In recent centuries, popular religiosity and the teaching of the Popes have increasingly recognized the importance of Saint Joseph in the life of the Church. How can we explain this phenomenon? What do the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Doctors, theology and the Magisterium of the Church say about the virgin father of Our Lord? Many persons have averred that there is little or nothing to talk about saint Joseph; however, this mentality is false. There is much to be said about this man who was the chaste Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the Holy Family, the Protector of the Church, etc. Many popes have already stated that, after the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph is the greatest of all saints. An example is seen in the first Papal encyclical on Saint Joseph: “Quemadmodum Deus” of Pope Pius IX. The Blessed Pope declared: “Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honoured and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.” Saint Joseph has been present since the beginning of the history of Christianity, it is evident.
However, devotion to his figure has been more widespread in the last two hundred years, as numerous documents, encyclicals, decrees and speeches were issued by the popes, who are, to a large extent, the greatest disseminators of devotion to the guardian of the Redeemer. First, Blessed Pius IX, in 1870, proclaimed Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, through the Decree ‘Quemadmodum Deus,’ on December 8, 1870. Then he established the liturgical feast, the office and the liturgical privileges of Saint Joseph, through the Apostolic Letter ‘Inclytum Patriarcham,’ of July 7, 1871. From reading these documents, it is clear that Pope Pius IX was motivated to recognize Saint Joseph as patron of the Church because he was the protector of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, historically, when the papacy was attacked, the Popes promoted devotion to Saint Joseph. Thus, it is difficult not to notice a providential correlation between these two phenomena: The attack on the Church and the Body of Christ and the choice of Joseph as protector refers to the attack against Jesus and the Holy Family, when Joseph was also chosen by God as his protector.
Then Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical ‘Quamquam Pluries,’ on August 15, 1889, proposing Saint Joseph as a model for Christian families, a model of husband and father. Pope Benedict XV, shortly after the First World War, published the Motu Proprio ‘Bonum Sane,’ on July 25, 1920, exhaling devotion to St. Joseph and giving it as a spiritual solution to post-war problems. On the other hand, Pope Pius XI, who lived the transition between the two wars and the beginning of the second, in the encyclical in which he deals with communism, ‘Divini Redemptoris,’ of March 19, 1937, proposed Saint Joseph as a model for workers, for workers. Until then, there was no liturgical feast of St. Joseph the Worker and it was only Pius XII who, in 1955, instituted the feast, which was born to impose a barrier to the wave of communism. Pope John XXIII, in 1961, at the gates of the Second Vatican Council, declared that St. Joseph would be the “Heavenly Protector” of the Council in his Apostolic Letter ‘Le voci.’ Pope John Paul II made his famous Apostolic Exhortation ‘Redemptoris Custos,’ on August 15, 1989, which is a masterpiece of spirituality about Saint Joseph.
It is obvious that Pope Benedict XVI, being “Joseph” by baptism, has a great devotion to St. Joseph and it was he who prepared the introduction of the name of St. Joseph in the Eucharistic prayers in the Roman Missal after the Vatican Council II; recall that Pope John XXIII introduced the name of Saint Joseph in the Roman Canon. Then, it fell to Pope Francis, in May 2013, to officially approve the introduction of the name of Saint Joseph in the Roman Missal. Pope Francis’ devotion to Saint Joseph is so great that he ordered the sleeping image of Saint Joseph in Buenos Aires be taken to Rome. This image may seem strange, because it is common to see him standing, with the Baby Jesus on his lap or in activity, but it explains itself, because Sacred Scripture teaches that it was through dreams that he learned about the Lord’s designs. Above all, Pope Francis’ recent document on St. Joseph: ‘Patris Corde’ speaks a lot of the fatherly heart of St. Joseph with which he loved his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, the Holy Father recognizes all those who, like St. Joseph, have made sacrifices for the good of others in a silently active manner.
Therefore, each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. All of these documents indicate that the Church recognizes St. Joseph’s indispensable position in our salvation history as the faithful Father of the Redeemer, who gave Him His ancestral and social recognition as the Son of David in the Jewish society; as the chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave her a dignity as wife and worthy Mother of the Messiah, yet a virgin, and as a worthy example to all Christians following the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.