John XXIII: Pope of Saint Joseph
The papal states had been tumbled; the fathers of the First Vatican Council forced home. Rome was occupied; the Pope commenced the long Vatican captivity. On the surface, prospects appeared bleak for the papacy. In reality, things were not nearly so bad as they seemed. He who had preserved Christ himself from the designs of a wicked Herod still stood prepared to protect Christ's Vicar from the plots of a wicked world.
When things appeared at their worst, Pope Pius IX acceded to the desires of the faithful and various members of the First Vatican Council, and invoked the powerful protection of the guardian of the nascent Church, Joseph of Nazareth. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that year, all Italy was invited to offer up Holy Communion for the Pope. Dec. 8, 1870, was Catholic Italy's day of prayer for the see of Peter. And Peter's heir seized the occasion to perform a great act of his apostolic authority. In the great Roman basilicas he published the decree Quemadmodum Deus declaring St. Joseph patron and protector of the universal Church.
Sixteen years earlier, to the day, the same Pope had officially opened a great Marian era by defining Mary's Immaculate Conception. Now he opened a proportionately great era honoring her life's companion, Joseph.
The Church has been on a search ever since then for new ways of honoring her perennial protector. Numerous new forms of devotion to him have resulted. Pius IX himself made Joseph's feast one of the first class. Leo XIII approved the St. Joseph Scapular and penned the encyclical letter Quamquam pluries on devotion to St. Joseph. The Litany of St. Joseph was endorsed for public use by Pope St. Pius X. Benedict XV sanctioned a proper preface in Joseph's honor and added his invocation to the Divine Praises. Pius XI designated him special protector against Communism. Pius XII instituted a first class feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Pope after Pope vied with his predecessors in amplifying this cult.
It was hardly surprising, then, that from the very outset of his reign, Pope John XXIII should sing Joseph's praises. So persistently and dynamically, however, did His Holiness sustain this theme, that he has more than merited a niche alongside Pius IX as a "Pope of St. Joseph."
This devotion of the Pontiff could be evidenced already in the conclave that elevated him. Faced with selecting a name, Cardinal Roncalli seriously considered "Joseph." He demurred only because no Pope had ever had the name before,1 admittedly curious words on the tongue of precedent-breaking Pope John.
Brushing aside the fact that he had long answered to the name of Angelo and Angelino rather than Giuseppe or Beppo, however, the Pope adopted March 19 as his name day. At the first celebration in 1959, the Holy Father addressed Rome's street-cleaners. Not at all reticent about his personal veneration of Joseph, the Pope told of his thought of taking the name Joseph as Pope, and on this occasion, as well as later in his apostolic letters on devotion to St. Joseph (Mar. 19, 1961) and on the Rosary (Sept. 29, 1961), he referred to the prayer "To thee, O Blessed Joseph" (which Leo XIII prescribed to be said after the October Rosary) as "the most beautiful prayer that did so much to enrich the time of Our childhood."2
Skillfully His Holiness blended these reminiscences of personal devotion with wise pastoral teachings on St. Joseph.
All the saints in glory assured merit and honor and a particular respect, but it is evident that St. Joseph possesses just title to a place in our hearts, a place which belongs to him alone, sweeter, more intimate, and penetrating… Add to all this the experience of life and the knowledge of Christian doctrine . . . and we will be able to measure more completely the complete grandeur of St. Joseph, not only by reason of the fact that he was close to Jesus and Mary, but also by the shining example which he has given us of all the virtues.
To these encomiums of the heights of the honor due to Joseph and of the sanctity, which he possesses, Pope John added a word on his patronage.
St. Joseph is the protector par excellence of the family, along with the other two of whom he was the incomparable guardian. The simple mention of Jesus, Mary and Joseph reminds us that there [in the Holy Family] we find all human history and there we find also the salvation, the grandeur, the beauty, the splendor of the Catholic Church.3
In another address later that same day, Pope John reminded the sick and suffering that Joseph was an example for them in how to bear suffering patiently.4
The first day of May each year always found Pope John, in the tradition of Pius XII, addressing the Christian Associations of Italian Workers (A.C.L.I.), always recommending devotion to and imitation of their patron. On this occasion in 1959, he left them with a beautiful prayer, which underscored Joseph's eminent dignity and sympathetic patronage.
Glorious Saint Joseph, who disguised the incomparable and sovereign dignity of guardian of Jesus and Mary under the humble appearance of an artisan and with your work provided for their daily sustenance, give your protection to those who are especially entrusted to your care.
You know their sufferings and their anxieties, because you shared them yourself by the side of Jesus and his Mother. Do not allow them, under the burden of so many worries, to forget the end for which God created them; do not allow the poison of mistrust to conquer their immortal souls. Remind all workers that in the fields, in the factories, in the mines and in the laboratories of science, they are never alone in their joys and in their sorrow, but that Jesus is always with them, to wipe the perspiration from their brow, and to ennoble their toil. Teach them to transform their labor, as you did, into an exalted instrument of sanctification.5
In his 1959 Christmas message, Pope John spoke of the indispensable role of the family in human society and noted especially the role of the family of families in Christ's Incarnation and redemptive work.
Christmas is the great family feast. In coming upon earth to save human society and restore it to its high destiny, Jesus manifested himself with Mary his mother, with Joseph his putative father who is there as the shadow of the eternal Father. Thus was the great restoration of the entire world begun… 6
Candlemas Day the following year, the Pope sent candles to the principal sanctuaries of the world "where Mary smiles and where St. Joseph is venerated." He made special mention of the great Canadian sanctuary, St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. The candles burning in these shrines were to symbolize the petition of divine assistance there for the future ecumenical council. To this same end, Pope John exhorted a fervent devotion towards the glorious Patriarch. "He is the best-known saint after the Blessed Virgin. He is the most powerful intercessor, from whom nobody is turned away without being heard."7
Once again in 1960, His Holiness ended his May 1st allocution to the A.C.L.I. with a priceless prayer to the patron of laborers, which this time made special mention of the intimacy in which Joseph lived with Jesus and Mary.
O Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus, chaste spouse of Mary, who passed your life in the perfect fulfillment of duty, sustaining the Holy Family of Nazareth with the labor of your hands, protect kindly those who trustingly turn to you. You know their aspirations, their miseries, their hopes, and they have recourse to you because they know that they will find in you one who will understand and protect them. You too have known trial, labor and weariness. But, even in the midst of worries of the material life, your soul was filled with profound peace and it exulted in unerring joy through intimacy with the Son of God entrusted to you, and with Mary, his most sweet mother. Make those whom you protect understand that they are not alone in their labor, but show them how to discover Jesus near them, to receive him with grace, to guard him faithfully, as you have done. And assure that in every family, in every factory, in every workshop, wherever a Christian works, all may be satisfied in charity, in patience, in justice, in seeking to do well, so that abundant gifts may descend from heaven.8
A homily on the Ascension that same year (May 26, 1960) afforded Pope John the opportunity to assert that it may be piously believed that St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph were bodily assumed into heaven at the time of our Lord's ascension.9
Two months later (July 26, 1960), the Pope reformed and codified the Church's liturgical law. Included in this legislation was the provision promoting from a double-major to a second class rank the Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.10
Pope John spoke to the diplomatic corps and their families after midnight Mass that Christmas. "Today, this Mass that has brought us together," he remarked, "has truly gathered the whole world around the divine Child of Bethlehem, around Mary, the Virgin most pure, around Joseph, whom we might call 'the most hidden of all the saints of God.' "11
His Holiness spoke once again, on Mar. 5, 1961, about St. Joseph. After speaking at length of the Joseph of Genesis, he added, that turning "the pages of the New Testament, we encounter another Joseph." This Joseph, the Pope called "the pre-eminently just man, spouse of Mary and putative father of Jesus." It was Joseph who determined the work to be done in the Holy Family at Nazareth, the Pope observed—"not the fresh-air work in the fields, but work in the humble confines of a carpentry shop." "Together with his example of labor," His Holiness continued, "we also have the splendor of all the virtues: the exaltation of innocence, the basic principles of an harmonious social life, the obedience, the humility, the abnegation. What an incomparable school for the whole Christian family…"12
Two weeks later (Mar. 19, 1961), the Pope took a significant step towards making "the most hidden of all the saints of God" a little less hidden. This by writing two important documents: one an apostolic letter Le voci on devotion to St. Joseph, the other an address to leaders of labor organizations under Joseph's patronage and to members of religious communities dedicated to St. Joseph.
At the beginning of the apostolic letter, John spoke of the "kind and gentle, St. Joseph, stately spouse of Mary, a figure so dear to the minds and hearts of those who are most responsive to the appeal of Christian asceticism and to forms of religious devotion which are quiet and unobtrusive—and all the sweeter and more pleasing for being so."13
Pope John pointed out how the devotion to St. Joseph has approached due proportions only in recent times. Further in the letter, he quoted Pope Pius XI's "wonderful words" on this subject:
You can make out the person and the mission of St. Joseph as he moves along quietly and thoughtfully, almost unobserved and unrecognized in his humility and silence, a silence upon which light would be shed only later, a silence that was bound to be succeeded by a loud, long cry of acclaim and glory through the ages.14
In the meantime, the Pope re-examined briefly what his predecessors from Pius IX to Pius XII had said and had done concerning St. Joseph. Then he gave notice that he intended to participate in the glorification of Joseph by naming him the patron of the Second Vatican Council. He recalled that St. Joseph is always invoked to help the Church, its projects and concerns, and stated that among present-day concerns, the first place is held by the Council.
We need a heavenly protector on high during this period … who can call from heaven that divine power for preparing and holding this council… This could not be entrusted to a better heavenly protector than Saint Joseph, distinguished head of the Holy Family of Nazareth and protector of the holy Church.15
After the issuance of Le voci, Pope John availed himself of every opportunity to invoke Joseph as patron of the Second Vatican Council. In a letter to the Church's hierarchy petitioning a worldwide novena before Pentecost in preparation for the Council (Apr. 11, 1961), he wrote: ". . . And may St. Joseph . . . to whom we have already with complete confidence committed the Council, be pleased to receive our wishes…"16 In his letter asking the clergy's prayers for the Council (Jan. 6, 1962), he added: "Who is more fit than a priest to enjoy the close friendship of St. Joseph 'whose privilege it was . . . not just to see God and to hear him, but to take him in his arms and kiss him, clothe him and protect him.' "17
Pope John's allocution to the central preparatory commission (June 12, 1961),18 his bull convoking the Council (Dec. 25, 1961),19 his letter to the bishops coming to the Council (Apr. 15, 1962),20 his letter to nuns and sisters begging prayers for the Council (July 2, 1962),21 and finally his address at the opening of the Council (Oct. 11, 1962),22 all carry like messages: Invoke St. Joseph, patron of the Council!
At a general audience near the beginning of March, 1962, the Pope urged the thousands present: "Consecrate yourselves … to St. Joseph so that he may obtain grace and blessings for the Council and so that the Council may be tranquilly prepared for and well-conducted, thus bringing abundant fruit to souls."23
Toward the end of Le voci, the Pope announced his intention of seeing to it that the altar of St. Joseph in St. Peter's Basilica "takes on a new and fuller and more solemn splendor . . . and becomes a point of attraction and of religious devotion for individual souls and for countless crowds."24
A few hours after the release of Le voci, Pope John spoke to various lay and religious groups dedicated to St. Joseph. Once again he reminisced on his own devotion to the Saint, offering at the same time his own precious views on various subjects, for example, that Joseph presided over the rite of circumcision and that he was not only present at the arrival of the Magi but was the one who received them.
We would like to let you in on a secret today. Cardinal Peter Gasparri … was the one who informed Us of Our nomination as Apostolic Visitor in Bulgaria … and of the promotion to the episcopal dignity that would go with it. When he heard mention of the fact that We would be consecrated on the feast of St. Joseph … he asked Us in that very direct and pointed but friendly way that he had, "And why in the world on the feast of St. Joseph?"
Our reply was a simple one: "Because this is the Saint We think would be the ideal teacher and patron for diplomats of the Holy See."
"Oh! Is that so?" said the Cardinal. "I would never have guessed that."
"Well, you see, your Eminence, it's this way. Knowing how to obey; knowing how to keep quiet; when need be, speaking with care and reserve. That's the diplomat of the Holy See; and that's St. Joseph. Just picture him setting out for Bethlehem at once out of obedience; carefully looking for some place to stay; and then watching over the cave; eight days after the birth of Jesus, presiding over the Jewish rite that made a new-born child one of the chosen people (cf. Gen. 9:12). Just picture him receiving with honor the Magi, those splendid ambassadors from the East. Just see him on the roads of Egypt and then back at Nazareth, always silent and obedient: showing Jesus to people and hiding him: defending him and taking care of him. And as for himself, just following along quietly, remaining in the shadow of the mysteries of Our Lord, and seeing a little heavenly light thrown upon them every so often by an angel."25
Pope John put in another word for St. Joseph on July 29, 1961. Before a large group of seminary rectors, he associated devotion to St. Joseph with devotion to Christ and Mary in a most forceful way. "The basic points of religious training stand out," he said. Then he began enumerating devotions that the rectors should propagate in their seminaries. First he listed devotion to the Eucharist, and "along with it, devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, to his Sacred Heart and to his Most Precious Blood." After this he listed "devotion to our Lady, the mother of Jesus and our mother." He then continued:
In addition to trust in Mary most holy, so too try to instill in your young seminarians a special trust in St. Joseph, whose presence—which We have decided to make more noticeable in this greatest temple of Christendom—reveals itself as quite timely in the Holy Church amid the splendors of the universal apostolate and of the outstanding doctors and martyrs of the faith.
Meek, quiet, discreet: St. Joseph is the perfect model for imitation in circumstances that recur in every age and that call for self-denial and total abandonment to God.
His Holiness went on to speak of other devotions and practices, but the conjunctive he employed ("Besides these devotions which are indispensable for the training of a clergy that will be holy and sanctifying . . . ") is certainly interesting and indicative of the importance the Pope ascribed to devotion to St. Joseph.26
To celebrate his fourth name day as Roman Pontiff (Mar. 19, 1962), Pope John created 10 new cardinals. Afterwards he spoke of "this blessed feast of St. Joseph which is doubly dear to Us; because We received the name of Joseph at the holy baptismal font and it has kept us long and good company, and also because on this feast of St. Joseph thirty-seven years ago the Lord called Us to the episcopate…." He added then, "We rejoice in the fact that together with Us at least 11 members of the Sacred College [Pizzardo, Ferretto, Frings, Mindszenty, Siri, Garibi y Rivera, Bueno y Monreal, Lefebvre, Ritter, Quintero, de Costa Nanes— not to mention Francis Joseph Spellman and Leo Joseph Suenens] enjoy the same name as St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church and special patron of the forthcoming ecumenical council."27
The papal pilgrimage to Loreto and Assisi (Oct. 4, 1962) offered, as might be expected, an excellent opportunity for the Pope to reflect on Joseph. At the Holy House of Loreto, traditionally the Holy Family's home airborne by angels from Nazareth, the Pope pointed out that Joseph's importance in the history of salvation is becoming more and more evident and urged the bishops coming to the Council to study Joseph along with Mary and Jesus in their task of revitalizing the family.
The mystery of the Incarnation consecrates the 30 years of life spent in the silence of Nazareth with Mary and Joseph… From the hidden life rises the canticle in praise of the dignity and greatness of the family, in praise of the sacred duty of labor and its nobility.
When We came to Loreto in 1900, the lofty reminders of Leo XIII of the sanctity of marriage, discipline in the home, responsibility of the parents for the education of the children, and the safeguard of the sacred value of Christian civilization were echoing throughout the world.
The living example, underlined with such strength by that great predecessor of Ours, proceeded precisely from the Holy Family of Nazareth, with its lessons in piety, love and sacrifice. Together with Jesus and his mother Mary, Joseph was there also coming forward to take up at last the place which had been entrusted to him by Providence in the wide prospect of the centuries and of the wonderful development of the Mystical Body.
The ecumenical council is intended to be a solemn reminder of the greatness of the family and of the duties it implies. Beloved sons, take as a first taste of the council Our words urging you to consider ever more thoroughly and in the light of the Holy Family the greatness of the tasks which the Church expects from you.28
In four short years, Pope John gave a great deal to honor St. Joseph. A study of nearly three thousand documents of the Holy See relating to St. Joseph29 reveals no comparable period in the history of the devotion to St. Joseph. Besides the many documents of Pope John mentioned so far, more than forty other addresses and sermons have touched on in some way or other Mary's virginal husband. Pope John has, moreover, furthered the causes for beatification of two of St. Joseph's most prominent devotees: Ven. Leonard Murialdo (d. 1900), founder of the Pious Society of St. Joseph of Turin, and Brother Andre, C.S.C. (d. 1937), founder of St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. Time and space naturally forbid detailed examination of all of these things.
On to the peak, then, of the present crescendo in Josephite devotion: Pope John's decision to insert St. Joseph's name in the very center of the Church's prayer life, the Canon of the Mass.
Long before the First Vatican Council—in 1815 in fact—petitions began pouring into Rome requesting this privilege for Joseph. Many petitions went even further and asked that there be accorded to Joseph the highest veneration among all the angels and saints— "the public cult of dulia after the Mother of God but before anyone else in heaven." Over the years, close to a million signatures were appended to petitions of this sort. The most famous of these petitions were the three issuing from some four hundred fathers of Vatican I. One of these was signed by, among others, thirty-eight of the forty-two cardinals then living, including Joachim Cardinal Pecci (later Leo XIII). It was in answer to these petitions that Pius IX proclaimed Joseph protector and patron of the Church in 1870. But even then Joseph lacked full liturgical honors.
In 1961, as preparations for Vatican II were underway, three centers of Josephological studies in Montreal (Canada), Valladolid (Spain) and Viterbo (Italy) undertook to bring this question once more to the attention of the hierarchy. Father Guy-Marie Bertrand, C.S.C., then acting-director of the research and documentation center in Montreal, drafted an anonymous memorandum30 outlining the theological, historical and liturgical aspects of such a move, skillfully answering the various objections that had previously been opposed to adding Joseph's name to the Canon. This seventy-four-page memorandum was translated from French into several major modern languages31 and sent to almost the entire hierarchy of the Church. It bore the signatures of five prominent Josephologists: Father Francis J. Filas, S.J., chairman of Loyola University's theology department, Chicago, and vice-president of the St. Joseph Research and Documentation Center, Montreal; Father Roland Gauthier, C.S.C., director of the Center in Montreal, editor of the Cahiers de Josephologie and now president of the North-American Society of Josephology; Father Jose Antonio del Nino Jesus, O.C.D., president of the Ibero-American Society of Josephology; Father Angelo Battiston, C.S.J., of the Center of Josephology, Viterbo, Italy; and Father Isidore de San Jose, O.C.D., director of the Spanish Center for Josephological Research, Valladolid, Spain, and editor of the Estudios Josefinos.
Besides the memorandum, a Latin formula requesting the addition was printed and circulated to all the cardinals and archbishops of the world, to the general superiors of religious orders of men, and to the entire hierarchy of Italy. This effort was thus limited only because the scholars involved lacked time in which to communicate with all the bishops of the world. As it was, the operation was carried on in a period of but a few months by a very small staff. Sponsors of the project were more than gratified when some five hundred future fathers of the Council returned the formulas signed.
In March 1962, these petitions were presented personally to His Holiness by Amleto Giovanni Cardinal Cicognani, together with the memorandum in five languages. The following morning, Pope John informed the cardinal that he had read through the material and was delighted with it. He forthwith instructed the cardinal to submit the petitions to the preparatory commission on the liturgy accompanied by a letter of special recommendation from himself.
The matter came before the Council itself during the 12th general congregation on November 6.32 Bishop Albert Cousineau, C.S.C., of Cap Haitien, Haiti (a former rector of St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal), and at least one other bishop33 are reported to have spoken in favor of the addition to the Canon. On the following day, the thirteenth general congregation made a preliminary vote on the second chapter of the schemata on liturgy, the chapter in which the insertion was treated.34 Just what decisions were arrived at have not yet been released, but one thing is sure, a final vote has not yet been made on this chapter by the Council.
A final vote on the addition of Joseph's name may still be made by the Council, but it will now be only affirming what is already a reality. On or about Nov. 13, Pope John made the decision motu proprio to honor Joseph in the Canon. He inserted Joseph's name in the age-old Communicantes, effective as of Dec. 8, 196235— thus making this the first of the matters discussed by the Council to go into effect.
In making this decision public at the 18th general congregation, Nov. 13, the president of the Council's Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs, Cardinal Cicognani, said that Pope John decided to give St. Joseph the new honor to put it on record that the Second Vatican Council so honored its patron.36
December 8, 1962—exactly ninety-two years after Pope Pius IX proclaimed Joseph to be the Church's patron and protector— Joseph's name was added to the daily Mass. In the Church's most solemn of prayers he is now honored with his wife Mary. Those whom God has joined together, the Church-at-prayer now daily invokes together, thanks to Pope John XXIII, Pope of St. Joseph.
Blaine Burkey, O.F.M.Cap.
1 Discorsi messaggi colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, Vatican Press [hereafter cited as DMCSPG], I, 627,
2 The Pope Speaks [hereafter cited as TPS], VII, 125, from AAS LIII, 207. See also AAS LIII, 647 [Eng.: IER XCVI, 322] and DMCSPG I, 627.
3 Cahiers de Josephologie, Montreal [hereafter cited as CJ] IX, 148, cit. DMCSPG I, 627.
4 DMCSPG I, 202 [Eng.: TPS V, 332].
5 TPS V, 419, from AAS LI, 359.
6 DMCSPG II, 96-97.
7 DMCSPG II, 708.
8 St. Joseph—the Worker: Pope John's Message to Workers, May 1, 1960, N.C.W.C., 4 [Ital.: AAS LII, 400].
9 AAS LII, 456.
10 AAS LII, 687.
11 TPS VII, 56, from DMCSPG III, 102. The Holy Father refers to Faber's Bethleem ou le mystere de la sainte enfance (Paris, Retaud-Bray, 1885), 5 ed., p. 202.
12 DMCSPG III, 544.
13 TPS VII, 123, from AAS LIII, 206.
14 AAS LIII, 211, cit. Discorsi di Pio XI, I, 780.
15 DMCSPG III, 780.
16 DMCSPG III, 784.
17 TPS VIII, 64, from AAS LIV, 68.
18 AAS LIII, 498 [Eng.: TPS VII, 241-245].
19 AAS LIV, 11 [Eng.: TPS VII, 359].
20 AAS LIV, 564 f.
21 AAS LIV, 517 [Eng.: TPS VIII, 162].
22 Our Sunday Visitor, Oct. 28, 1962, 8 f.
23 Catholic Standard (Washington), Mar. 9, 1962, p. 9.
24 TPS VII, 130, from AAS LIII, 212.
25 TPS VII, 133, from DMCSPG III, 184 f.
26 TPS VII, 373-375, from AAS LIII, 564.
27 Catholic Documentation (Sydney), VII /3, 48, from AAS LIV 200 f.
28 Our Lady's Digest, XVII, 244 f., from AAS LIV, 725.
29 An enchiridion of these documents entitled Pontificia Josephina is being published in serial form in CJ commencing with v. 10, no. 2 (Jul.-Dec., 1962) by Father Blaine Burkey, O.F.M.Cap.
30 Pour l'insertion du nom de saint Joseph aux prieres de la Messe, in CJ IX, 1-74.
31 English by Father James J. Davis, O.P.; Italian by Father Liberio Balestrazzi, C.S.J.; Spanish by Father Isidoro de San Jose, O.C.D.; and Portuguese by Father Jaime de San Jose, O.C.D. A German synopsis was also prepared. The English translation is of exceptional merit since it was prepared under the direct supervision of the author.
32 L'Osservatore Romano [hereafter OR], Nov. 5-6, 1962, 3.
33 An interesting sidelight on this bishop's plea can be read in the N. Y. Times, Nov. 19, 1962, 1.
34 OR, Nov. 7, 1962, 1.
35 s.R.C., Urbis et Orbis, Nov. 13, 1962, in OR, Dec. 1, 1962, 1.
36 Catholic Standard and Times (Philadelphia), Nov. 16, 1962, 1.
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