TAN Books and Publishers
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
Book II: The Blessed Sacrament the Devotion of Catholics
THE FOSTER-FATHER AND HIS CHILD
VIEW AN IMAGE OF ST. JOSEPH
FROM Mary to Joseph the transition is natural and easy. The mysteries of St. Joseph rise up like a beautiful cloud of incense from the Sacred Infancy. He belongs wholly to it. We know nothing of him except in relation to it. It seems the one end for which he was created and so wonderfully sanctified, the one work which God gave him to do. He is altogether detached from the Passion. It does not even cast shadows over him beforehand as it does over the Mother of Sorrows. Nay, even before Jesus has left the Holy House for the toil of His Three Years' Ministry, Joseph has been taken to his rest. Worn out with Divine love, he has died in a sweet ecstasy, pillowed on the bosom of Jesus, and with Mary by his side, in the very lap of all that was most beautiful and most holy and most heavenly on earth. No thought of violence mingles with the memory of his peaceful though anxious offices. The Blood of the Circumcision was his Gethsemane and his Golgotha. His early life is lost in obscurity, and of his boyhood we can form no idea, beyond what is supplied by a vision of Sister Emmerich. But who can doubt that all was a preparation for the great office to which God appointed him?
Who can doubt that all was forming and consecrating him as the foster-father of the Word made flesh? Belonging, as he does, exclusively to the Sacred Infancy, we shall not be surprised to find that the spirit of devotion to him is the spirit of devotion to the Sacred Infancy; and that with two additions of the most touching sort. First of all he seems to represent ourselves in the Cave of Bethlehem, the Sojourn in Egypt and the House at Nazareth. All the intimacy and familiarity to which the Infant Saviour vouchsafes to give us right and title by His Incarnation, all the minute ministries of tenderness and devotion which He condescends to receive from us, all the daring joy which His infantine infirmities cause in our hearts, and all the trembling adoration which the nearness of His hidden Divinity demands from us,-----all these things Joseph is there to receive and to pay, to feel and to show, as it were in our behalf. He is there as the representative of all the future generations of the faithful, especially of those whose hearts are drawn by a singular attraction to these first mysteries of Jesus.
But, secondly, St. Joseph is in Bethlehem, Egypt, the Wilderness, and Nazareth, as the shadow of the Eternal Father. This is the immensity of his dignity. The incommunicable and ever-blessed Paternity of the Father is in figure communicated to him. He is the foster-father of Jesus. To the world without he passes for his father. He exercises the authority of a Father over Him, and performs for Him the affectionate and anxious offices of a Father. Nay, in His Human Nature our Lord is subordinate to Joseph, whereas in His Divine Nature He never could be subordinate to the Eternal Father. The unspeakable treasures of God, Jesus and Mary, are committed to St. Joseph's keeping; and he is himself a treasure, as well as the treasure-house of God. He is part of the scheme of redemption. Like Jesus and Mary, he has his types and forerunners and prophecies in the ancient Covenant. He assists God in keeping the mystery of the Incarnation secret; and as the representative of the Eternal Father, he is to us in his attendance upon the Holy Child a perpetual memorial of His Divinity. By his very office, by that in Heaven which he adumbrates, he reminds us at every turn that the Babe is Very God of Very God. Thus while he teaches us the greatest familiarity, he also teaches us the greatest distance. While he encourages us to come near and kiss, he bids us also fall down upon our knees and adore profoundly the hidden majesty of the new-born Eternal. Thus Heaven and earth meet in him at Bethlehem, in his double office of representative of the Eternal Father and representative of faithful Christians. What wonder theologians should tell us such great things of his copious graces and his mighty gifts? What wonder the faithful should believe 17 that with him the resurrection of the just had been anticipated, that he was one of those who walked the streets of Jerusalem at Easter in his risen body, and that he had borne it with him into heaven, when he went up as part of our Lord's equipage and retinue on the Thursday of the Ascension?
What a gift it was which Jesus gave to His Church in this tender and sublime devotion! Already had the doctrine of our Blessed Lord been fixed and ascertained. Out of the treasures of her apostolical tradition the Church had met every heresy, and by the infallibility of Peter's chair had ratified the Councils and defined the true dogmas about the Person and Natures of Jesus. Not only was the reality of His Sacred Humanity established, and the singleness of His Person, and the unconfusedness of His Natures, and the duality of His Wills, but magnificent truths about His Soul and the Faculties of His Soul and the method of the Hypostatic Union had been laid down, and left to the faithful as so many prolific fountains of glorious theology. But one thing above all was clear. The unapproachable heights of His true Godhead rose beyond a question before the eyes of all men. From the professor in his chair to the child in his catechism-class, none could now doubt that dogma without knowing that they were not Catholics. But while all this was being evolved, the depths of apostolical tradition had been sounded again and again about the dignity of the Mother of God. In securing the honour of the Son, the old Churches had been interrogated, and the voices of Peter, Paul, and James, and John, had given oracles that wrapped the Son round in His Mother's honour. And as the noise and dust of all these conflicts with heresy settled down,-----clear to the eyes of all, as it was to St. John in the island of Patmos, rose the gorgeous vision of the Woman, the Mother of the Man-Child, with twelve stars around her head, and the moon beneath her feet. Thus the adoration of Jesus and the devotion to Mary had taken their places immovably in the sense of the faithful and in the practical system of the Church, one shedding light upon the other, and both instructing, illuminating, nourishing, and sanctifying the people.
But there was still one more of the "earthly trinity," as it is called. Devotion to St. Joseph lay as it were dormant in the Church. Not that there was anything new to be known about him, or any fresh revelation to be made of him. He belonged exclusively to the Sacred Infancy. The beginning of St. Matthew's Gospel contained him. By two evangelists he had been left in complete silence, and the third had barely named him in the genealogy. Tradition held some scanty notices of him; but they had no light but what they borrowed from St. Matthew. All we have now of St. Joseph was there then; only the sense of the faithful had not taken it up; God's time was not yet come. The sense of the faithful was not like the complete science of the apostles. It was not equal to it: it had to grow to it, to master it, to fill it out with devotions, to animate it with institutions, to submit to it as a perfectly administered hierarchy. But God's time came for this dear devotion; and it came like all His gifts when times were dark and calamities were rife.
Beautiful Provençe! it rose up in the west from your delightful land, like the cloud of delicate almond blossom that seems to float and shine between heaven and earth over your fields in spring. It rose from a Confraternity in the white city of Avignon, and was cradled by the swift Rhone, that river of Martyr memories, that runs by Lyons, Orange, Vienne and ArIes, and flows into the same sea that laves the shores of Palestine. 18 The land which the contemplative Magdalen had consecrated by her hermit life, and where the songs of Martha's school of virgins had been heard praising God, and where Lazarus had worn a mitre instead of a grave-cloth, it was there that he, who was so marvellously Mary and Martha combined, first received the glory of his devotion. Then it spread over the Church. Gerson was raised up to be its doctor and theologian: and St. Theresa to be its saint; and St. Francis of Sales to be its popular teacher and missioner. The houses of Carmel were like the holy house of Nazareth to it, and the colleges of the Jesuits its peaceful sojourns in dark Egypt. The contemplative took it up and fed upon it: the active laid hold of it, and nursed the sick and fed the hungry in its name. The working people fastened on it, for both the saint and his devotion were of them. The young were drawn to it, and it made them pure; the aged rested on it, for it made them peaceful. St. Sulpice took it, and it became the spirit of the Secular Clergy. And when the great Society of Jesus had taken refuge in the Sacred Heart, and the Fathers of the Sacred Heart 19 were keeping their lamps burning ready for the resurrection of the Society, devotion to St. Joseph was their stay and their consolation, and they cast the seeds of a new devotion, to the Heart of Joseph, which will some day flourish and abound. So it gathered into itself orders and congregations, high and low, young and old, ecclesiastical and lay, schools and confraternities, hospitals, orphanages and penitentiaries, everywhere holding up Jesus, everywhere hand in hand with Mary, everywhere the refreshing shadow of the Eternal Father. Then when it had filled Europe with its odour, it went over the Atlantic, plunged into the damp umbrage of the backwoods, embraced all Canada, became a mighty missionary power, and tens of thousands of savages filled the forests and the rolling prairies at sundown with hymns to St. Joseph, the praises of the foster-father of our Lord. 20
But what has this to do with the Blessed Sacrament? Much every way. For this same sense of the faithful, nay the voice of authority also, have marked this devotion as a special one for priests, and that simply because of their relation to the Blessed Sacrament. Of the small number of devotions to St. Joseph which have been indulgenced by the Holy See, two are for priests only. [See the Roman Raccolta.] The one to be said before mass speaks "not only of seeing and hearing Jesus, but of carrying Him, kissing Him, clothing Him and taking care of Him," and then says, "O God, who hast given unto us a royal priesthood, grant that as Blessed Joseph deserved reverently to touch with his hands and carry Thine Only-begotten Son born of the Virgin Mary, we too may so serve at Thine altars;" and again in the collect called "The Efficacious Prayer," also indulgenced by Pius VII for priests only, St. Joseph is spoken of as the keeper of the Virgins Jesus and Mary, and the models of our ministration to Them both. But look at the parallel between St. Joseph and the Catholic priesthood. Was he the steward of God's House? so are they. Was he the dispenser of God's Gifts, as the Church calls him? so are they. Was he the keeper of the Bread of life? so are they. Did he handle, carry, lift up, and lay down the Body of Jesus? so do they. If Jesus was subject to him, so is He, and even more wonderfully, to them. If he kissed Jesus, they may not be so bold, but they kiss the paten where He lay yesterday, and is to lie today. If he washed and clothed Jesus, they in this must stand a little further off, and wash the sacred vessels and napkins, and clothe His pyx, and veil His tabernacle, and adorn His flower-girt throne. What are exposition, procession, benediction, communion, locking and unlocking the tabernacle, carrying the Blessed Sacrament to the sick, but so much imitation of what Joseph did to the Child Jesus? Only that what was his solitary prerogative, now belongs to multitudes of priests, and that the mystery of consecration is a kingdom of wonders, beyond our sight into which the shadow of Joseph cannot reach, but where Mary, and the Holy Ghost, and the great primeval work of Creation, alone come with their similitudes. But the inventive genius of Christian art in its aptest and most felicitous inspirations could find no picture of what we do with the Blessed Sacrament more accurate or more comprehensive than the mysteries of Joseph. Thus the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament meets and takes up the two great devotions to Mary and Joseph, in its connection with the Sacred Infancy to which they both belong. It was to be expected beforehand from the nature of things that the Blessed Sacrament would be the universal devotion of the Church; and therefore we need not be surprised at these various traces of peculiar connection between it and the other devotions of the Church. They show us how far special devotions are from being mere prettiness and ornaments of the Catholic system, and how irreverent it is in temper, and un theological in mind, to contrast them with other things, as if those only were solid and fruitful, these empty and merely odoriferous at the best. They all hang together. Orthodox doctrine is bound up with them, and the honour of Jesus implicated in them; and the mortification which is anything better than the austerity of a stoic or a fakir, is that which comes from the loving imitation of Jesus, and from it alone.
17. Suarez de Mysteriis.
18. Another account is that the west borrowed it from the east, and that it was imported into the Latin from the Greek Church by the Carmelites.
19. See Vie du P. Varin. p. 37.
20. The Bishop of Buffalo, Mgr. Timon, told me that when he laid the foundation-stone of his new cathedral in that city, all his schoolchildren were gathered round him, and at his bidding sang the Oratory hymn to St. Joseph.