Adding Saint Joseph to the other three main Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite is part of a new development in devotion to the husband of the Blessed Virgin. I have been wondering what this seemingly random act of the Pope should mean for us. Maybe a little background will help.
In the scriptures Saint Joseph gets only a little ink. In Saint Matthew’s Gospel he is listed at the end of the genealogy as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but not the father of Jesus. Saint Matthew also has the complicated narrative about Saint Joseph and his dreams, first to take Mary as his wife and then with regard to the flight and return from Egypt. That’s about as good as it gets for the saint, as Saints Mark and John don’t mention him at all in their Gospels. Saint Luke has the famous passage about his role in the birth of the Messiah, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus,” but that’s about it, except for the oblique reference to him when they ask how Jesus could be such a powerful teacher.
Joseph’s fame really took off in the 15th century, when he was finally given the feastday of March 19. His feastday became especially important in Italy, where to this day “Saint Joseph Tables” are prepared. Accounts that had him dying in the arms of Jesus led to the popular attribution of Saint Joseph as the patron of a happy death. Epidemics of influenza caused a corresponding increase in devotion in the early 20th century. All of these influences taken together may have led Blessed John XXIII to add his name to the Roman Canon—what we call Eucharistic Prayer I—and now led Pope Francis to do the same for Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.
A couple of things should encourage us. First, we don’t have to be at the centre of the action to play an important role in life. Whether it is in our family, at school, work or with our friends, just showing up and being supportive is valuable. Second, thinking about how our lives will end is natural, and so hearing Saint Joseph invoked each week at Mass should give us that momentary reminder that God is with us all the moments of our lives, from today until God calls us home. So a lot of positive energy might come from this act of good Pope Francis.
—Glenn Byer, Associate Publisher