|Mosaic of St. Joseph from the chapel of John VII in|
the original St. Peter's Basilica
Were this not Lent, we could speak of today as a "vigil" of the traditional feast of St. Joseph, foster-parent of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For this marvelous place he occupied in the Divine plan for salvation, Joseph is remembered in the liturgy of the Roman Church on March 19th. St. Joseph for the longest time stood in the background of salvation history and the Church's theology. Why, then, did the Church see an unmitigated upsurge in devotion to St. Joseph?
We cannot deny devotion to St. Joseph multiplied many fold in the 19th and 20th centuries, often at the behest of Rome and Spanish bishops devoted to the Holy Family. Not all examples of devotion to Joseph are created equal. In the Roman rite, St. Joseph was added to the Suffrages of Lauds and Vespers. Pius IX declared him "Patron of the Universal Church" and gave him a feast day under this title affixed to the third Sunday after Pascha. Although a new feast, it was an excellent feast based on the typology of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph of Egypt. The Mattins readings are from Genesis and the antiphons recall the exile into Egypt of Joseph, his belated calling to the Lord, his longing to the Pharaoh, and, in the case of the New Testament Joseph, his return from Egypt. This rich feast had to die so Joe the Communist could live (and unionize!).
New churches often sported side altars and shrines based on the Holy Family devotion rather than ancient or local saints. The main altar and tabernacle graced the center of the church flanked to the left by an altar or shrine to the Virgin and a twin to the right for St. Joseph. Art began to depict Joseph, contrary to tradition, as a virile young man with a receding hairline. Books like The Life and Glories of St. Joseph by Fr. Edward Healy Thompson sprang up positing that St. Joseph was immaculately conceived and a greater saint than John the Baptist(!). As with most devotions and traditions, recent or ancient, interest in St. Joseph ended in the 1960s, aside from a few traditionalist communities where he remains a figure.
To tell us more the fascinating arc of St. Joseph and his place in the Church's history is our first additional contributor under the new format. His pseudonym "J" tells us precious little about him, but worry not, for his Traddiness has vetted J. He is a Catholic in Texas, a parishioner at the FSSP church in the area, a literatus with a strong passion for good literature, a healthy cynic, and a pipe-smoker. He intends to post his first article tomorrow. Stay tuned!