For the protection of St Joseph on the Second Vatican Council
Pope John XXIII – 1961
“For the protection of St Joseph on the Second Vatican Council”
- The voices that come to us from all the points of the earth, in an expression of joyful expectation of hope for the happy success of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, continually stimulates Our spirit ever more to take advantage of the willingness of many simple and sincere hearts to turn with tender spontaneity to invoke heavenly aid, an increase in religious fervor, and clarity of direction for all that the conclusion of the council assumes and promises to increase the inner life of the Church and the social and the spiritual renewal of the world.
- And so here we encounter, at the appearance of the new spring of this year and at threshold of the sacred Pascal Liturgy, the gentle and amiable character of St. Joseph, the kingly husband of Mary, so dear to the hearts of souls who are more sensitive to the attractions of Christian asceticism and its expressions of religious piety, reserved and modest, but much more pleasant and friendly.
- In the cult of the Holy Church, Jesus, Word of God made Man, immediately had as His own the incommunicable glory of the nature of His Father, Who radiates in the glory of the Saints. Mary His mother, was followed closely from the first centuries in the representations in the catacombs and basilicas, piously revered as Sancta Maria mater Dei. However, while his figure occasionally appears here and there in the writings of the Fathers, Joseph, in his characteristic concealment, remained for centuries and centuries almost as a decorative figure in the tableau of the Savior’s life.. And it took some time for devotion to him to enter into the eyes and hearts of the faithful and awaken in them a singular favor of devotional prayer and trusting abandonment. Such were the pious effusions of joyful fervor reserved for the modern age: Oh! how abundant and magnificent! Among these, We take pleasure in looking at a particularly important and significant characteristic.
St. Joseph in the documents of the Popes of the last century
- Amongst the various ideas the Fathers of the First Vatican Council 1 presented to Pius IX, the first two were related to St. Joseph. First, the request to have his name inserted into the sacred liturgy had the signatures of 153 bishops. The other, signed by 43 superior generals of religious orders, asked for the solemn proclamation of St. Joseph as “Patron of the Universal Church.” 2
- Pius IX joyfully welcomed both requests. At the beginning of his pontificate, 3he set the feast and Mass for the patronage of St. Joseph as the third Sunday after Easter. Already by 1854, in a vibrant and devout speech, he pointed to St. Joseph as the safest hope of the Church, after the Blessed Virgin, and on December 8, 1870, at the Vatican, interrupted by political events, he took the happy coincidence of the feast of the Immaculate Conception to solemnly and formally name St. Joseph as “Patron of the Universal Church” and to raise the March 19 to the status of a double first class feast. 4
- On that December 8, 1870, it was this brief but lovely and admirable decree given Urbi et Orbi, truly worthy of the Ad perpetuam rei memoriam, that has opened a store of rich and beautiful inspirations for the successors of Pius IX.
- And here, indeed, on the Feast of the Assumption in 1889, the immortal Leo XIII, published the letter Quamquam pluris, 5 the most comprehensive and extensive document a pope had ever issued in honor of the putative father of Jesus; it highlighted his characteristics as the model of families and workers. And this document also gave birth to the beautiful prayer, “To you, Blessed St. Joseph,” whose sweetness suffused much of Our childhood.
St. Pius X
- The holy pontiff Pius X added to those of Pope Leo many expressions of devotion and love for St. Joseph, gladly accepting the dedication he made in a treatise 6 that set out his cult, multiplying the treasury of indulgences attached to the recitation of his Litany, so dear and so peaceful to say. How well the words are that he used for this award! “Our Holy Lord Pius X exalts the illustrious putative father and patriarch St. Joseph, husband of the Pure Virgin Mother and powerful patron of the Catholic Church before God” 7 – and see that delicacy of personal feelings – “the glorious name is learned from birth and is a constant of piety and religion.” This decree also announced the reasons for the new favors attached to “the cult of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.” 8
- During the first great European war, after the eyes of Pius X had closed to life in this world, providentially came Pope Benedict XV, who was a blessed star of universal consolation during the painful years from 1914 to 1918. He, too, quickly rushed to promote the cult of the Holy Patriarch. Indeed, to him we owe the introduction of two new prefaces in the Canon of the Mass, specifically to St. Joseph and the Mass of the Dead, these actions taking place in two decrees issued on the same day, April 9, 1919, 9 as a reminder of the union and fusion of pain and comfort between the two families: the celestial family of Nazareth and the immense human family burdened by universal bewilderment at the many victims of the devastating war. What a sad but, at the same time, sweet and happy marriage: St. Joseph on the one hand and the “standard bearer St. Michael” on the other, both in the process of presenting the souls of the departed to the Lord “in the holy light.”
- The following year, on July 25, 1920, Pope Benedict XV returned to this subject for the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation by Pius IX of St. Joseph as “Patron of the Universal Church.” He used this occasion to illuminate it with theological doctrine in the motu proprio Bonum Sane, 10 which is full of singular tenderness and natural confidence. Oh, how humble and resplendent the benign figure of the saint who is invoked by Christians as the protector of the Church militant, helping them in the revival of their best spiritual and material reconstruction even after so many calamities. As a consolation to many millions of victims dealing with human agony, Pope Benedict XV wanted to recommend to the bishops and numerous pious associations throughout the world the intervention of the protection of St. Joseph, patron of the dying!
Pius XI and Pius XII
- Following the same path of fervent devotion to the holy patriarch, the last two popes Pius XI and Pius XII – both of ever dear and venerated memory – succeeded in living and uplifting a lively and edifying reminder to fidelity, exhortation, to elevation.
- On at least four occasions during speeches at the canonizations of new saints and on the Feast of March 19 (for example in 1928, later in 1935, and in 1937), Pius XI took the opportunity to celebrate the various lights that adorned the character of the spiritual guardian of Jesus, chaste husband of Mary, the pious and humble worker in Nazareth, and the patron of the universal Church, who provides such a powerful shield of protection against the efforts of world atheism, which seeks the dissolution of Christian nations.
- Pius XII also took the same fundamental tone as his predecessor in many speeches, all of which were so beautiful, vibrant, and happy. For instance, on April 10, 1940, 11 when he called young married couples to place themselves under the safe and gentle mantle of the husband of Mary, and in 1945, 12 When he told the members of the Association of Christian workers to honor Joseph as the high example and invincible defender of their ranks, and ten years later, in 1955, 13 when announcing the establishment of the annual Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Indeed, this feast of recent institution, attached to May 1, abolished the second Wednesday of the week after the octave of Easter, while the traditional celebration of March 19 marked henceforth the most solemn and final date of the patronage of St. Joseph on the universal Church.
- The same Pope Pius XII was pleased to adorn the crown on the precious breast of St. Joseph with a fervent prayer full of tender devotion for the priests and faithful from around the world, and whose recitation was enriched by many indulgences.. It is a prayer of a highly professional and social character, as befits those who are subject to the law of labor, which is for all a “law of honor, peaceful life, and a holy, immortal prelude to happiness.” Among other things, the prayer says, “Stay with us, O St. Joseph, in our times of prosperity, when all invites us to enjoy the fruits of our honest efforts, but more importantly, stay with us and sustain us in those hours of grief when it seems that the sky is closing in on us and even the instruments of our work appear to escape from our hands.”14
- Venerable Brothers and dear children, we felt it appropriate to also offer these reminders of history and religious piety for the devout consideration of your souls, formed in the delicacy of Christian and Catholic feeling and living, on this day of March 19, when the Feast of St. Joseph coincides with the beginning of the Passion and prepares us for an intense encounter with the mysteries of the most moving and salutary sacred liturgy. The provisions that prescribe the veiling of the images of the crucifix, of Mary, and of the saints during the two weeks of preparation for Easter are an invitation to an intimate gathering and sacred communication with the Lord through prayer and a meditation that should be assiduous and ardent. The Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints are awaiting our confidences, and it is quite natural that they seek what may be that which best corresponds to the requests of the universal Catholic Church.
The expectation of the Ecumenical Council
- The center and prominent position of this concern is without doubt the Vatican Council, the expectation of which is now in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus the Redeemer, they belong to the Catholic Church our Mother, or some of the various confessions separated from it, in which, however, there are many eager for a return to unity and peace, according to the teaching and prayer of Christ to the Father in Heaven. It is quite natural that this evoking of the voices of the Popes of the last century is designed to advance the cooperation of the Catholic world toward the successful outcome of the grand design of order, peace, and spiritual elevation to which an Ecumenical Council is called.
The Council in the service of all souls
- Everything is great and worthy of consideration in the Church Jesus established. In the celebration of a council is gathered the priests and the most outstanding personalities of the Church who are endowed with rich gifts of theological and legal doctrine, organizational skills, and high apostolic spirit. The picture of a council is seen thusly: The Pope at the head and, around him and with him, the Cardinals and bishops of every rite, highly competent doctors and teachers across different gradations and specialties.
- But the Council is intended for all Christian people who are interested in that most perfect flow of grace, of Christian vitality that makes easier and faster the acquisition of the truly precious gift of this life and ensures the wealth of endless ages.
- Therefore, everyone—clergy and laity, young and old from all over the world, of all classes, races, colors—is interested in the council, and if they identify a heavenly patron to implore that divine power from above in its preparation and development, which seems destined to mark an epoch in the history of the contemporary Church, none of the celestial patrons can be better trusted than St. Joseph, august head of the Family of Nazareth and protector of the Holy Church.
- Listening again to the echoing words of the Popes of the last century of our history, as we did, yet how the distinctive accents of Pius XI moves us, because of his thoughtful and quiet manner of expression! We recall a speech we heard on March 19, 1928, with a reference that he did not know would not remain silent in honor of “dear and blessed St. Joseph,” as he liked to call him.
- “It is suggestive,” he said, “to look closely and, as it were, see how two great figures, joined at the beginning of the Church, shine side-by-side: First, St. John the Baptist, who arose from the desert, sometimes with a voice of thunder, and other times with a mild sweetness, sometimes like a roaring lion, and others like a friend who enjoys the glory of the bridegroom, and who offered the whole world the wonderful splendor of his martyrdom. Then the sturdy figure of Peter, who hears the Divine Master’s magnificent words: ‘Go and teach all over the world,’ and to him personally: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.’ This was a great mission, divinely rich and resounding.”
- Thus spoke Pope Pius XI and with a voice in which rang through his love he continued: “And between these two great men, between these two missions, there appears the person of St. Joseph, who also has a mission to fulfill, but who passes collected, silent, almost unnoticed and unknown in all humility and silence, a silence which was broken, however, by a shout, crying, ‘Glory forever!’”15
- O Saint Joseph, invoked and revered as a protector of the Second Vatican Council! Venerable brothers and beloved sons of Rome, brothers and beloved children all over the world, it is to this point that we want to lead you by sending you this apostolic letter on the very day, March 19, when the celebration of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church could excite your souls by moving them to an extraordinary revival of zeal, to a participation in a more intense, ardent, and continuing prayer for the concerns of Holy Church, mother and teacher, teacher and director of this extraordinary event, the twenty-first Ecumenical Council Vatican II, of which all the world’s media is following with keen interest and respectful attention.
- You know very well that work in the first phase of organization of the council continues in a peaceful, industrious, and active way. Hundreds of the most distinguished prelates and clergy, from all over the world, are divided and sorted into different sections, each given to his noble work by following the valuable information contained in a number of impressive volumes that reflect the thought, experience, and the suggestions made by the intelligence, wisdom, vibrant apostolic zeal of what constitutes the real wealth of the Catholic Church in the past, present, and future. To bring its task to a happy end, the Ecumenical Council only requires the light of truth and grace, disciplined study and silence, serene peace of minds and hearts. This much is up to us humans. From above comes the divine assistance with which the Christian people should intensively cooperate by prayer, by straining to live an exemplary life that is prelude and proof of the determination by each of the faithful to apply its teachings and guidelines that will be proclaimed after the successful conclusion of the great event that is now in happy and hopeful progress.
- Venerable brothers and dear sons! The luminous thought given by Pope Pius XI on March 19, 1928, is with us still. Here in Rome, the sacred Lateran Cathedral always shines with the glory of St. John the Baptist, but in the great temple of St. Peter, where precious memories are venerated throughout Christendom, there is also an altar to St. Joseph, and I propose on this day, March 19, 1961, that the altar of St. Joseph be faced with new splendor, made broader and more solemn, and become a point of attraction and religious piety for every soul and the countless multitudes. It is under the celestial vault of the Vatican basilica that they will gather in rows around the head of the Church to make up the Apostolic College from all points of the globe, even the most remote, to the Ecumenical Council.
- Glorious St. Joseph! Here, here is your place as “Protector of the Universal Church.” We wanted to convey to you through the words and documents of our immediate predecessors of the last century, from Pius IX to Pius XII, a crown of honor to echo the testimony of affectionate veneration that are now raised from all Catholic nations and all mission regions. Always be our protector. Let your inner spirit of peace, silence, work, and prayer in the service of Holy Church always cheerfully enliven us, and we rejoice in union with your holy spouse, our sweet and Immaculate Mother, the most steadfast and gentle love of Jesus, the glorious and immortal King of ages and peoples. Amen!
Given in Rome at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, March 19, in the third year of our pontificate. Pope John XXIII.
* Please note: This is an unofficial English translation.
- Acta et Decreta Sacrorum Conciliorum recentiorum, Collectio Lacensis, vol. VII, pp. 856-857. 856-857
- December 10, 1847
- Quemadmodum Deus, December 8, 1870.
- Acta Leonis XIII PM, Rome, 1880, p. 175-180
- Epist, ad RP A Lepicier OSM, 12 February 1908, Acta Pii X, PM, Rome, 1914. p. 168-69
- AAS I  p. 290
- Decr. S. Congr. Rit., July 24, 1911; AAS III , pp. 350-351
- AAS XI , pp. 190-191
- July 25 1920, AAS XII , p. 313
- Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di S. S. Pio XII, vol. II pp. 65-69
- AAS, vol. XXXVII , p. 72
- AAS, vol. XLVII , p. 406
- ibid. vol. XX, p. 535
- Discorsi di Pio Xl, vol. I, p. 780