St. Joseph: patron of a Happy Death

By Father Jordan Hainsey:

One of St. Joseph’s traditional titles is patron of a Happy Death. Now that may immediately sound sharp to the mind or heart, leading us to ask: “Just what is so happy about death?” “My mother just died of a stroke.” “My brother was in a terrible accident.” “I lost a close friend in the middle of the pandemic.”

For each of us, when death hits home it’s anything but welcomed or happy.

The term “happy” though when we call upon St. Joseph as the patron of a Happy Death, does not connote the emotion of being glad or even cheerful. It points to something deeper. It’s more about being at peace, being faith-filled, hope-filled.

When Jesus teaches the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they…”, the Greek word he uses is “makarios” — happy. “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!” (Matt 5:3-10). This should be consoling to us — God doesn’t discern whether or not he will comfort us in sorrow, but rather promises he will do it. He promises that — if we are happy — that is, if we are faith-filled, hope-filled in those times — he will utterly transform and redeem the situation and ourselves.

Many traditions hold that Joseph died in the presence of Jesus and Mary, in their very arms. The most popular account of this is from a 17th century mystic nun named Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda. From her vision she recounts:

“Then this man of God (Joseph), turning toward Christ, our Lord, in profoundest reverence, wished to kneel before Him. But the sweetest Jesus, coming near, received him in his arms, where, reclining his head upon them, Joseph said: ‘My highest Lord and God, Son of the eternal Father, Creator and Redeemer of the World, give thy blessing to thy servant and the works of thy hand; pardon, O most merciful King, the faults which I have committed in thy service … I extol and magnify Thee and render eternal and heartfelt thanks to Thee for having, in thy ineffable condescension, chosen me to be the spouse of thy true Mother; let thy greatness and glory be my thanksgiving for all eternity.’ The Redeemer of the world gave him his benediction, saying: ‘My father, rest in peace and in the grace of my eternal Father and mine; and to the prophets and saints, who await thee…’ At these words of Jesus, and reclining in his arms, the most fortunate St. Joseph expired and the Lord himself closed his eyes.”

Church mural work, mosaics, and statuary particularly from the 19th and 20th centuries further popularized this scene, concretizing it in the Catholic artistic tradition for centuries to come. When Bishop Maes planned the stained glass for the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, a window depicting this very scene would come to life in the north transept, closest to the 12th, 13th, and 14th Stations of the Cross — a placement not by accident. Bishop Maes was clearly connecting the theme of death to the happy, blessed hope of resurrection.

The tradition of the death of St. Joseph is pious and worthy of much prayer and meditation, but for us it shouldn’t matter if Joseph’s death occurred exactly as Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda relates it, or in a less idyllic way than our Catholic artistic imagination has made it out to be. The core message and truth of Joseph’s death, and his title of patron of a Happy Death, is that he died a blessed, a happy death because Jesus and Mary were at his side. He died with the Savior of the World and the God-Bearer by his side.

Joseph’s holy death reflected his holy way of life. Joseph, the just and upright man, lived his whole life loving and serving Jesus and Mary, through obedience to God’s will. That is what Joseph can teach us and do for us when we pray to him and entrust our friends and loved ones who are close to death, or who have gone before us. His intercession can be the help we need on the pathway to heaven — the place of ultimate blessedness, hopefulness, and happiness.

St. Joseph, pray for us now and at the hour of our death!

St. Joseph: images, signs and symbols

“The Presentation of Christ,” 5th century, Triumphal Arch, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger contributor.
Christianity has used symbols from its very beginnings. Think of the fish (ichthys) made by two intersecting arcs. It stood for Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Aside from the theological overtones of the Eucharist and the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, it was a secret symbol used to identify one’s self as a Christian. The fish pointed to a deeper reality — an identity.
The same is true of saints in artwork. How they look, what they hold, how they are dressed and even the colors they are shown in are highly symbolic, revealing their identity. Much of the information that comes down to the Church in this regard comes from her Hagiography, the body of literature that describes the lives of saints and their cult tradition.

“St. Joseph and the Christ Child,” 1620s, Guido Reni.

In the early days of the Church, St. Joseph appeared only in images related to the Nativity, drawing on scriptural references. In the 5th-century arch mosaic at Rome’s church of Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Joseph is young, bearded and garbed as a Roman.
Other depictions came to be derived from the “Protoevangelium of James” — a 2nd-century work, not part of the Christian biblical canon. Artists following this tradition depicted St. Joseph as an old man, grey and balding. By the 16th century though, artists were returning to more youthful depictions.
Joannes Molanus, a Catholic theologian during the Counter Reformation, worked to make the Council of Trent’s “decrees on sacred images” the marching orders for a generation of artists to follow. Molanus advocated that it was far more appropriate to show St. Joseph as a young man — one capable of restraining his carnal urges, one fit enough to take his wife and child into Egypt, and one strong enough to support them with his labor as a craftsman.
Neither visual tradition has remained a constant though. St. Joseph continues to be shown old and young, from statues to holy cards. He is almost always shown though carrying a flowering staff of lilies. It alludes to the flowering rod of Aron (Numbers 17) and a miraculous account from a 13th century hagiographical work titled “The Golden Legend.” Garbed in brown, the color of earth, and green, the color of new life, the robes of St. Joseph evoke the ideas of humility and hope.

“The Chaste Heart of St. Joseph,” 2013, Giovanni Gasparro.

The Diocese of Covington has chosen “The Chaste Heart of St. Joseph” by Giovanni Gasparro as its image for the Year of St. Joseph. Born in 1983, Gasparro is a young artist from Bari, Italy. Gasparro draws on the traditional iconography of St. Joseph while offering a contemporary depiction that is accessible to the faithful of today. The strength of St. Joseph’s character extended to all aspects of his life and person — including his heart.
With his whole being illumined by God, Gasparro depicts St. Joseph’s heart on fire with the love of God, and a flowering staff points to his purity. Together the heart and staff remind the viewer that purity of heart lies within reach, thanks to the grace of God and the intercession of Joseph.
However an artist depicts St. Joseph, the point is the same: to draw the faithful into contemplation of the man at the heart of the Incarnation story, the man Pope Francis has called a “minister of salvation.”

Q&A: Indulgences in the Year of St. Joseph

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger Contributor.

The “Year of St. Joseph” was proclaimed by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2020 and extends to December 8, 2021. It honors the 150th anniversary of Pope Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as the “Patron of the Universal Church” (“Quemadmodum Deus”). Special plenary indulgences have been granted “to perpetuate the entrustment of the whole Church to the powerful patronage of the “Custodian of Jesus.”

Q: What is an indulgence?

A: An indulgence is the remission, in the eyes of God, of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. The English form of the word indulgence comes from the Latin word <<indulgentia>>, meaning an act of kindness or tenderness.

Q: Who can get it and how is it used?

A: A person seeking an indulgence must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace when performing the work of the indulgence. A person must formulate a sincere intention of gaining the indulgence before doing the work associated with it.

An indulgence can be applied to oneself or a deceased person (but not another living person). Gaining a plenary indulgence on behalf of a deceased person is a great act of mercy because it makes atonement for the punishment they are experiencing in purgatory, allowing them to be more quickly ushered into heaven. The atonement is only possible because of the merits of Christ’s salvific work of the Cross; in an indulgence, we are simply asking that those merits be applied to a loved one in need of them.

If the indulgence is for yourself, you are working toward the remission of the temporal punishment for sins that, if left unremitted in this life, you will have to work toward in purgatory.

Q: What are the Conditions required for an indulgence, particularly in the Year of St. Joseph?

A: A plenary indulgence is granted under these usual conditions: 1) sacramental confession; 2) Eucharistic communion; 3) praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

In the Year of St. Joseph, the Apostolic Penitentiary (the Vatican tribunal responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Church) directs the faithful to participate in one of the devotions to St. Joseph in order to obtain the plenary indulgence:

— Meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Our Father.

— Participate in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.

— Perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy.

— Recite the holy rosary in families (engaged couples can also receive an indulgence from praying the rosary together).

— Entrustment of daily work to the protection of St. Joseph and to all believers who invoke, with their prayers, the intercession of St. Joseph.

— Pray the Litany of St. Joseph or some other prayer to St. Joseph, particularly for the persecuted Church and for the relief of all persecuted Christians.

— Pray any approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph especially on:

– March 19, Solemnity of St. Joseph;

– May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker;

– Dec. 26, Feast of the Holy Family;

– The Sunday of St. Joseph (according to the Byzantine tradition);

– The 19th day of every month;

– Every Wednesday (the day dedicated to the memory of St. Joseph in the Latin tradition).

The elderly, the sick and the dying who are unable to leave their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic also have special permission to receive an indulgence by “offering with trust in God the pains and discomforts” of their lives with a prayer to St. Joseph, hope of the sick and patron of a happy death.

Q: What is the time frame for the indulgence requirements?

A: The three requirements of confession, Eucharist, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father must be met several days before or after the particular St. Joseph devotion is completed.


Tangible reminders: The relics of St. Joseph

Reliquary of the cloak of Saint Joseph and the Veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sant’Anastasia, Rome.

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger Contributor

Holy relics are the physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with our Lord. First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh. Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book. Third class relics are those items that have been touched to a first, second or another third class relic. Relics are meant to be honored and venerated, never worshipped. By honoring the memory of the saints and martyrs, their bodies, and their belongings, we give thanks to God for their holy witness.

Of all the Church’s saints, the only two of whom the Church possesses no first class relics of are the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. The Church attributes the lack of bodily relics of the Virgin Mary to her Assumption into heaven, both body and soul — a dogma pronounced by Ven. Pope Pius XII in his 1950 apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus.” Regarding St. Joseph, while there is no dogmatic proclamation about him being assumed into heaven after his death, many saints piously believed that the Lord did for him just as he had done for the Virgin Mary (Cf. the writings of St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, and Pope St. John XXIII).

The Church and her tradition venerate several relics related to St. Joseph: the wedding ring given by him to the Virgin Mary (Perugia, Italy); his belt (Joinville, France); his staff (Camaldoli, Italy); and his cloak (Rome, Italy). The cloak relic of St. Joseph traveling to the parishes of the Diocese of Covington was obtained by Bishop William T. Mulloy, 6th Bishop of Covington, in 1950 and taken from Rome’s principal cloak relic.

Tradition holds that the cloak of St. Joseph was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century. It was deposited in an altar niche in the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia where it has remained and been guarded for veneration.

Whether a relic is first, second, or third class, the purpose is the same: to be physical, tangible, concrete reminder that heaven is obtainable for us. In the presence of holy relics, and particularly the one of St. Joseph, we recall the saints’ holy lives and pray for the grace to achieve what they’ve achieved — eternity with God in heaven.