8, 1870, declaring St. Joseph to be Patron of the Universal Church, actually was a theological recognition of the reality already celebrated, although it added no liturgical solemnity beyond that already in force.
In the 1911 decree referred to earlier with regard to changes in the March 19 feast, the Feast of the Patronage was given higher rank and a new title, so that the “Solemnity of St. Joseph, Confessor, Patron of the Universal Church” was to be celebrated on the Third Sunday after Easter as a double of the first class with Octave and kept as a primary feast. With the 1913 changes in the Missal and Breviary directing that all feasts except that of the Trinity be moved from Sunday, the Feast of the Patronage was assigned to the Wednesday before the Third Sunday after Easter, while maintaining its Octave, rank and title.
In 1956 after instituting the new Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the Feast of the Patronage was abolished, but at least the title “Patron of the Universal Church” was preserved liturgically by adding it to the feast of March 19. By 1957 the Discalced Carmelites, who originated the Feast of the Patronage nearly three hundred years earlier, were allowed to keep it in their revised calendar as a double of the first class with proper Office and Mass celebrated on the third Wednesday after Easter.
When the 1969 revised liturgical calendar was approved by Paul VI, the feast of March 19 was simply entitled “Joseph, Husband of Mary,” thus dropping all liturgical mention of the patron of the Church. Such a change was part of a general purification of the calendar that dropped many feasts of the saints and all mention of patronages, in order to better emphasize the liturgical seasons and to leave local devotions to particular calendars. The blanket application of this principle failed to recognize that St. Joseph’s patronage over the Church is in no way limited to particular locations, but is in essence truly universal.
Since 1979, petitions to have the title restored have been presented by Superiors General, by Josephology Centers and by International Symposia on St. Joseph, and all have received negative replies. Cardinal Villot responded in 1973 that it was inopportune to introduce liturgical changes into the liturgical books only recently reedited, and that the title “Patron of the Universal Church” does not appear because all titles of patronage were deliberately removed from the universal calendar, so as to be decided by local churches and religious families. The title still keeps its value and can by used in the calendars and texts of religious institutes and, with the consent of episcopal conferences, those of individual countries. In 1981 the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship replied that it was not fitting to over-inflate the section of the Proper of the Saints in the Roman Missal by adding the patronages of the saints. Fr. Gauthier has noted that in various approved French editions of the Roman Missal certain patronages are included not in the calendar, but in the Proper, such as those of the patrons of France, Luxembourg and Europe.
From section 1 of Redemptoris Custos through the final chapter 6, entitled “Patron of the Church in Our Day,” Pope John Paul II authoritatively upholds the importance of this title:
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.
This title, which first moved from popular devotion to universal liturgical recognition before being officially decreed by the Church, has now been soundly grounded and recently upheld by the Magisterium. Its solid theological foundation and its continuing widespread popular acceptance must eventually be given again the liturgical recognition accorded it during such a long period of time.
As early as the late thirteenth century votive Masses in honor of St. Joseph began to appear. (“Votive Masses” are those not tied to any particular day, but that may be used out of personal devotion on days that are free of any obligatory liturgical celebration). St. Joseph votive Masses are found in many sixteenth century missals, such as those of Orleans, Chartres, Paris, Strasbourg, Salzburg, Chalon and Reims. Some are entitled “Against the Calumny of Evil Men,” asking St. Joseph’s intercession for freedom from false and evil suspicions. Clement XI (1700-1721) approved a votive Mass in honor of St. Joseph, to obtain the grace of a happy death.
The 1883 decree allowing diocesan chapters and religious communities to set up votive Offices and assigning votive Masses to various days of the week, listed for Wednesdays “St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patron of the Catholic Church.” This title occurred in the section on “Votive Masses Throughout the Year” in the Roman Missal issued under Leo XIII, but in the reformed version of Benedict XV the title given was simply “Mass of St. Joseph,” although the texts remained unchanged. From time to time additional permissions were granted to individual religious institutes to celebrate the votive Mass at other times, not interfering with other major liturgical days.
In the revised Roman Missal of 1969, votive Masses are no longer suggested for particular days, but are simply numbered according to a particular hierarchy, beginning of course with the Trinity. Following Mary in eighth position and the angels in ninth, St. Joseph is listed as number ten, ahead of the apostles. The previous texts for readings and intervening chants are omitted. For the entrance antiphon, Luke 12:42 replaces the verses from Psalms 32 and 79 of the Vulgate, and for the communion antiphon Matthew 25:21 replaces Matthew 1:16; these changes present Joseph as the model of the faithful servant spoken of by Christ. The opening prayer remains the same, while the prayer over the gifts and the prayer after communion are new texts, which ask that the example and intercession of St. Joseph, the just and obedient man who was a minister of the saving mysteries, may help us live in holiness and justice in our own ministry. (The official English translation very weakly communicates the idea of ministry, rendering ministerium as “work” and ministrare as “carry out.”)
As a positive understanding of St. Joseph’s true role was developing in the late Middle Ages, so too did the concept of the “earthly trinity” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. From this they came to be referred to as the “Holy Family,” much prior to the rather modern use of “family” to refer to the nuclear family, rather than simply the traditional extended family. By the seventeenth century the devotion was already spreading in Europe and in Canada, supported by people such as the Ursuline Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, the Sulpician founder Jean Jacques Olier, and the Jesuit Pierre Joseph Marie Chaumonot. In 1665 the Vicar Apostolic of New France, Blessed François Xavier de Montmorency-Laval, permitted the Quebec Confraternity of the Holy Family to celebrate a feast in their honor on January 22, when the feast of the Espousals had been celebrated, with the option of transferring it to the Second Sunday after Epiphany. This permission was soon extended to the entire diocese and a proper Mass and Office were used.
In 1865 the proper Mass and Office of the Holy Family long in use were approved for the Diocese of Montreal, and then for the whole Province of Quebec, and 1879 also for the Vicariate of Lower California.
Neminem fugit, the 1892 Apostolic Letter of Leo XIII, approved the statutes of the new universal Association of the Holy Family. On the first anniversary of this Letter, in response to the requests of many bishops, a new Mass and Office were approved for the Feast of the Holy Family, with hymns said to be composed by Leo XIII himself (O lux beata cælitum, Sacra iam splendent and O gente felix hospita). All places and institutes already having permission for the feast were to use these texts, and of course other dioceses and congregations could apply for permission. The Third Sunday after Epiphany was set as the uniform date for all celebrating the feast.
In 1893 alone the following dioceses immediately sought and received permission to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family: Albano, Rome and its district, Andria, Melfi, Rapolla, Acquapendente, Ariano, Chioggia, Lipari, Caiazzo, Trezzo and Trevisio in the archdiocese of Milan, all in Italy; Lavant in Jugoslavia; Tours and Lyons in France; Brugge in Belgium; Eichstätt in Germany; and then in 1894 Litomerice in Czechoslovakia; and in 1903 Biella in Italy. Religious institutes that were granted the same permission in 1893-94 included the Franciscans, the Redemptorists, the Order of St. John of God, the Silvestrine Benedictines, and the Dominican provinces of Sicily and Malta. The feast was given the rank of major double. In the Holy Land, St. Joseph’s Church in Nazareth, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem were given the faculty to celebrate the votive Mass of the Holy Family on a number of days.
In 1914 it was decreed that, where celebrated, the Feast of the Holy Family should be observed on January 19. Finally under Benedict XV in 1921, at the request of many bishops and after being so widely celebrated, the Feast of the Holy Family was extended to the Universal Church as a major double, set on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany with the same privileges as the Sunday would have. In the calendar of 1960, the rank was raised to that of second class feast. In the reformed calendar of 1969, the feast became one of the four feasts permanently assigned to Sunday, being set for the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, and for December 30 during those years when no Sunday falls within the Octave. The new Lectionary added the reading from Sirach 3, a few more verses to that of Colossians 3, and two additional Gospel passages in order to provide for the three year cycle. The new Missal or Sacramentary provided the new Mass texts currently in use. By 1971 the new texts for the Liturgy of the Hours, including the reading from an Allocution of Paul VI, completed the renewal of this feast, which is now fully integrated into the Proper of the Seasons of the liturgical year as an intimate aspect of the Christmas cycle.
As early as 1787 there are found in the Roman liturgical books a proper Mass and Office for this feast within the octave of Epiphany.
In the 1848 martyrology of the Benedictine nuns of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, there is an entry for January 19 listing the Feast of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple by Mary and Joseph.
In their post-Vatican II proper liturgical calendar, the Sons of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph celebrate the memorial of “The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple” on the day before the Baptism of the Lord. Their proper texts do not mention St. Joseph, except of course for the reading of Luke 2:41-52, but their introduction for the feast calls attention to “the vertical dimension that links human and divine fatherhood.”
The Redemptorists (and so also the Archconfraternity of the Holy Family, which they directed in Liége) celebrated the Feast of the Flight into Egypt on the fourth Sunday of April. In 1856 this feast was moved for them and fixed on February 17. The Diocese of Castellammare di Stabia asked permission in 1866 to celebrate the feast, but the request was denied. In 1937 permission was granted for all private Masses celebrated at the Shrine of St. Joseph at Allex (Drôme), France, to be either from the Feast of the Espousals for January 23 or the Feast of the Flight into Egypt for February 17. In 1958 the Oratory of St. Joseph at Montreal was allowed to celebrate the proper feast as a double major. Their petition had noted that this was one of the events in the life of the Lord, in which Saint Joseph played a principal role as his protector. Texts for the feast were Isaiah 19:20-22 and Matthew 2:13-15. The 1961 instruction for the reform of particular liturgical calendars listed this February 17 feast as one of those to be eliminated, except where the feast has a special connection with the place itself.
Early in the nineteenth century Pius VII allowed the name of St. Joseph to be added to the prayer A cunctis, before that of the apostles Peter and Paul, with the instruction that if the names of the angels or St. John the Baptist were to be added, they should precede that of St. Joseph. The 1871 apostolic letter of Pius IX also decreed that St. Joseph’s name should always be included in that prayer, and he further added formulae for the antiphons at vespers and lauds and the oration in order to commemorate St. Joseph in the suffrages of the saints.
The prayer A cunctis was the second option in the Roman Missal for Orationes Diversae, the section of various prayers to be added at Mass at the option of the priest when no solemn feast was being celebrated. It was to implore the intercession of the saints, asking deliverance from all danger to body and soul. Neither the section nor the prayer are found in the Missal of Paul VI.
At the turn of the twentieth century, petitions for a proper preface of St. Joseph were receiving negative replies, as in the cases of the Archdiocese of Arequipa, Peru, in 1900, and the Congregation of St. Joseph in Lecce in 1905. It was out of his own personal devotion to St. Joseph that on April 9, 1919, Benedict XV approved and promulgated the Preface of St. Joseph to be inserted in the Roman Missal for use in all festive and votive Masses in honor of St. Joseph. On the second anniversary of that decree, a more solemn chant was provided for the new preface, and soon after that the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance were allowed to insert the preface into their proper missal. Beautifully summarizing the evangelical essentials of Joseph’s role, the preface of Benedict XV remains unchanged in the Missal of Paul VI.
Formula number eight of the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, promulgated in 1987, is “Holy Mary of Nazareth” and may be used in religious congregations which venerate Mary under this title. Its proper preface has a Josephite reference, quoted in Redemptoris Custos: “the most pure Virgin is united to Joseph, the just man, by a bond of marital and virginal love.” With the great multiplication of prefaces in the post-Vatican_II liturgical renewal, there are quite probably other prefaces regarding St. Joseph being approved for particular calendars, such as that for the Feast of the Holy Spouses approved in 1989 for the Oblates of St. Joseph.
In 1920 the Pious Union of the Transitus of St. Joseph received a ten year permission to add special prayers to St. Joseph in the votive Masses for the dying and for a happy death celebrated at their Church in the Trionfale Quarter of Rome, and the permission was soon extended to all priests and houses of the institute.
On August 9, 1922 the Congregation of Sacred Rites added to the Roman Ritual invocations to St. Joseph for the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (now Anointing of the Sick), for the commendation of a soul near death, and for the prayers after a person has expired.
In 1964 a revised Latin-French ritual of the Sacraments was approved for French Canada, containing invocations to St. Joseph in the anointing of the sick, in the litany in the commendation of the soul, and at the moment of death. In 1972 the typical revised Rite for the Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick was promulgated with the brief mention of St. Joseph in the prayers for the commendation of the dying and for the moment of death.
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is of most recent origin, although St. Joseph’s patronage over workers and labor guilds has a long history. Here we may trace some of the antecedents during the last two centuries. In an 1871 allocution, for example, Pius IX noted how fitting it was for an association to seek work for the unemployed, using the name of St. Joseph, who provided for the Holy Family. Leo XIII devoted several paragraphs of Quamquam Pluries to St. Joseph as model and patron of laborers. In 1905 Pius X indulgenced a prayer to St. Joseph, which notes that he refrained from labor on the Lord’s day and was a model for all workers to imitate. The following year he also indulgenced the well-known Prayer to St. Joseph, the Model of Workers, which he himself composed. In 1909 the Litany in Honor of St. Joseph was approved, including the invocation “Model of Workers.” Bonum Sane issued by Benedict XV in 1920 placed the example of St. Joseph before all those affected by socialism and the labor problem, so that they might learn from him. The encyclical letter of Pius XI issued on March 19, 1937, ended by naming St. Joseph, who “belongs to the working class,” as the patron of the Church’s campaign against atheistic communism.
In an allocution of 1945, Pius XII had placed Catholic workers’ associations under the patronage of St. Joseph. For the tenth anniversary of that allocution, he announced on May_1, 1955, that he was establishing the liturgical feast of St. Joseph the Worker, to be observed on the first day of May each year, in order to Christianize the European secular feast of labor. Under the auspices of atheistic communism, May Day had become an occasion for rioting and espousing class struggle to promote the cause of labor. The feast would allow the humble worker of Nazareth to help all to recognize the true dignity of work and to draw closer to Christ.
Soon thereafter the hierarchies of Canada and the United States both petitioned that the feast be moved for them to their national labor day on the first Monday of September; although the requests were denied, permission was granted for them to celebrate solemn votive Masses of St. Joseph the Worker on those days. A number of churches received permission to take May 1 as their new titular feast in place of their former one of March 19 or of the Patronage; among these are the parishes of Méan and Plessé in the Nantes Diocese of France, the Capuchin friary at Versailles, and the parish at Juhu Bombay in India.
By May 1, 1956, rich new texts were promulgated for the Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and the Martyrology entry of the “Solemnity of St. Joseph the Worker, Husband of the B. V. M., Confessor.” A major theme is that Joseph’s work continues the work of God in creating the world. Particularly in the hymn for Matins, Te, pater Joseph, ópifex, God, who is Father and worker (pater, ópifex) making all things, is called upon to help us in our work to imitate St. Joseph, who is also our father and a worker (pater, ópifex). The nine lessons are from Genesis 1-3, Pius_XII and Albert the Great, while Colossians 3 and Matthew 13:54-58 are used for the readings at Mass and the little hours. The Feast is included in the new liturgical calendar of 1960.
The solemn ranking of this feast was quite short-lived, since the 1969 approval of the new liturgical calendar drastically reduced it from the highest rank to the lowest possible, that of optional memorial. The new Mass Lectionary, however, preserved the same original readings, although the new Roman Missal added new Mass texts. The 1971 revision of the texts for the Liturgy of the Hours chose numbers 33-34 of the Vatican_II document on the Church in the Modern World for the Office of Readings and supplied new Intercessions for Morning and Evening Prayer. St. Joseph is universally recognized as the patron and model of workers and, despite its reduced rank of optional memorial, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is still celebrated with solemnity in many places throughout the world. This most recent of liturgical feasts which has entered into the revised liturgical calendar, where even the venerable Feast of the Patronage has been lost, is likely to endure and increase in Catholic devotion in the future.
At least as early as 1815, numerous petitions poured into Rome requesting that St. Joseph’s name be inserted into various Mass prayers, including the canon, known today as the eucharistic prayer. Over the years almost a million signatures are said to have been gathered on the various petitions. In 1868 Fr. Lataste, O.P., wrote to the Holy Father offering his very life for the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Church and for the inclusion of his name in the canon. Pius IX did proclaim St. Joseph patron of the Church in response to the petitions gathered during Vatican I, but he did not include his name in the canon. Leo XIII rejoiced at the many petitions sent him, but did not think it fitting to bestow on St. Joseph a liturgical cult higher than that established over a long period. Pius X responded verbally to Archbishop Camilli that, despite the 1892 refusal, it was all right for him to continue to push for the inclusion of St. Joseph’s name in the canon.
When John XXIII was again presented petitions for this inclusion, he felt that it was time for something to be done and he had the Congregation of Sacred Rites informed of his personal interest in this matter. During Vatican II a good number of bishops presented forceful interventions requesting the inclusion. On November 13, 1962, the pope, who had been watching the sessions on closed circuit television, surprised the council fathers by having his Cardinal Secretary of State make an unannounced intervention on his behalf, stating that he intended to add the phrase “and Blessed Joseph, husband of the same Virgin Mary” immediately after the name of Mary in the canon of the Mass. He wished this decision to take effect on December 8 and to express the council’s recognition of its patron. The decree to that effect was issued the same day as the intervention and by December 30 a new edition of the Roman Missal was presented containing the addition. Soon thereafter John XXIII gave one of his rings to the church of Kalisz, Poland, to commemorate the event, and the ring was attached to the image of St. Joseph on the Feast of the Holy Family.
John XXIII died the following June 2. At an October Mass homily during the council, Cardinal Suenens remarked he had even “surprised St. Joseph by introducing him into the canon of the Mass.” Ironically, this change, coming after centuries of reluctance to touch the wording of the eucharistic prayer, was the beginning of major liturgical revisions which by 1968 resulted in the approval of three new eucharistic prayers, which again omitted St. Joseph’s name, ignoring the pope’s decision of only five years earlier. Since only one eucharistic prayer was in use at the time of his decree, it is quite safe to conclude that he intended that St. Joseph be included in all the eucharistic prayers. To date, repeated petitions to have this omission corrected have all received negative replies.