The Virgin's Most Chaste Spouse
This church was founded c.336 by Pope St Mark in honour of his patron, the evangelist, and it ranks as one of the oldest in Rome. It stands on the site where the pope lived and was called the Titulus Pallacinae; the relics of the pontiff lie under the altar here, with the bodies of the holy martyrs Abdon and Sennen. The current building dates to the 8th century and was rebuilt by Pope Gregory IV. Cardinal Albino Luciani who was elected as Pope John Paul I in 1978 was titular cardinal of this Stational church. When I was in Rome for the World Youth Day in 2000, my friends and I congregated outside this church for several hours awaiting the commencement of the Via Crucis sitting on millenia-old marble blocks from Roman ruins!
Today's Solemnity presents Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mother's "most chaste spouse" (cf The Divine Praises) and the foster-father of the Lord, as the divinely appointed Protector of the Church. He is the just man whose soul is ever turned towards God and is filled with His blessings, so that it becomes strong and mighty as a cedar of Lebanon. Humbly and faithfully fulfilling his noble and delicate task of caring for the Holy Family of Nazareth, St Joseph is our model for the virtues of family life and daily duty, the protector of purity and the Christian home. We are in need of his example and patronage more so today than ever before.
St Joseph's cult was slow in developing. His feast was introduced in different places at different times and on different days; it was fixed during the 15th century on 19 March, which was believed to be the anniversary of his death. In 1621 Pope Gregory XV extended its observance to the whole Church. In 1870 Pope Blessed Pius IX solemnly proclaimed him to be Patron and Protector of the universal Church, having already instituted the feast of his Patronage in 1847. Finally in 1962, Pope Blessed John XXIII inserted St Joseph's name into the Roman Canon. Pope John Paul II also wrote a wonderful Apostolic Exhortation in 1989 called 'Redemptoris Custos' about this great saint.
In an age when fathers are very much absent in families, when men neglect their children, when children are so desperately in need of a father-figure; in an era when young men no longer value nor know the meaning of chastity, when chastity within the married life is seldom practiced; in a time when traditional family life is constantly being undermined and trusting faith in God is declining, this "righteous man" (Mt 1:19) stands as a beacon for all and an example to follow.
So, with fulsome praise, let us celebrate this holy day and honour the memory of St Joseph!
The following is the 17th-century Vespers hymn, Te Ioseph celebrent, by Cardinal Jerome of Casanate whose library of some 25,000 volumes was left to the Dominicans in Rome in 1700. The hymn has been translated into English but utilizes the same meter as the Latin, which is rather marvellously called 'asclepiadic glyconic':
While Christendom's sweet choirs the gladsome strains repeat,
To tell thy wondrous fame, to raise the pealing hymn,
Wherewith we all thy glory greet.
When doubts and bitter fears thy heavy heart oppressed,
And filled thy righteous soul with sorrow and dismay,
An angel came, the wondrous secret told,
And drove thy anxious griefs away.
Thy arms thy new-born Lord, with tender care embrace:
Him then to Egypt's land thy watchful care doth bring;
Him, in the Temple's courts once lost, thou dost regain
And 'mid thy tears dost greet thy King.
Not till death's pangs are o'er do others gain their crown,
But Joseph, unto thee the blessed lot was given
While life yet did endure, thy God to see and know,
As do the saints above in heaven.
Grant us, great Trinity, for Joseph's holy sake,
In highest bliss and love, above the stars to reign,
That we in joy with him may praise our loving God,
And sing our glad eternal strain. Amen."
May St Joseph obtain for God's Holy Church the blessing and protection of the Triune God and may he intercede for us that we may follow his way of prefect faithfulness, love and chastity.
The illustration above of St Joseph is from the Archives of Ushaw College in Durham and is based on the Carrera marble statue of the saint found in the one of the College chapels.