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Reconnecting With Mary… Devotion To St. Joseph In The Church

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By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

This final article in the series about St. Joseph will look at more recent devotion to him, which by the 19th century had become very widespread in Catholic circles, to the extent that, in 1847, Pope Pius IX, who was personally very devoted to the saint, extended the feast of his patronage to the whole Church.
In 1870, he declared him the Patron and Guardian of the Universal Church, and further raised the status of his feast day. At first glance, this might seem excessive, but if we consider that in relation to Christ, Joseph acted as His foster father and guardian, then, in the economy of salvation, he holds the same position in a spiritual sense with regard to the Body of Christ, that is the Church. So it is no exaggeration to describe him as the Guardian of the Church.
One of the devotions to the saint which can be practiced is the Nine First Wednesdays. This is done in a similar manner to that of the Sacred Heart devotion on the Nine First Fridays; that is, going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion, with the intention of honoring St. Joseph and for the grace of a happy death. This devotion then is particularly concerned with the salvation of the dying.
The cincture or cord of St. Joseph is another devotion to the saint, and this originated in Antwerp in 1657. The bishop of Verona obtained approval from the Congregation of Rites for this devotion for private use, in 1859, and it was enriched with special indulgences by Pope Pius IX. It involves wearing a knotted cord, blessed in honor of St. Joseph, around the waist, as a means of obtaining the graces of chastity and purity, and the special protection of the saint during life and particularly at the hour of death.
It is not necessary to buy a special cord — one can be made with a suitable piece of cotton cord, say about five feet long and a quarter of an inch thick, with seven knots tied at one end, to commemorate the seven joys and seven sorrows of St. Joseph, incidents such as his joy at the birth of the Savior, as opposed to the difficulties he faced in protecting the Holy Family.
There is a special prayer of blessing to be said by a priest when the person is invested with the cord, and this process also involves incensing the cord and sprinkling it with holy water. In addition, the person wearing the cord should say special prayers to St. Joseph every day, asking for his protection and guidance.
This is a devotion that could be very profitably revived in our own times, particularly as an aid to chastity. In our modern world it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid sexual imagery, and so this devotion to the saint could be a very powerful aid in preserving this virtue.
Pope Leo XIII also strongly supported devotion to the saint and ended his encyclical on devotion to St. Joseph, Quamquam Pluries, issued in 1889, with these thoughts about his wonderful holiness: “No other saint…so nearly approaches that place of dignity which in the Mother of God is far above all created natures.” The Pope associated a special indulgenced prayer to St. Joseph with this encyclical and ordered that it be added to the public recitation of the rosary during October. He also praised the practice of dedicating the month of March to St. Joseph.
Pope Leo XIII’s Successor, Pius X, whose given name was Joseph (Giuseppe), approved, in 1909, a litany in honor of St. Joseph, while, in 1919, Pope Benedict XV issued a proper preface for the Feast of St. Joseph, and added the invocation of his name to the Divine Praises. In 1937, Pope Pius XI made St. Joseph the patron against Communism, and in 1955, Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, to be celebrated on May 1, May Day, the ancient spring festival which had gradually become associated with workers’ rights.
Blessed John XXIII, whose given name — like that of Pius X — was also Giuseppe, had a great devotion to St. Joseph, and named him the Protector of the Second Vatican Council. He also issued an apostolic letter on the saint on March 19, 1961, and added the name of St. Joseph to the Roman Canon of the Mass, in what we now call Eucharistic Prayer I, in a ruling which came into effect on December 8, 1962.
Pope John Paul II was also keen to promote devotion to St. Joseph, and issued an apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos (“The Guardian of the Redeemer”), on the person and mission of St. Joseph in the life of Christ and His Church, on August 15, 1989. The Pope chose this date because it was the centenary of the issuance of the above-mentioned encyclical on St. Joseph by Pope Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries. In this, John Paul II expressed the conviction that, “by reflection upon the way that Mary’s spouse shared in the divine mystery, the Church…will be enabled to discover ever anew her own identity within this redemptive plan, which is founded on the mystery of the Incarnation.”
The Pope echoed the praise given to St. Joseph by Pope Leo in saying that it was inconceivable that the sublime task given to St. Joseph by God “would not be matched by the necessary qualities to adequately fulfill it,” and that, therefore, we must recognize “that Joseph showed Jesus by a special gift from heaven, all the natural love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know.”
Still more recently, in June 2013, Pope Francis further enhanced the status of St. Joseph in the Church by promulgating a decree to the effect that his name should be inserted into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV of every Mass.

Greater Fervor

A number of religious orders have been dedicated to St. Joseph, and there are also important shrines dedicated to the saint, including a shrine in Poland, at Kalisz, where a miraculous image of St. Joseph is housed.
In Britain, the National Shrine to St. Joseph is located at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Michael in Farnborough, 30 miles from London. Blessed Pius IX granted an indult in 1874 to Henry Cardinal Manning to crown a marble statue of St. Joseph, and this was done in the presence of the English and Welsh hierarchy.
In North America, Canada is blessed with St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, which was founded by St. André Bessette in 1904. He was canonized by Pope Benedict in October 2010, following a life of heroic virtue, and reports of many miraculous healings, which he attributed to St. Joseph. The first small chapel dedicated to the saint that St. André built was superseded by a larger church constructed in 1917, and finally from 1924 onward, the present large basilica was built.
All of the above show how important devotion to St. Joseph is, and indicate that Catholics should be turning to him with greater fervor in these trying times.

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(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk.)

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