"Good God, woman, I used my thumb!"

Saturday, March 18, 2006

St Joseph

The history of devotion to St Joseph is one of the more surprising in the annals of Church history. In contrast to Marian devotions, which began early and often and have been a hallmarkof the Catholic Church throughout its life, devotion to St. Joseph, now recognized as the patron of the universal Church, had a slow start and a checkered past. And by slow, I mean that the first church dedicated to St Joseph was built in Bologna...in 1129.

It seems that the Eastern Church had always maintained a devotion to Joseph, as seen in some of the Patristic writings. But the Western church was slow to develop a cult to Joseph. Benedict XIV indicates that it was the Carmelites in the Middle Ages who first brought the cult to the West. The Council of Constance accepted the Office for the Espousals of Joseph in 1414, and it was not until Sixtus IV, who reigned 1471-1484, that the Feast of St. Joseph was instituted on March 19 in the Roman calendar, and even then only as a festum simplex. And it wasn't until 1726 that Benedict XIII inserted Joseph into the Litany of Saints.

But devotion to St. Joseph grew tremendously from the 18th century onwards, particularly among the working class. This is because Joseph came to be seen as the model husband and father, who protected and supplied for Mary and the Christ-child. Surely, God would not choose as his fatherly protector a man who would neglect his duties to family, faith, and work. And Joseph the carpenter came to be a model for hard work, indeed, the model for sanctifying your daily life and routine to please God. And as can be seen by the growth and influence of Opus Dei, this image of Joseph, the hard-working, responsible caretaker who celebrated the mystery of God in his everyday life, has endured and will continue to endure as the lasting image of Christian work and Christian masculinity.


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