Thursday, March 19th, the feast day of my name saint, St. Joseph. A name saint is a saint in the Catholic tradition whose name is given to individuals at their baptism within the Catholic Church. The custom of giving the name of a saint originated in France and Germany during the Middle Ages. Although once required, it is no longer necessary to name the child after a saint as Canon 855 of the Code of Canon Law states “Parents, sponsors and parish priests are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment.” It is still believed that the saint whose name is chosen will serve as a special patron to protect, guide, and be the heavenly intercessor for, the individual who bears his or her name.
The rest of this is a precis of what I found on the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.
The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our new Testament first and third Gospels; they are also practically the only reliable sources, because the holy patriarch’s life, as with many other points connected with the Saviour’s history outside these two gospels, is left untouched by the canonical writings. Apocryphal literature is full of details, but the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents.
St. Matthew (1:16) calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob; according to St. Luke (3:23), Heli was his father. Contrary to what was once advocated, most modern writers readily admit that in both documents we possess the genealogy of Joseph, and that it is quite possible to reconcile their data. At any rate, Bethlehem, the city of David and his descendants, appears to have been the birth-place of Joseph.
Why and when he forsook his birth place to take up residence in Galilee is uncertain, but probably the necessity of earning a living may have brought about the change. St. Joseph, was a tekton, as we learn from Matthew 13:55, and Mark 6:3. The word means both mechanic in general and carpenter in particular; St. Justin vouches for the latter sense (Dialogue with Trypho 88), and tradition has accepted this interpretation, which is followed in the English Bible.
It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married Mary who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is not an easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters have always disagreed. Most modern commentators, following St. Thomas, believe that, at the time of the Annunciation, Mary was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
This marriage, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, “De cons. Evang.”, II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; “Cont. Julian.”, V, xii, 45 in P.L. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon after the espousal the faith of Joseph was sorely tried when she announced that she was with child. For a man of that time and culture this must have been an extremely painful discovery.
Notwithstanding his rights, he resolved to deal charitably with Mary and “to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife” (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24).
A few months later, we see a whole new source of anxiety for Joseph; the time came for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, to be enrolled, according to the decree issued by Caesar Augustus, for “her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered“, and “there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).
What must have been the thoughts of Joseph at the birth of the Saviour, the coming of the shepherds and of the wise men, and at the events which occurred at the time of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, we can merely guess; St. Luke tells only that he was “wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him” (2:33).
Still more trials soon followed. The birth of a new king of the Jews fired the jealousy of the old and bloody tyrant, Herod. Again “an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee” (Matthew 2:13).
The summons to go back to Palestine came after a few years, and the Holy Family returned to and settled again at Nazareth. Finally peace, and St. Joseph’s life became the simple and uneventful life of an humble Jew, supporting himself and his family by his work, and faithful to the religious practices commanded by the Law or observed by pious Israelites.
From that point on, the only incident recorded by the Gospel is the loss of, and quest for, Jesus, then he was twelve years old, when He strayed during the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Luke 2:42-51). This is the last we hear of St. Joseph in the sacred writings, and we may well suppose that Jesus’s foster-father died before the beginning of Savior’s public life.
In several circumstances, indeed, the Gospels speak of the latter’s mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), but never do they speak of His father in connection with the rest of the family; they tell us only that Our Lord, during His public life, was referred to as the son of Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42; Luke 4:22) the carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Would Jesus, moreover, when about to die on the Cross, have entrusted His mother to John’s care, had St. Joseph been still alive?
According to the apocryphal “Story of Joseph the Carpenter”, the holy man reached his hundred and eleventh year when he died, on 20 July (A.D. 18 or 19). St. Epiphanius gives him ninety years of age at the time of his demise; and if we are to believe the Venerable Bede, he was buried in the Valley of Josaphat. In truth we do not know when St. Joseph died; it is most unlikely that he attained the ripe old age spoken of by the “Story of Joseph” and St. Epiphanius. The probability is that he died and was buried at Nazareth.
So, his was an example of a devoted life of sacrifice. Joseph embodies the tradition of Faith, Loyalty, Competence, Pride, Selflessness, Integrity, Courage, Discipline, and Sacrifice. Quite an example to live up to is Joseph, the bar is set very high. There is a centuries long tradition of veneration of St. Joseph.
Joseph was “a just man”. This praise bestowed by the Holy Ghost, and the privilege of having been chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus and the spouse of the Virgin Mother, are the foundations of the honour paid to St. Joseph by the Church. So well-grounded are these foundations that it is not a little surprising that the cult of St. Joseph was so slow in winning recognition. Foremost among the causes of this is the fact that “during the first centuries of the Church’s existence, it was only the martyrs who enjoyed veneration” (Kellner).
Far from being ignored or passed over in silence during the early Christian ages, St. Joseph’s prerogatives were occasionally descanted upon by the Fathers; even such eulogies as cannot be attributed to the writers among whose works they found admittance bear witness that the ideas and devotion therein expressed were familiar, not only to the theologians and preachers, and must have been readily welcomed by the people.
The earliest traces of public recognition of the sanctity of St. Joseph are to be found in the East. His feast, if we may trust the assertions of Papebroch, was kept by the Copts as early as the beginning of the fourth century. Nicephorus Callistus tells likewise — on what authority we do not know — that in the great basilica erected at Bethlehem by St. Helena, there was a gorgeous oratory dedicated to the honour of our saint.
Certain it is, at all events, that the feast of “Joseph the Carpenter” is entered, on 20 July, in one of the old Coptic Calendars in our possession, as also in a Synazarium of the eighth and ninth century published by Cardinal Mai (Script. Vet. Nova Coll., IV, 15 sqq.). Greek menologies of a later date at least mention St. Joseph on 25 or 26 December, and a twofold commemoration of him along with other saints was made on the two Sundays next before and after Christmas.
In the West the name of the foster-father of Our Lord (Nutritor Domini) appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and we find in 1129, for the first time, a church dedicated to his honour at Bologna. The devotion, then merely private, as it seems, gained a great impetus owing to the influence and zeal of such saintly persons as St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude (d. 1310), and St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373). According to Benedict XIV (De Serv. Dei beatif., I, iv, n. 11; xx, n. 17), “the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cultus to St. Joseph”.
His feast, introduced towards the end shortly afterwards, into the Dominican Calendar, gradually gained a foothold in various dioceses of Western Europe. Among the most zealous promoters of the devotion at that epoch, St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), Peter d’Ailly (d. 1420), St. Bernadine of Siena (d. 1444), and Jehan Charlier Gerson (d. 1429) deserve an especial mention. Gerson, who had, in 1400, composed an Office of the Espousals of Joseph particularly at the Council of Constance (1414), in promoting the public recognition of the cult of St. Joseph.
Only under the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), were the efforts of these holy men rewarded by Roman Calendar (19 March). From that time the devotion acquired greater and greater popularity, the dignity of the feast keeping pace with this steady growth. At first only a festum simplex, it was soon elevated to a double rite by Innocent VIII (1484-92), declared by Gregory XV, in 1621, a festival of obligation, at the instance of the Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I and of King Charles II of Spain, and raised to the rank of a double of the second class by Clement XI (1700-21). Further, Benedict XIII, in 1726, inserted the name into the Litany of the Saints.
One festival in the year, however, was not deemed enough to satisfy the piety of the people. The feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, so strenuously advocated by Gerson, and permitted first by Paul III to the Franciscans, then to other religious orders and individual dioceses, was, in 1725, granted to all countries that solicited it, a proper Office, compiled by the Dominican Pietro Aurato, being assigned, and the day appointed being 23 January.
Nor was this all, for the reformed Order of Carmelites, into which St. Teresa had infused her great devotion to the foster-father of Jesus, chose him, in 1621, for their patron, and in 1689, were allowed to celebrate the feast of his Patronage on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast, soon adopted throughout the Spanish Kingdom, was later on extended to all states and dioceses which asked for the privilege.
No devotion, perhaps, has grown so universal, none seems to have appealed so forcibly to the heart of the Christian people, and particularly of the labouring classes, during the nineteenth century, as that of St. Joseph. This wonderful and unprecedented increase of popularity called for a new lustre to be added to the cult of the saint.
Accordingly, one of the first acts of the pontificate of Pius IX, himself singularly devoted to St. Joseph, was to extend to the whole Church the feast of the Patronage (1847), and in December, 1870, according to the wishes of the bishops and of all the faithful, he solemnly declared the Holy Patriarch Joseph, patron of the Catholic Church, and enjoined that his feast (19 March) should henceforth be celebrated as a double of the first class (but without octave, on account of Lent).
Following the footsteps of their predecessor, Leo XIII and Pius X have shown an equal desire to add their own jewel to the crown of St. Joseph: the former, by permitting on certain days the reading of the votive Office of the saint; and the latter by approving, on 18 March, 1909, a litany in honour of him whose name he had received in baptism.
So happy St Joseph’s Day
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