This week on Tuesday we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, or to be more liturgically correct, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Joseph is a popular Saint and appropriately so. He is a patron Saint of workers, of Fathers, and also often invoked for the grace of a happy death. Some even engage in the superstitious practice of burying his image upside down on a property they hope to sell. I imagine St. Joseph stays quite busy.
St. Joseph is no publicity hound. He always seems to be in the background. He appears in the infancy narratives of Matthew (where he has a central role) and of Luke (where he is decidedly second fiddle to Mary). He has only the briefest cameo role in the Gospel of John (6:42 where the people ask, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph…?”) and does not appear in Mark’s Gospel at all. By the time of Jesus’ public ministry, Joseph has disappeared, never heard of again. What happened to him remains a mystery to this day.
It was Pope John XXIII who, during the first session of Vatican Council II, included St Joseph in the canon of the Mass. The story I heard years ago is that during the debates of the first session, on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, an elderly prelate from Eastern Europe who had suffered much from the hands of the Nazi’s and then the Communists, got up and made an impassioned plea for the inclusion of St. Joseph in the canon. The other Council Fathers, discussing much broader and more important concepts about the liturgy, kind of ignored him and pooh-poohed his suggestion. However, John XXIII, who was listening to the sessions over an intercom, did pay attention and the next day ordered the inclusion of St. Joseph in the Canon of the Mass. And in Eucharistic Prayer 1 today (the old Roman Canon) immediately following Mary, and before the Apostles, is listed “and blessed Joseph, her Spouse.”
Many churches have a statue of St. Joseph. Usually it is located on the right side of the altar as you face the altar from the body of the church. Joseph balances the scene with Mary on the opposite side of the altar. These are used as memory devices by the priest to remember which side of the church is the bride’s side (Mary of course) and which side the groom’s side (Joseph). However in our church, St. Joseph’s traditional place has been usurped by St. Paul (this parish is staffed by the Paulist Fathers after all!), and St. Joseph has been relegated to the front side chapel on that side.
Actually, I rather like the St. Joseph side altar, especially the way it is lit. Have you noticed that the lighting shines mostly on Joseph’s feet? His face is pretty well hidden in shadow. I feel this representation fits very well with the rather sketchy and partial presentation of St. Joseph in the scriptures. We know he was a descendant of King David, but hardly anything else about his background. He was a dreamer and paid attention to his dreams, and so seems a little mystical, even impractical, deciding in the middle of the night to take his family and flee to Egypt all on the basis of a dream. So the rather shadowy, mysterious presentation of him in our church seems altogether fitting and proper.
As we celebrate St. Joseph’s solemnity this week I urge you to pray for all fathers, for workers and craftspeople and artisans, and for all who are dying. And thank St. Joseph for the great job he did as Jesus’ foster-father.