March 12, 2021

Saint Joseph: Resources for devotion and reflection

Saint Joseph: Resources for devotion and reflection

When you hear “Saint Joseph,” what comes to mind? The image of an old man who died before Jesus began his public ministry? If you are from Italian heritage or from a parish that had an active Italian Catholic Federation, you might recall the tradition of Saint Joseph’s Table held on March 19. Or you might know the strange practice (or superstition!) of purchasing a small statue of Saint Joseph, digging a hole in the yard of the home or land you wish to sell/purchase, and burying him in the ground (upside down!), as a ritual gesture of beseeching his intercession for the sale/purchase of that property.

Whatever comes to mind, as a church musician you probably do not know too many hymns in honor of Saint Joseph. This is the month for us to explore that repertoire as Pope Francis, back on December 8, 2020 in his apostolic letter Patris Corde, declared this year as a special Year of Saint Joseph. With his feast day coming up on March 19, this blog entry will review various music resources that are available for your parish, suggest prayer activities for your choir, and conclude with some thoughts for your personal devotion and reflection until the year closes on December 8, 2021.

As ministers continually adjusting to pandemic protocols, you probably have not had time to read entire encyclical letters this past year. With the demanding season of Lent and preparations for Triduum, you have even less free time. But note that this letter, Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), is only about 12 pages in length. If you have never yet found time to read one of his encyclicals, this is an easy and accessible introduction to the thought and writing of Pope Francis. This letter would be appropriate for your spiritual reading during this month of March, which is traditionally set aside in honor of Saint Joseph. You can read and/or download the document here.

For Mass on that Solemnity of Friday, March 19, hopefully your pastor will allow more music than usual for a weekday Eucharist. (In some countries, this day is observed as one of the Holy Days of Obligation, as mandated in #1246.2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. But for the United States, the USCCB has removed this date, along with the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, from the list of obligatory days.) Your Breaking Bread 2021 has one hymn to Saint Joseph, #134, “Holy Patron, Thee Saluting.” The melody of this hymn, PLEADING SAVIOR, will hopefully be familiar to your assembly, which is appropriate since you might be doing this song only once during the year and they would already know the tune.

However, at my location, Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, CA, we will be using “A Just Man Honored from Above,” text by Genevieve Glen, OSB. In my reflection on the Apostolic Letter by Pope Francis, I found that Glen’s lyrics, in comparison to numerous other pious and traditional hymns, best mirror the various reflections that Pope Francis presents on Saint Joseph: A Beloved Father, A Tender and Loving Father, An Obedient Father, An Accepting Father, A Creatively Courageous Father, A Working Father and A Father in the Shadows. If you have the hymnal Journeysongs, you will find this hymn as #491. But in that hymnal, the text is matched with the tune JESU DULCIS MEMORIA. For my taste, having this text sung during this Year of Saint Joseph to a chant style D-minor melody is a bit too somber. OCP offers this hymn text paired to another tune, PROSPECT. With the triple meter, major key of F, “A Just Man Honored from Above” is a fitting match, especially for a solemnity in such a special year.

If you have Spirit & Song, unfortunately that resource does not include any songs in honor of Saint Joseph. If you are looking for something more contemporary, have a listen to Sarah Hart’s “His Name Is Joseph” from her collection Into These Rooms.

Additionally, Luke Mayernik’s “O How Faithful” is a wonderful hymn for the assembly and also offers an engaging SATB choir arrangement with parts for soloists.

If you wish to suggest a playful song to your religious education teachers for the feast day, refer them to “Joseph Was a Good Man” from More Stories and Songs of Jesus by Christopher Walker and Paule Freeburg, D.C.

Besides hymns and songs, consider chanting the traditional “Litany to Saint Joseph.” This can be found in the excellently prepared group of resources provided by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). One PDF has a summary of Pope Francis’ Patris Corde. Another has eight pages of various prayers to Saint Joseph, including the traditional litany, and for your easy reference, it also includes various collects from the Roman Missal that are associated to Saint Joseph. And one has a list of traditional devotions such as the Chaplet of the Seven Joys and the Seven Sorrows of Saint Joseph.

Here is a link to the Responsorial Psalm for St. Joseph’s Day and you can find the Gospel Acclamation for the Feast here

How can your choir — as a small faith community — celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph, even if you are not all able to attend liturgy together on March 19? Consider selecting some of the prayers found on the FDLC site. The USCCB website has a beautifully formatted PDF of a novena to Saint Joseph.

Send this novena (or some other prayer choices) to your choir members, encouraging them to pray these devotions together in their home prayer place and on their own schedule for those nine days. Each day’s entry is very brief, taking only a few minutes. Then on Friday night, come together via Zoom (or some other group video platform) and begin by singing one of the hymns listed above. Follow with a scripture reading from the lectionary text(s) for the day. Then some members might share a reflection on their meditative reading of Patris Corde. Some choir members might reflect upon the virtues of fatherhood or upon their own roles as a father in light of Pope Francis’ letter. Conclude with the sung litany, or another prayer to Saint Joseph as found on the FDLC resource pages.

For your ‘domestic Church’ consider having a family Blessing of Saint Joseph’s Table. You can find a sample prayer service on pages 140–141 of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, Revised Edition, published by USCCB. The custom is to bless bread, pastries and some other food, and a generous portion is set aside to be donated to the poor. Be sure to open with some singing. If you have small children in your household, the Walker and Freeburg song listed above would be engaging and can be sung a capella.

Finally, what about your own personal prayer? In these past two months, I have prayed to Saint Joseph more than any time of my life. Besides Saint Joseph being the patron saint of husbands and families, he is also the patron saint for a happy death (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1014). Although his death is not recorded in Scripture, there is a tradition that Joseph died with Mary and Jesus at his bedside and passed into eternal life so peacefully that he now intercedes for those who are close to death. In these past weeks, numerous friends have told me of a parent, relative or friend who was dying alone in a hospital bed from COVID-19. They could not be at their loved one’s side and might have only been able to glimpse the face of their father, mother, sibling or friend from the screen of tablet or computer, since they were restricted from entering the hospital. When they asked me to pray for them, I prayed to Saint Joseph, especially since Pope Francis mentions these months of the pandemic in the introduction of his Apostolic Letter. In the Patris Corde he also writes, “Consequently, every poor, needy, suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person is ‘the child’ whom Joseph continues to protect.”

Wednesday is the traditional day that the Church prays in honor of Saint Joseph. Spend a bit of your private prayer time, each Wednesday during these months of the Year of Saint Joseph, to pray for those who are dying alone from COVID-19 — be it parishioners, associates or those who have no one to pray for them. Ask Joseph to accompany them, and perhaps close by chanting the Litany of Saint Joseph, or singing verse three of “A Just Man Honored from Above,” or the prayer that Pope Francis himself wrote to conclude his letter, published on the 150th anniversary of Joseph being proclaimed as Patron of the Catholic Church (December 8, 1870):

Prayer to Saint Joseph

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
to you God entrusted His only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

Rufino Zaragoza, OFM
Rufino Zaragoza, OFM

Nurtured in Franciscan spirituality for more than forty years, Brother Rufino Zaragoza is one the leading experts on liturgical inculturation in the Church today. He publishes articles on Vietnamese Catholicism, pioneers multilingual song collections in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and prepares worship resources drawing from each of those traditions. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has a bachelor’s in church music from Mount St. Mary’s College and a master’s in theological studies from the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, California.