St. Joseph and the Prayer of the Mass, The Anchor, July 5, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting into the Deep
July 5, 2013

Priests in general aren’t supposed to like liturgical abuses, but I remember one that happened back in the Great Jubilee of 2000 that I very much appreciated.

It took place during a huge Mass with Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. I can’t remember whether it was on March 19 during a special Mass for craftsman or May 1 during the Mass Jubilee for workers — both feast days of St. Joseph.

I had been asked to distribute Holy Communion that day and was standing behind the main altar with all of the other priests and deacons with ciboria of hosts that the Pope had just consecrated.

When it got to the first concelebrant’s part of Eucharistic Prayer III, the Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano began to pray in Latin that the Holy Spirit make of us an eternal offering to the Father so that we might obtain an eternal inheritance with all God’s chosen ones.

He then invoked “especially with the Blessed Virgin Mary,” and added, “and with St. Joseph her spouse,” a phrase excised from words Blessed John XXIII added to Eucharistic Prayer I back in 1962.

As soon as he had said, “cum Sancto Ioseph, eiusdem Virginis sponso,” I looked up somewhat startled because the Latin cases were totally different from what’s used in Eucharistic Prayer I. That’s when I caught that he had added John XXIII’s expression to Eucharistic Prayer III.

After the novelty of the change wore off, my second reaction was that not only was it beautiful that St. Joseph was invoked on his feast day but invoked in his relationship to the Blessed Virgin.

I remember hoping that Cardinal Sodano’s liturgical “abuse” — presumably with the consent of the Pope who has control over the mutable parts of the liturgical prayers — would become a “use” extended to the Holy Church, because I thought it was great that he was invoked specifically under that title of the Virgin Mary’s Spouse.

Thirteen years later I got my wish.

On June 19, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments made known that at the behest of Pope Francis an explicit invocation of St. Joseph should now be added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV, starting immediately. It has been a joy praying the Mass through his intercession since.

The decree specifically mentioned St. Joseph’s having been chosen as “guardian over God the Father’s most precious treasures,” his only begotten Son and the mother he chosen to conceive, bear, love and raise that Son. Pope Francis was entrusting to him the greatest treasure given to the Church, that same Christ, even more vulnerable in the Eucharist than he was in Mary’s womb or in the Bethlehem manger.

Pope Francis revealed his devotion to St. Joseph as guardian in the homily at his inaugural Mass. He said that just as Joseph was faithful to caring for Mary and helping Jesus, he likewise protects the Church, which is not only exemplified by Mary but contains all of the children entrusted to her by her Son upon the Cross.

“How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?,” Pope Francis asked.

“By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. … Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others.”

The Church needs St. Joseph’s example of guarding God’s most precious treasures and the help of his intercession.

One of those priceless treasures is the presence of Jesus in the Mass. Many Catholics take the Eucharist for granted, by not coming to receive Jesus, by receiving him unworthily, by failing to live in a truly Christian way with Jesus in the Eucharist as the source and summit of their lives. St. Joseph teaches us how to relate to Jesus, to welcome him in silence and to protect his presence within. He reminds us how to be attentive and obedient to the Word of God we hear and how to relate our union with Christ to the work we’re called to do.

Another lesson he teaches us is how to protect others, especially the young and vulnerable. I believe that devotion to St. Joseph helps the men of the Church become manly, courageous, dutiful protectors rather than conflict-adverse wimps incapable of being good shepherds who will risk and give their lives for others. If there had been a vibrant devotion to St. Joseph in the Church over the last 40 years, I can’t believe that the clergy sex abuse scandals would have become as pervasive as they did. St. Joseph teaches priests and everyone in the Church how to love chastely and shows leaders of the Church how to protect innocent children from those seeking to do harm.

For both of these reasons, it’s no surprise that Pope Francis, who was elected to reform the Church, is in a sense entrusting the reform of the Church to St. Joseph, ensuring that the people of God cannot forget him at any Mass from this point forward.

That impact is of course somewhat dependent on Catholic priests’ and faithful’ treating this change not just as the addition of a few words, but as a sincere and meaningful prayer inserted into the heart of the greatest prayer of all.

In traditional Catholic devotion, one of the most common invocations with regard to the foster father of the Lord has been “Ite ad Ioseph,” “Go to Joseph,” from words originally said about the patriarch of the same name in the Book of Genesis (Gen 41:55).

Pope Francis by this change is saying to the whole Church, “Go to Joseph,” each Mass, so that together with the Blessed Virgin his Spouse, we may learn how to embrace every liturgy the same Jesus whom they once with love held in their arms.