In my last blog article, “In Struggles We Find Hope,” I reflected on my recent reading of St. Joseph and His World by Mike Aquilina (New York: Scepter Publishers. 2020). Continuing on the theme of the Year of St. Joseph called for by Pope Francis (Dec. 2020-December 2021), today I would like to reflect on the “Litany of Saint Joseph” and some of the titles ascribed to him. To do so I will use Leonard J. DeLorenzo’s new book, Model of Faith: Reflecting on the Litany of Saint Joseph (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor. 2021).
The Litany of St. Joseph was first promulgated by the Holy See in 1909. On May 1, 2021, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published an updated version with seven new invocations (see https://www.usccb.org/prayers/litany-saint-joseph). DeLorenzo’s book went to publication prior to this. Therefore, it does not directly include the seven new invocations which are Guardian of the Redeemer, Servant of Christ, Minister of salvation, Support in difficulties, Patron of exiles, Patron of the afflicted, and Patron of the poor. The complete updated version of the litany can be found at https://www.usccb.org/prayers/litany-saint-joseph.
To reflect on this litany we should first begin by reflecting on the purpose of a litany. DeLorenzo writes, “The Litany of Saint Joseph takes us down a path of contemplation. We are led to contemplate the titles and honors of Joseph, husband of Mary and the custodian of the Incarnate Word. To contemplate Joseph requires that we contemplate the mysteries of God” (14). We study and reflect on St. Joseph not simply to know Joseph. St. Joseph points us to God. For St. Joseph, God is what we seek. Knowing St. Joseph so that we can follow his example helps us to be better disciples.
To help us understand the St. Joseph of the Gospels, who is the adoptive father of Jesus, DeLorenzo compares him to the Joseph of the Old Testament who was the son of Jacob, from whom comes the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Both Joseph’s father was named Jacob.
Both were guided by God through dreams. In Genesis 37:5, we hear of the dream of the Old Testament Joseph. In chapters 40 & 41 of Genesis, we hear how he interpreted the dreams of others. In Matthew 1:20-25, 2:13-15, and 2:19-23, we hear of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus, being guided by dreams.
The Joseph of the Old Testament was able to rescue God’s people during a famine. As DeLorenzo writes, “Joseph, son of Jacob of Mary and foster father of Jesus, fulfills the role of his namesake under whose custodianship all of Israel, and indeed the whole world was saved from ruin” (18).
Now I turn to the invocations found in the Litany of St. Joseph. I will not be reflecting on all of them. Here I offer some thoughts on the invocations that struck me during this reading. One of the beauties of litanies with several invocations is that different invocations can strike us in different readings. This keeps our prayer alive in subsequent readings.
I begin with the invocation/title, “son of David.” God had promised that the Messiah would come from the house of David. In my previous article, “In Struggles We Find Hope” I shared Aquilina’s description on the importance of the genealogy). In that article, I also included Aquilina’s words on the importance of identity and memory.
St. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. So, he did not pass to Jesus his biological genes. DeLorenzo describes what St. Joseph did give to Jesus as he writes, “Joseph gave his household but not his genes or his blood” (21). DeLorenzo continues, “Joseph gives to Jesus as his inheritance the nobility that Joseph possesses by his own birth” (21). He goes on to say of Jesus, “But from Joseph he also received the customs of his people, this particular place in the history of Israel, and a share in the kinghood of David, whose kinghood he himself would redeem” (22). Speaking of Mary, DeLorezno writes, “She knows that Joseph did not play a part in the conception of her son, and yet she names him “father”” (37). To be a father is not simply a matter of biology. A father gives his son more than biological genes.
Another invocation in the litany is “Spouse of the Mother of God.” By his example, St. Joseph demonstrates what it means to be a husband. As DeLorenzo writes, “To Joseph alone was the responsibility give to hold her who held God…to wed himself to who wed herself in faith and flesh to the Word of God, Joseph accepted a vocation that required nothing less than every bit of who he was” (30). To St. Joseph being the spouse of Mary was not one minor part of his life. It defined his life along with being the father of Jesus.
Joseph is also known as the “Guardian of the Virgin.” As guardian, “Joseph not only respected and revered his wife’s virginity; he also respected and revered his his own” (DeLorenzo, 33). In doing so he was, yet another invocation of the Litany, “most chaste.” To be chaste is not a matter of having sex or not. To be chaste is to respect the other’s as well as one’s own body. (For more on being chaste, see my article, “Chastity and Sexuality”.)
As head of the household, Spouse of Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer, “Joseph was meek enough to serve and yet bold enough to command the first earthly kingdom of the everlasting King” (DeLorenzo, 34). He led the household not as its dictator (see Ephesians 5:21-33) but, rooted in love, as its servant. There lies yet another invocation from the litany, “Servant of Christ.”
Joseph was willing to do anything for Mary and Jesus. Thus, as the Guardian of the Redeemer, he took his family and fled to Egypt (see Matthew 2:13-15). Thus, St. Joseph is a role model for all husbands and fathers. “Like his Creator, Joseph would not seek to dominate and control, but to nurture, and shelter and love” (DeLorenzo, 51).
This points us to two more invocations/titles. Joseph was “most obedient” to God and “most loyal” to God and to his family. Here DeLorenzo writes, “Commanding his influences means that Joseph exercised the discipline and the wisdom to decide what would influence him and what would not” (57). Which are you most influenced by? God or the world?
St. Joseph was patient in doing the Lord’s will. “Patience is discipline and creativity: the disciple to refrain from acting too quickly and the creativity to create the time and space for something new” (DeLorenzo, 62). Are you patient in waiting for the Lord?
Ultimately, what was the fruit of St. Joseph’s hands? DeLorenzo writes, “The fruit of Joseph’s hands was not exhausted in the woodwork he produced; indeed, the formation of the Son of the Most High was the ultimate work of Joseph’s life” (70). If you are a parent, what do you were as your ultimate work?
These are my thoughts in my current reading of the Litany of St. Joseph. I encourage to you read it and pray over it. You can find it online at https://www.usccb.org/prayers/litany-saint-joseph.
St. Joseph, pray for us, that we follow your example in dedicating ourselves to doing the Lord’s will. We especially ask that all fathers and husbands be inspired by your example.