by Father Francis Weiser, The Holyday Book
Up to the fifteenth century our Lord’s foster father was not honored by a special feast of the Church, and people did not generally venerate him, although many ancient Fathers and writers mentioned him with reverence and high regard. It was only at the time of the Crusades that a practice of private devotion to Saint Joseph spread from the Eastern Churches into Europe.
This devotion was greatly encouraged by some saints of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, especially Saint Bernard (1153), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1274), and Saint Gertrude (1310).
At the end of the fourteenth century the Franciscans, and soon afterward the Dominicans and Carmelites, introduced a Feast of Saint Joseph into their calendars. Finally, under Pope Sixtus IV an annual feast of the saint was established on March 19 for the whole Church.
It was, however, a feast of the lowest rank (simplex), imposing no obligation on the clergy to celebrate it. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries many religious orders and some national rulers, especially the Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain, appealed to the popes to raise the feast in rank and make it a prescribed holyday.
Accordingly, Pope Gregory XV in 1621 made it a holyday of obligation. Pius X in 1911 rescinded the obligation of attending Mass, though it was later restored by the new Code of Canon Law in 1918.
In a short time the veneration of the saint quickly and enthusiastically spread through all Catholic nations. Saint Teresa (1582), who had a special devotion to him, inspired the reformed Carmelites to establish a feast of the “patronage” of Saint Joseph, which was annually celebrated by the order on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast was extended in 1847 to the whole Church.
In 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly declared Saint Joseph as the official patron of the universal Church. In 1956 the feast of Saint Joseph’s patronage was replaced by a Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, to be celebrated annually on May 1.
The popular patronage of Saint Joseph is universal in scope. The words of the Egyptian Pharao, “Go to Joseph” (Genesis 41, 55), were applied to him. Filled with affection, love, and confidence, the faithful turned to him in all their temporal and spiritual needs.
Every detail of his life gave rise to a special patronage. He is the patron of tradesmen and workers, of travelers and refugees, of the persecuted, of Christian families and homes, of purity and interior life, of engaged couples, of people in temporal distress (food, home, clothing, sickness), of the poor, aged, and dying.
It was a widespread custom in past centuries for newlywed couples to spend the first night of matrimony (Saint Joseph’s Night) in abstinence and to perform some devotion in honor of Saint Joseph that he might bless their marriage.
Small round breads (St. Joseph’s loaves; fritelli) are baked and eaten in many sections of Europe on March 19 to honor the heavenly “bread father.”
From the seventeenth century on it was customary to have a statue of the saint on the table during the main meal and to “serve” it generous portions, which afterward were given the poor.
In northern Spain it is an ancient tradition for people to make a pilgrimage to a shrine of Saint Joseph on March 19 and there to have a special repast after the devotions. This meal consists of roast lamb, which is eaten, picnic style, outside the shrine in the afternoon (Merienda del Cordero; Repast of the Lamb). For this occasion the faithful who make the pilgrimage and then partake of the meal are dispensed from the law of Lenten fast.
In the region of Valencia on the east coast of Spain a strange and interesting tradition developed—the burning of fires in honor of Saint Joseph. It is said to have been started by the carpenters in past centuries, when they cleaned their workshops before March 19 and burned all the litter on the evening of their patron’s feast.
Today, committees are established which collect and exhibit at street crossings structures made of wood by boys and men during the weeks before the feast. These structures represent houses, figures, scenes, many of them symbolic of some political event of the past year. They are admired and judged by the people, and on the eve of Saint Joseph’s Day the best one receives a prize and is put aside. All the others are burned in joyful bonfires.
Music, dancing, and fireworks (traca) are a part of this celebration in honor of Saint Joseph. In some parts of Italy ancient nature lore rites are still performed on Saint Joseph’s Day, the “burial of winter,” for instance, which is done by sawing a symbolic figure (scega vecchia) in two.
In central Europe the day is celebrated by farmers as the beginning of spring. They light candles in honor of the saint, put little shrines with his picture in their gardens and orchards, and have their fields blessed by the priest.
LITURGICAL PRAYER • Assist us, 0 Lord, we beseech Thee, by the merits of the Spouse of Thy most holy Mother, that, what of our-selves we are unable to obtain, may be granted us by his intercession.
The Daily Practice of Adopting an Unknown Dying Soul
This daily practice, so simple, so helpful should appeal to every Catholic. One soul saved each day means 365 each year. What a rich harvest of souls to present unto God. St. James says: “He who causeth a sinner to be converted….shall save his own soul from death.”
“If every night, before we went to sleep,” says Father Faber, “we begged our dear Lady to offer up to God the Precious Blood of her Divine Son for grace to hinder one mortal sin somewhere in the world, during that night, and then renewed the same offering in the morning of the hours of daylight, surely such an offering, and by such hands, could not fail to win the grace desired, and then each one of us might hinder numbers of mortal sins every year.”
A PRAYER FOR THE DYING AND A SPECIAL SOUL
O MOST MERCIFUL JESUS, lover of souls, I beseech Thee, by the agony of Thy most Sacred Heart, and by the sorrows of Thine Immaculate Mother, wash clean in the Thy Blood the sinners of the whole world who are to die this day. Remember most especially the soul I spiritually adopt with the intention of entrusting him or her to Thy Shepherd’s care:
I beseech Thee for the grace to move this sinner, who is in danger of going to Hell, to repent. I ask this because of my trust in Thy great mercy.
If it should please Thy Majesty to send me a suffering this day in exchange for the grace I ask for this soul, then, it, too, shall please me very much, and I thank Thee, Most Sweet Jesus, Shepherd and Lover of Souls; I thank Thee for this opportunity to give mercy in thanksgiving for all the mercies Thou hast shown me. Amen.
Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have mercy on the dying.
(1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary, 1 Glory Be)
Here, Baroness Maria Augusta Trapp tells in her own beautiful, simple words the extraordinary story of her romance with the baron, their escape from Nazi-occupied Austria, and their life in America.
Now with photographs from the original edition.
Most people only know the young Maria from The Sound of Music; few realize that in subsequent years, as a pious wife and a seasoned Catholic mother, Maria gave herself unreservedly to keeping her family Catholic by observing in her home the many feasts of the Church’s liturgical year, with poems and prayers, food and fun, and so much more!