The Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on March 19th. This is only one of the important titles of St. Joseph in the Catholic Church which are: 1) the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary; 2) the Foster-Father of Jesus; 3) the Worker; 4) the Patron of the Universal Church; and 5) the Patron of a Happy Death.
St. Joseph’s role as the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is well-illustrated in the story from Matthew’s Gospel where St. Joseph becomes aware of Mary’s pregnancy after they had been recently married. Saint Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” (Mt 1:18-19). Saint Joseph as “a just man” quietly displayed his loyalty to his beloved Spouse and the Sacrament of marriage despite the difficult circumstances. Saint Joseph’s willingness to keep this quiet, may have been a key to the plan of the Incarnation, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that if Joseph had disclosed Mary’s pregnancy, she may have been stoned by Jewish law and, thus, been unable to give birth to the Savior.
St. Joseph as the Foster-Father of Jesus is clearly portrayed in the painting shown above titled “Father and Son” done by American artist Corbert Gauthier. This print hangs in the vestibule of St. Joseph’s Church in Tobias, NE and shows St. Joseph displaying care and guidance as the Foster-Father of Jesus. The painting also illustrates admirable traits of St. Joseph as “the Worker” in that he is showing Jesus a carpentry skill using a hand plane to shape a piece of wood. The boy Jesus exhibits His attendant humanity in diligently working at the labor being taught by St. Joseph.
The title of St. Joseph the Worker is rooted in a reference from Saint Matthew’s Gospel which reads, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55) This notion was further expanded over the centuries including in a Greek document called “History of Joseph the Carpenter” written in the 5th century. In addition, several Popes have written about the dignity of work and Saint Joseph’s model as a worker – including Pope Pius XII who in 1955 declared May 1st as the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker.
St. Joseph was proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church on December 8th, 1870 by Blessed Pope Pius IX. In the proclamation, Pope Pius IX wrote that because of the “sublime dignity which God conferred on His most faithful Servant, the Church has always most highly honored and lauded the Most Blessed Joseph next after his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has implored his intercession in all her great necessities.”
Although the death of Saint Joseph is not discussed in the Bible, he is revered as the Patron of a Happy Death. It is believed that this designation arose from Saint Joseph’s own happy death scene where with the knowledge that his full life was lived in such an obedient and just way, he did not have any guilt or regrets at his death bed and went happily to the Lord.
The titles of St. Joseph are part of the Litany of St. Joseph which has been approved and slightly adapted (from the original 1909 publication) by the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In May 2021, in honor of the Year of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis added seven new invocations to the litany.
Litany of St. Joseph
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
God our Father in heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us. (repeat at end of each phrase)
Illustrious son of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Guardian of the Redeemer,
Pure Guardian of the Virgin,
Provider for the Son of God,
Zealous defender of Christ,
Servant of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph, most just,
Joseph, most chaste,
Joseph, most prudent,
Joseph, most brave,
Joseph, most obedient,
Joseph, most loyal,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model for workers,
Glory of family life,
Guardian of virgins,
Cornerstone of families,
Support in difficulties,
Comfort of the sorrowing,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of exiles,
Patron of the afflicted,
Patron of the poor,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of the Holy Church,
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, hear us O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
God made him master of his house,
and ruler of all his possessions.
Let us pray.
O God, who in your inexpressible providence were pleased to choose Saint
Joseph as spouse of the most holy Mother of your Son, grant, we pray, that we,
Who revere him as our protector on earth,
may be worthy of his heavenly intercession.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.
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Ante-Nicene Fathers. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages. History of Joseph the Carpenter. Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D. and James Donaldson, LL.D. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI.
Catholic News Herald – http://www.catholicnewsherald.com/faith/181-news/faith/faith-march/354-solemnity-of-st-joseph-celebrated-on-march-19
Catholic World Report – https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/12/18/st-joseph-a-just-man-and-a-sure-guide-during-advent/
Divine Mercy Gift Shop – painting of “Father and Son” – https://divinemercygiftshop.org/store/go/registry/4437/
History.com – https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-may-day
National Catholic Register – https://www.ncregister.com/blog/st-joseph-the-worker-on-may-1-and-every-day
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – https://www.usccb.org/prayers/litany-saint-joseph
St. Thomas Aquinas, The childhood of Christ. Edited by Roland Potter, Cambridge University Press, 2006.