The image of St Joseph in the liturgy of the Office of Readings of the Feast of St Joseph the Worker

The image of St Joseph in the liturgy of the hours of the Feast of St Joseph the Worker is full of Josephological reflections.

In the hymn for the Office of readings Joseph of Nazareth is depicted as the man, who is last in the line that rose from David, King. Joseph is the recipient of the angel Gabriel to confide that God conceived this Child, Jesus Christ. In this hymn Joeph is called the  Guardian and foster-father of the Christ. For such an honour, and for the fact that he was Husband of Virgin Mary, he was chosen by our God! According to this hymn Joseph is the teacher who show[s] us Christian love.

The antiphons of the psalmody of the Office of Readings are full of rich biblical Josephological material. The first antiphon tells us that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; she will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. In the second antiphon we are told that when he awoke, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him, and took Mary as his wife. Whereas in the third antiphon Joseph left Nazareth and set out for the town of David called Bethlehem to register with Mary. In the first antiphon we have Joseph’s calling. In the second we have Joseph obeys the angel by taking Mary as his wife. Whereas in the third antiphon Joseph obeys once again the angel by transferring himself and his family from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the first enrolment (Luke 2:2).

The invitatory line just before the reading Joseph is presented as the just man who shall blossom like the lily. Yes! He Joseph shall flourish forever in the courts of our God.

In the light of the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, Joseph is the man of faith. Joseph is the one who experienced in his life the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. By his faith, Joseph could understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.  Like Abel, Joseph offered to God a sacrifice greater than one can imagine. Like Enoch, Joseph pleased God. Joseph, the just man, approached God by his faith. That is why he was rewarded by God whom he sought from his heart. Embracing Noah’s faith Joseph worked with reverence … for the salvation of his household. He gave his back to the world of sin and inherited the righteousness that comes through faith.  

On the example of Abraham’s faith, Joseph obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out …  By faith he sojourned in the promised land …  for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.  Like these great people who died in faith, Joseph too did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged himself to be stranger[] and alien on earth[]. In the light of these great people of faith, Joseph teaches us to desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called [Joseph’s] God, for he has prepared a city for [him].

In the responsory, which is taken from Romans 4:20,22 and James 2:22, Joseph is pictured as the man who never doubted God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. Hence, through faith he was counted as justified since not only faith was at work in his deeds, but also that by his deeds his faith became perfect.

What is the image of Joseph we get in the second reading of the Office of Readings of the feast of St Joseph the Worker? In the reading taken from the Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, nn. 33-34, we can see St Joseph in a really modern day light.

To begin with, here Joseph emerges as the one who, by his labor and abilities, … has always striven to improve the quality of his life together with that of Jesus and Mary. Joseph felt in his heart to improve the conditions of human living of his family. And, in doing that, he knew that he was keeping with God’s purpose. As man deeply embedded in the Jewish faith and religious tradition of his fathers, Joseph also knew very well that man, created in God’s image, has been commissioned to master the earth and all it contains, and so rule the world in justice and holiness. As a man of faith Joseph felt called to acknowledge God as the creator of all, and to see himself and the whole universe in relation to God, in order that all things may be subject to man, and God’s name be an object of wonder and praise over all the earth.

Englightened as he was by the Holy Spirit, Joseph understood that even the most ordinary activities of everyday life he was called to be holy. With an extremely generous and conscientious heart, Joseph did his best to maximise his personal efforts [to] promote the work of the Creator, confer benefit on [his] fellowmen, and help to realize God’s plan in history. Joseph was a man that was deeply convinced that convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the effect of his wonderful providence. Marvelled himself at the skills God gave him Joseph understood that his responsibilities are wider in scope. Guided by the Holy Spirit, in his working daily activity, Joseph felt that his was the obligation to work for the objectives of building up of the world and safeguard by his industrious activity the good of others, starting of course from Jesus and Mary.

The responsory sings Joseph laborious spirit since it likens him to the man put by God in the garden of Eden to cultivate the garden and care for it. Yes! From the beginning of time, this has been [Joseph’s] lot. Let us pray to the Father so that, in Jesus’ Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, helps us, on the example and protection of St Joseph, to do fulfil the works he planned for us to execute, and in so doing attain eternal life. 

O God, Creator of all things, who laid down for the human race the law of work,
graciously grant that by the example of Saint Joseph and under his patronage we may complete the works you set us to do and attain the rewards you promise. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap