In our church there are several shrines or “side altars.” These altars were built for the pre-Vatican II church, when every priest had to say his own Mass every day and there was no concelebration. The side altars served for multiple priests to say their individual Masses simultaneously. They would speak the prayers in a soft voice, or “sotto voce,” while at the same time the public Mass might be occurring at the main altar. There are five side altars in our church at the shrines of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Augstine of Canterbury (a.k.a St. Austin). You can notice indentations in the walls, where the cruets (small pitchers for the water and wine) and other Mass equipment was set.
When the Paulists had several priests and missionaries and the Newman Center (now the University Catholic Center) staff stationed, it is possible that most of these would be in use simultaneously, especially early in the morning. Since the rules on fasting before Holy Communion required no eating or drinking from the midnight before, early morning Masses were most popular, even with priests. Vatican II allowed and encouraged “concelebration,” when several priests partake of celebrating Mass together. Also, the rules of fasting were greatly eased, and so there is not the need get Mass done first thing in the morning in order to get to your morning coffee!
I will write an occasional series in this column on the side altar shrines in our church. But let us start with St. Joseph. His side altar is near the side door or “the Deacon’s door.” Joseph was the husband of Mary and Jesus’ foster-father. He plays a prominent role in the stories of the birth of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, where he is shown as a man clearly in touch with God. Like his namesake in the Book of Genesis, Joseph, is in touch with God’s Will through his dreams.
Joseph is depicted holding a square and a mallet, tools of a carpenter. The correct translation of Joseph’s profession in the Bible, so I am told, is actually a “builder” rather than a “carpenter.” Since wood was scarce in Palestine, he probably worked more with stone and earthen bricks than with wood.
In the current configuration of lighting, St. Joseph’s face is in shadow, while his feet are well lit. Eventually, with time and money, we hope to rectify this situation when we upgrade our lighting. It is appropriate that St. Joseph be near one of the entryways of our church, since in his life St. Joseph helped Jesus to enter into this life, kept Him safe, and gave Him to us.