Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Preparation for Pope Benedict's patronal feast: Pt. 2 History and Lore of St. Joseph

"The tradition that Joseph was an old man at the time of Jesus' birth has its origins in the apocryphal 'Protevangelium of James'. The Greek 'History of Joseph the Carpenter' (5th or 6th century) is thought to have been instrumental in creating his cult, and in England his feast was celebrated before 1100 in the cathedral cities of Winchester, Worcester and Ely.

Bridget of Sweden (1303-73), Vincent Ferrer(1350-1419) and Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) all encouraged devotion to him, possibly as an antidote to his presentation as a comic butt in the medieval Mystery plays. However, having adapted and directed some of these plays, I have found that some of them allow a deeply spiritual and poignant interpretation of Joseph's character and predicament. His feast seems to have been celebrated on March 19 since the fifteenth century and was supported by no less than Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1536). The Roman Missal of 1503 includes his feast, as do Carmelite Office books of 1480, and possibly the greatest impetus in the development of devotion to St. Joseph came from St. Teresa of Avila (1513-82), who dedicated her reformed Carmelite motherhouse to him and mentioned him frequently in her writings, saying she knew from experience that he helped 'in every need'. In 1621 Gregory XV added the feast to the Universal Calendar; in 1714 Clement XI composed a new Office; in 1847 Pius IX declared him 'Patron of the Universal Church'; and in 1962 John XXIII added his name to the Canon of the Mass. European devotion to St. Joseph has therefore been constant for almost a thousand years.

Not surprisingly, Joseph is the patron of fathers, bursars and carpenters, but perhaps most notably of the dying and of all who wish to die a holy death. This last patronage probably has its roots in the 'History of Joseph the Carpenter', which includes an imagined account of Joseph's fear of death. Wracked by self-criticism, he is comforted by Mary, and by Jesus, who promises protection and life to all who do good works in the name of His foster-father. This legend may explain the vast number of schools, parishes, hospitals and religious institutes that have taken St. Joseph as their patron."

Extract from 'Thorn, Fire and Lily' copyright Jane Mossendew 2004

Tomorrow: Towards a meditation for the Solemnity of St. Joseph


Rubricarius said...

St. Joseph' 19th March feast was in the universal calendar long before 1621. The feast is in the Tridentine (1570) editio princeps Missal.

Jane said...

Thanks for this additional piece of information.
I mention the Roman Misssal of 1503Perhaps I should not have assurmed readers' knowledge of its inclusion in the 1570 Tridentine Missal.

The piece was clearly written as an outline, not a detailed history. An omission of this sort is surely allowable. I should appreciate your letting me know if there are actual errors in my writings.

Thank you again,

Rubricarius said...


I wonder whether the 1621 date actually refers to the other traditional feast of St. Joseph the Solemnity of St Joseph or Patronage as it was initially called. That feast was certainly observed by the Carmelites long before it entered the Universal Calendar. I don't have access to the book I need to check the history of that feast in local calendars at the moment.

Certainly both our sources agree that the 19th March feast was being celebrated in the fifteenth century.

Have a blessed and happy feast!

Jane said...

Dear Rubricarius:

Thank you again. I'll see what I can dig up from my own library and original notes.

It probably won't be until the living Joseph is back in Rome. I'll be glued to kto until then. They've had a lot of problems with their links and have not been able to broadcast several of their scheduled broadcasts.

If you are in Europe, have a good evening, if elsewhere a good whatever it is, and of course my reciprocal wishes for a wonderful feast.