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by Donal Anthony Foley –
St. Joseph has a treasured position in the Church as regards Catholic devotion, a position that was greatly enhanced in 1870, when Pope Pius IX declared him the Patron and Guardian of the Universal Church. The pope made this declaration because during his life on earth, Joseph was the foster father and guardian of Christ, and now that he is in heaven, he exercises a spiritual paternity over all believers, just as Our Lady is our spiritual mother.
The 150th anniversary of this declaration was celebrated recently during the Year of St. Joseph dedicated by Pope Francis, which ended on December 8, 2021, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Even though this special year is now over, we still need to pray for his powerful intercession and protection.
We might ask why St. Joseph was honored in such an extraordinary way by Pius IX. To understand this, we need to recognize that not only was he intimately involved in some very important aspects of the early life of Christ – acting as the protector of both the Christ Child and Our Lady – but also that he lived with them in a close family setting for many years.
This means that St. Joseph is, after the Blessed Virgin, in a very special category of holiness, given the immense holiness of Our Lady and the infinite holiness of Christ. He also had to act, in human terms, as a model father figure for Jesus, and that of itself demanded an extraordinary holiness on his part. Thus, the Church sees him as having a truly exalted status and promotes a fitting devotion to him.
St. John Paul II was keen to emphasize the role of St. Joseph as a father in his apostolic exhortation on the saint, Redemptoris Custos (“The Guardian of the Redeemer”), issued on August 15, 1989. This document focused on the person and mission of St. Joseph in the life of Christ and His Church.
In it, the pope said it was inconceivable that the sublime task given to St. Joseph by God “would not be matched by the necessary qualities to adequately fulfill it,” and that therefore, we must recognize “that Joseph showed Jesus by a special gift from heaven, all the natural love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know.”
If we think of how loving the heart of Christ is, we can get some estimation of just how loving the heart of St. Joseph must have been – and that love is now available for us, his spiritual children.
St. Teresa of Avila was greatly devoted to the saint: “I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to the glorious St. Joseph, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which he has delivered me, both in body and in soul.”
She went on to state that, unlike other saints, St. Joseph’s domain is universal and that Jesus does whatever he asks of Him.
We are now in the month of March, the month specially dedicated to St. Joseph, and including his great feast, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on March 19. Numerous prayers and novenas can be offered up to St. Joseph. In addition, he has a day of the week dedicated to him – that is Wednesday – in the same way that Saturdays are dedicated to Our Lady and Fridays to Christ.
Furthermore, the first Wednesday of each month is given particular prominence as part of the Nine First Wednesdays devotion to the saint. This devotion honors St. Joseph as the patron of a happy death, a patronage based on the traditional belief that he died in the best possible manner, in the presence of Jesus and Mary. The devotion ideally involves attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion on each of the nine first Wednesdays of the month for nine months, with the intention of honoring St. Joseph and praying for the salvation of the dying. It is also concerned with asking for a happy death for oneself and for the members of one’s family.
Another important devotion to the saint, and one which is becoming increasingly valuable in modern times, is that of the cincture or cord of St. Joseph. This originated in Antwerp in 1657 and was later enriched with special indulgences by Pope Pius IX. The devotion involves wearing a knotted cord, which has been blessed in honor of St. Joseph around the waist, so as to obtain the graces of chastity and purity and also the particular protection of the saint during life and especially at the hour of death.
St Joseph is, of course, also associated with Fatima, since he was seen by the three children during the miracle of the sun on October 13, 1917, when they experienced a series of apparitions of the Holy Family. In her memoirs, Sr. Lucia tells us:
“After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St. Joseph
and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to
me that it was Our Lady of Dolors. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Carmel.”
Only the children saw this series of apparitions, which have been regarded as representing the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of the Rosary, the prayer which the Blessed Virgin greatly emphasized at Fatima.
More than ever, we need to pray the Rosary every day for peace, in response to her repeated requests. We also need to pray that, more than 100 years after the apparitions at Fatima, St. Joseph will bless our modern world, which is so much in need of blessing and guidance. And further, that he will continue to protect the Church in these difficult times.
We invite you to enroll your loved ones to be prayed for in a Novena of Masses in honor of St. Joseph, March 11 – 19. ENROLL HERE.
Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He is a regular contributor to Soul Magazine and the Blue Army blog.