In 1359 Bologna was the site for the first introduction of the name of St. Joseph into the age-old Litany of the Saints. In the sixteenth century Dominicans and Carmelites and others were including St. Joseph in the Litany. After the Tridentine reform under Pius V, however, St. Joseph’s name was omitted, quite possibly due to printers’ error, rather than authoritative decree. After the reception of numerous petitions and on the recommendation of Cardinal Lambertini (the future Benedict XIV), on December 19, 1726, Benedict XIII added St. Joseph’s name to the Litany. He placed it after Mary, the angels and John the Baptist, but before all other saints.
It has long been traditional to give the angels and particularly the archangel Michael precedence over the saints, since angels have been seen as higher beings, closer to God in their nature of pure spirits. The Church recognized, however, the exception of Mary who precedes the angels in her role as Mother of God. Some have held that Joseph’s intimate role in the mystery of the Incarnation, as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ virginal father, should also qualify him to follow her directly and precede the angels.
A literalist interpretation of Jesus’ words that, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28) has led to giving him general precedence over all other saints except Mary, without regard for the second clause in Jesus’ statement that even the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. Also Elizabeth’s words about the babe leaping in her womb during the visitation (Lk 2:44) have been interpreted to mean that John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb, whereas no text exists to conclude that St. Joseph enjoyed such an honor. These ideas were given expression in the order of listing the angels and saints in the liturgical texts.
We have seen that in the prayer A cunctis Pius VII had specified that when the case arose St. Joseph was to follow the angels and John the Baptist, as was already the case in the Litany of the Saints. In Inclytum Patriarcham Pius_IX repeated this order, as did Pius X in 1911, giving the order of precedence to be followed in the celebration of liturgical feasts, and as still occurs in the order of the prefaces in our current Roman Missal. In all of the above, St. Joseph precedes the apostles, martyrs and all other saints. Following are a few exceptions when he has been given precedence over John the Baptist or Michael the archangel.
In 1922 the Marist formula of vows was approved, placing St. Joseph after Mary and before Michael the archangel and the other angels and saints. That same year and again in 1925 and 1926 while Pius XI was celebrating solemn pontifical Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica, the invocations placed St. Joseph after Mary and before St. Michael and all others. In 1968, Paul VI approved revised rites for the ordination of deacons, priests and bishops, in which the typical edition of the Pontificale Romanum had St. Joseph after the angels but before John the Baptist each time in the Litany of the Saints. In currently published texts for ordination rites, however, St. Joseph follows St. John the Baptist, as has been the order since Benedict XIII inserted his name in the Litany on December 19, 1726.
John Paul II has declared that “there can be no doubt but that Joseph approached as no other person ever could that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God towers above all creatures.” It seems that this declaration, generally accepted by the Church, should find expression in the ordering of names in the liturgical texts.
St. John Chrysostom (?407) described the life of St. Joseph in terms of the “sorrows and joys” that characterized his earthly existence.
In 1536 John da Fano, an Italian Capuchin, published a devotion called “the seven Our Fathers of Saint Joseph,” in an appendix to a spiritual work of his. Da Fano presented Saint Joseph himself speaking to two ship-wrecked monks he had saved off the coast of Flanders, advising them to recite daily seven Our Fathers and Hail Marys in honor of his sorrows. The devotion seems to be modeled after the corresponding devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows that was enjoying much popularity at the time. Before long the seven joys were added to the seven sorrows.
The “Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph” is a widespread devotion, whose original formula is attributed to Venerable Gennaro Sarnelli (?1744). On December 9, 1819 the devotion was indulgenced by Pius VII. On January 22, 1836 Gregory XVI granted further indulgences to the “Seven Sundays in Honor of the Seven Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph.” Under Pius IX in 1846 these indulgences were granted also to a shorter version for the sick, and in 1847 were extended for the Seven Sundays. Under Pius XI, indulgences for the Seven Sorrows were granted again in 1932 and for the Seven Sundays in 1936.
The earliest litanies of St. Joseph known thus far are those of the Carmelite Fr. Jerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God, published in Rome in 1597 in Italian and Spanish. It is quite possible that he borrowed these from a booklet on the Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph, that the Carpenters’ Guild of Perugia had printed. He most likely added invocations of his own, however, and the Spanish edition has 49 titles for St. Joseph, while the Italian edition contains only 21.
During this period many litanies were being issued to various saints. Some of them contained invocations that appeared doctrinally dangerous, so that in 1601 under Clement VIII the Holy Office decreed that all litanies, other than those already approved (that of the Saints and that of Loreto in honor of Our Lady), must be submitted for approval before being published for public use. The hierarchies of Italy and Spain seemed to interpret and implement this decree in a strict manner, judging by the absence of litanies of St. Joseph published in these two countries during the seventeenth century. Most of the rest of Europe witnessed great popular promotion of these litanies during that century, some even approved by local bishops, leading to the supposition that their hierarchies interpreted that the decree applied only to the public recitation of such litanies and not to their being printed for private use. For the more than thirty different versions written, some of the most influential sources were: Carmelite María de San José (1548-1603), close friend of both St. Teresa of Avila and Fr. Gracián; St. Francis de Sales, in a 1614 letter to Mother Jane de Chantal; Jesuit William Nakatenus (1617-1682), who printed versions in German, Latin, Dutch, and French, adding more invocations to the litany found in the prayer manual of the St. Joseph Confraternity founded at the Church of the Holy Savior in Gent, Belgium; Jesuit Paul de Barry who discovered a Benedictine manuscript with a litany wherein the invocations to St. Joseph occurred in alphabetical order from A through V; the Oratorian Denis Amelote (1609-1679); the monasteries of Paris; St. John Eudes; Jesuits Jacques Coret and Michel Frie; and the Polish Discalced Carmelites. In the various litanies, some titles praise St. Joseph, recognizing his role in Christ’s infancy, his union with Mary and his privileges as head of the Holy Family. Some summarize his life and greatness, while others list the principle graces one hopes to obtain through his intercession. Some contain pious opinions never taught by the Church, such as Joseph’s sanctification in the womb and his bodily assumption into heaven, but these were not condemned by the Church, since they simply reflected theological ideas of the time.
Official approval of these devotions was long in coming. In 1863 an archdiocese in New Zealand was given reluctant permission to use a St. Joseph litany in private, and only to tolerate its use in public if the faithful would be greatly disturbed by discontinuing it. Through the turn of the twentieth century, requests for approval for public use were still being denied. Cardinals, archbishops, and bishops in France and throughout Europe and America asked for a litany to be approved, but in 1901 Leo XIII again gave a negative response. In 1903 the abbot general of the reformed Cistercians wrote the Holy Father another petition, which included a specific version proposed for approval. A decision was postponed, but on March 18, 1909, Pius X did approve and indulgence the version as presented by the abbot general. The decree reported that it was granted due to the pope’s personal devotion to St. Joseph, and in response to the petitions of many bishops and superior generals, and particularly the abbot general of the reformed Cistercians.
As noted, the development of devotion to St. Joseph was largely centered on his principal feast of March 19. Mainly in relation to extending the celebration of that feast, other times came to observed as special occasions for devotion.
Preparatory novenas came to be prayed nine days before March 19. By briefs of February 10 and March 4, 1713, Clement XI indulgenced the solemn novena of St. Joseph at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome. This is the first indulgenced novena to St. Joseph, and is said to be the very first indulgenced novena of any sort in the city of Rome. In 1849 Pius IX indulgenced a particular formula written by Joseph Falcone, C.M. The novena continues to be observed in a variety of ways where St. Joseph is honored throughout the world.
In 1802 a parish confraternity in Modena had a booklet printed with the title, “The Month of the Lily, the Month of March Consecrated to St. Joseph.” More popular was Giuseppe Marconi’s “Month of March Consecrated to the Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph,” printed in Rome in 1810 and translated into several languages. In 1855 Pius IX indulgenced the month of March devotions in honor of St. Joseph as contained in the Roman book, “Considerations of the Virtues of the Holy Patriarch Joseph for Dedicating to him the Month of March.” In 1860, for China and the adjacent kingdoms, the indulgences already granted to Mary’s month were extended also to St. Joseph’s month. In 1865 the indulgences granted in 1855, for the use of the Month of March devotions found in a particular book, were extended to any St. Joseph devotions for the Month of March. In 1877 the same privilege was given for observing the month from February 16 or 17 until March 19, as for the calendar month of March. Leo XIII in Quamquam pluries of 1889 highly recommended the then common practice of consecrating the month of March by daily devotions in honor of the holy patriarch. In 1933 Pius XI increased the indulgence, favoring the public practice of the devotion. In 1961 John XXIII thanked the Oblates of St. Joseph for praying the Month of St. Joseph at St. Joseph’s Shrine in Asti, for the success of Vatican II; shortly after that he told Fr. Lalande that he was preparing a document to consecrate the month of March to praying to St. Joseph for the success of the council.
Wednesdays came to be observed as St. Joseph’s particular day of the week. In 1876 the Marist Teaching Brothers received permission to commemorate St. Joseph every Wednesday in their recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. It has already been noted that in 1883 the Roman Missal and Breviary established Wednesday for St. Joseph in assigning Votive Masses and Offices to the various days of the week. Subsequently on occasion particular churches were granted additional privileges for Wednesday votive Masses. At the request of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, indulgences were granted in 1921 to the faithful who make special St. Joseph devotions on the first Wednesday of each month, and these were increased in 1933. A contemporary author, Andrew Doze, leads us to the reflection that Wednesday, the fourth day of the week, is the middle day referring both to the first day, Sunday, the day of the Lord, and the last day, Saturday, the day assigned to Mary; St. Joseph’s intimate relationship with Jesus and Mary thus make Wednesday his appropriate day.
St. Joseph’s feast on March 19 has also lead to his remembrance on the nineteenth of each month. In 1884 the diocese of La Paz, Bolivia, received approval of their ancient custom of saying the votive Office and Mass of St. Joseph on the nineteenth of each month not impeded. Similar permissions were granted to others, such as a college oratory in Guatemala and a Carmelite monastery in Spain. In 1952 the Augustinian Recollects received perpetual permission to have a sung Votive Mass of St. Joseph on the nineteenth of each month, in response to their petition which referred to previous grants they had received, going back to 1700.
Devotion to St. Joseph has also been expressed officially by formally authorized crownings of his images. Early crownings occurred in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1779; in Mexico City in 1788; in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1790; and in Kalisz, Poland in 1796 (repeated in 1985). Pius IX authorized coronations in his name to take place at Beauvais and Gante in 1872; at Mill Hill, England, in 1873; and at Frigolet, archdiocese of Aix, in 1874. Some subsequent crownings were at Paris in 1890; West de Pere, Wisconsin, in 1892; Seyssinet, diocese of Grenoble, in 1900; Soignies, Belgium, in 1902; Angers, France, 1906; Barcelona in 1921; Kermaria, diocese of Vannes, 1921; Montreal 1955; Buenos Aires 1956; Zapotlán el Grande, now Ciudad Guzmán, Mexico, in 1957; Marfil, diocese of León, Mexico, in 1959; Rabat, Malta, 1963; Avila 1963; and Santa Ana, El Salvador, 1987.
In the archives of the Congregation of Sacred Rites there is a ritual for crowning a statue or painting of St. Joseph, written sometime between 1870 and 1893, but without any indication whether or not it was officially approved. On July 14, 1920, the Sacred Congregation did approve the “Rite to be Observed in Crowning Images of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This rite was used for the 1921 crowning in Kermaria. Since the rite was never placed in the Roman Pontifical, however, it was forgotten for subsequent crownings.
The use of various articles of devotion develops spontaneously. Church approval eventually may come in the form of authorizations to bless such articles, an official ritual for the blessing, and/or indulgences granted to their use. This section surveys some of the articles of devotion to St. Joseph.
In 1659 an Augustinian Sister in Antwerp, Belgium, was healed after a cord blessed in honor of St. Joseph was placed upon her. The “St. Joseph Cincture (or Cord)” has seven knots, recalling the seven sorrows and joys of St. Joseph. Cinctures are part of the habit of many religious orders, and by extension came also to be used as sign of belonging to certain religious confraternities or sodalities. This devotion existed at least since 1842 in Verona, and in 1859 this diocese received approval from the Vatican Congregation of Sacred Rites for an extensive formula for the blessing of St. Joseph cinctures. In 1860 the Confraternity of the St. Joseph Cincture at St. Nicholas Church in Verona was established as an Archconfraternity and indulgences were granted for using the cincture. In 1862 similar indulgences were granted to the Pious Union of St. Joseph at St. Roch’s Church in Rome. A Pious Union of the Cincture and Perpetual Cultus of St. Joseph existed also at St. Giles Church in Viterbo, and received certain privileges again in 1871. In 1892 an Archconfraternity of St. Joseph was erected in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with authorization to bless the cinctures and to spread the devotion throughout the United States and Canada. Faculties to bless the cinctures using the approved formula were also granted to the archdiocese of Toledo in 1859, the dioceses of Mallorca and Barcelona in 1862, Teramo (now joined with Atri) in 1866, and Mazzaro del Vallo in 1873. The Jesuits received the same faculty in 1864, and so did many individual pastors and groups. In 1864 Pius IX by apostolic letter granted the faculty to the Archconfraternity of St. Joseph in Beauvais and to those confraternities associated to it, commenting that his desire was that the faithful might be led to live innocent and moral Christian lives, after the example of St. Joseph’s faultless chastity. The cinctures have sometimes been referred to as “chastity cords.” In 1896 Leo XIII had an unpublished list summarizing the faculties that could be requested from the Congregation of Sacred Rites, among which were listed the blessing of St. Joseph cinctures, and in 1903 Pius X confirmed and promulgated this list. In 1933 an indulgence was granted for wearing the cincture. In 1959 the Missionary Josephites founded in Mexico by Vilaseca were granted permission to bless the cords, using the formula approved one hundred years earlier.
In 1865 a formula was approved for the Camillian Fathers to bless and impart the “Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. Camillus.” The above-mentioned Pious Union of St. Joseph at Verona was refused permission to bless and impose a “St. Joseph Scapular,” when they requested it in 1868. They did obtain an indulgence for it in 1874, but in light of the previous refusal, this had to be sanated and confirmed by the Holy See in 1880, with the specification that a new version of the scapular be used with St. Joseph holding the Child in his arms. In 1883 a formula was approved for the blessing. In 1888 the Discalced Augustinians in the Philippines were granted permission to impose the scapular, and in 1892 the Bishop of Saint-Hyacinth, Canada, was permitted the same. In 1884 Leo XIII verbally approved the St. Joseph Scapular which was begun by a third order Franciscan sister at Lons-le-Saulnier in the Saint-Claude diocese in France, and which was entrusted to the Capuchins, and in 1893 he formally authorized the Minister General of the Capuchins to delegate priests to bless and impart the scapular, using the form and color approved for Verona. In 1893 the scapular was indulgenced and in 1895 options for the form were clarified.
In 1875 the Archbishop of Mexico City was authorized to delegate his suffragan bishops and other priests to bless candles on the Feast of St. Joseph, praying for protection from lightning and storms. In 1891 a pastor in the diocese of Tlaxcala, Mexico, was permitted to bless candles in honor of St. Joseph. This blessing and one for St. Joseph rings were also included in the 1896 and 1903 lists of faculties that could be requested from the Holy See. In 1903 a “Rite for Blessing St. Joseph Water” was approved for all of Mexico. In 1908 the superior generals of the Calced and Discalced Carmelites were authorized to delegate their own confreres to bless rosaries and rings in honor of St. Joseph. In 1960 Vilaseca’s Josephite Missionaries received a five year permission to bless cinctures, rings, rosaries, scapulars, candles, and water in honor of St. Joseph.
An ancient tradition of “St. Joseph’s Table” has its roots in sixteenth century Sicily, when St. Joseph aided the people in time of famine and they in turn offered him food in gratitude for their prosperity. In many parts of the world, the custom continues of joining in thanksgiving on March 19 and sharing “St. Joseph’s Bread” with the poor. In 1989 the Book of Blessings was approved for use in the United States, with a proper “Order for the Blessing of St. Joseph’s Table” on March 19.
Since the times of its founder, Blessed Brother André Bessette, the Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal has used “St. Joseph Oil.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph, centered in Aubenas, France, were granted permission in 1879 to add invocations to St. Joseph, “foster father of Jesus, husband of Mary, patron of the Catholic Church,” in prayers with the Blessed Sacrament exposed after Benediction. In a 1908 audience, Pius X responded to Bishop Émile Grouard that it was up to local bishops to decide whether or not to add “Blessed be St. Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary” to the divine praises. In 1911 the acts of the First Plenary Council of Quebec were approved, including the addition of the above invocation to the divine praises. In 1920 Bishop Grouard asked the Holy Father to extend the Canadian practice to the whole Church. That same year the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry, France, were allowed to add in all their houses throughout the world “Blessed be the Holy Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” On February_23, 1921, Benedict XV decreed that the invocation “Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse” be added to the divine praises throughout the entire Church. These same divine praises are still widely used, although the current rite for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament says only that on reposition of the Blessed Sacrament the people may sing or say an acclamation.