“The month of March is consecrated to Saint Joseph, and each year, on March 19, the Church solemnly celebrates the feast of this great Saint. Patron and protector of the Universal Church, Saint Joseph is also the first patron of Canada, designated by Heaven from the beginning of the colony. In effect, Saint Joseph manifested himself to Blessed Mary of the Incarnation in a prophetic dream, as ‘the guardian of this place’ (Canada).”

“Saint Joseph is one of the greatest Saints after the Blessed Virgin. During this month, we celebrate the wonders that God worked in His great servant. He was chosen among all others on earth to be the foster father of the Redeemer and the virginal spouse of the Blessed Virgin. Saint Joseph is not the father of Jesus according to nature, but as His foster father, he is still His real father.”

Father John Gregory of the Trinity

Feastday March 19

Saint Joseph

Virginal Spouse of the Mother of God

by Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes

When the Son of God came down to earth to take on our humanity, He needed a Mother; that Mother could be none but the purest of virgins, and the divine maternity was not to alter Her incomparable virginity in any way.  Until the Son of Mary would be acknowledged as the Son of God, His Mother’s honor required a protector:  a man was therefore called to the ineffable glory of being the Spouse of Mary.  That happy mortal, that most chaste of men, was Joseph.

Saint Joseph avec Enfant-Jésus

Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus – ODM pinxit

Heaven designated him as the only one worthy of such a treasure, when the rod he held in the Temple suddenly flowered, as if to give a tangible fulfillment to the prophetic oracle of Isaiah:  There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.(1)  The wealthy candidates for the hand of Mary were dismissed, and Joseph sealed a covenant with the daughter of David which surpassed, in love and purity, all that the Angels had ever known in heaven.

Being chosen to protect the Mother of the Incarnate Word was not the only glory of Joseph; he was also called to exercise an adoptive paternity upon the Son of God Himself. During the time that the Holy of holies was still shrouded in a cloud of mystery, men called Jesus the son of Joseph, son of the carpenter; and Mary — in the Temple, in the presence of the doctors of the law whom the divine Child had just surprised by the wisdom of His questions and answers — spoke thus to Her Son: Your father and I have been looking for You in bitter anguish.(2)

And the Holy Gospel adds that Jesus was subject to them, that He was subject to Joseph just as He was to Mary.

Who could conceive and fittingly relate the sentiments which filled the heart of this man, whom the Gospel depicts for us with a single word, calling him a just man?(3)

– A conjugal affection whose object was the holiest and most perfect of the creatures of God.

– The heavenly notification given by the Angel, which revealed to this happy mortal that his Spouse bore within Her the fruit of salvation, and which associated him as the unique earthly witness to the divine work of the Incarnation.

– The joys of Bethlehem when he was present at the birth of the Child, honored the Virgin Mother and heard the angelic concerts.

– When he saw the humble, simple shepherds who came to find the newborn Babe, soon followed by the wealthy Magi from the East.

– The anxiety which quickly interrupted so much happiness, when in the middle of the night he had to flee into Egypt with the Child and His Mother.

– The rigors of that exile, the poverty, the denudation which a hidden God suffered while he was His foster father, and the virginal Spouse whose sublime dignity he understood more and more.

– The return to Nazareth, the humble, laborious life he led in that town, where his tender gaze so often contemplated the Creator of the world taking part in common work with him.

– Finally, the delights of his unparalleled life in the bosom of the poor house embellished by the presence of the Queen of Angels and sanctified by the majesty of the Eternal Son of God, both deferring to Joseph the honor of being the head of the family, which by the fondest bonds gathered around him the Uncreated Word, the Wisdom of the Father, and the Virgin, the incomparable masterpiece of the power and holiness of God.

No, never could any man in this world comprehend all the greatness of Joseph. To understand it, one would have to compass the entire extent of the mystery with which his earthly mission put him in relation as a necessary instrument. Thus we are not surprised that this Foster Father of the Son of God was prefigured in the Old Testament under the features of one of the noblest Patriarchs of the chosen people.

Saint Bernard paints an admirable portrait of this wonderful relationship: “The first Joseph, sold by his brothers and thereby a figure of Christ, was taken to Egypt; the second, fleeing the jealousy of Herod, took Christ to Egypt. The first Joseph, true to his master, respected his wife; the second, no less chaste, was the guardian of his Queen, the Mother of his Lord, and the witness of Her virginity. The first received the knowledge of secrets revealed in dreams; the second received the disclosure of the mysteries from Heaven itself. The first preserved the harvests of wheat, not for himself but for all the people; the second received the guardianship of the Living Bread come down from heaven, for himself and for the whole world.”(4)

A life so full of wonders could only come to an end in a death worthy of itself. The moment was approaching when Jesus was to emerge from the obscurity of Nazareth and manifest Himself to the world. His works were henceforth to bear witness to His heavenly origin: the ministry of Joseph was therefore accomplished. It was time for him to depart from this world, to go and await, in repose in the bosom of Abraham, the day when the heavenly gates would be opened to the just. By his deathbed, the One who is the Master of life kept watch, He who had often called this humble mortal by the name of Father. His dying breath was received by the purest of virgins, whom it had been his right to call his Spouse. It was in the midst of Their cares and caresses that Joseph fell asleep in the sleep of peace.

And now, the Spouse of Mary, Foster Father of Jesus, reigns in heaven with a glory which, while certainly inferior to Mary’s, is decorated with prerogatives such as none of the other inhabitants of that place of happiness can enjoy. From there, he bestows a most powerful protection upon all who invoke him.

Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, L’Année Liturgique (Mame & Fils: Tours, 1919 – 21st ed.), “Le Carême – Lent,” pp. 512-516.

This article has been published in the Magnificat Magazine, March 2013

  1.    Isaiah 11:1
  2.    St. Luke 2:48
  3.    St. Matthew 1:19
  4.    St. Bernard, Homily II super Missus est.

“Saint Joseph is the model of husbands, the model of fathers and the model of religious; he was all of that at the same time. He was the virginal spouse of the Virgin Mary, the greatest model of husbands, inviting them to live in sanctity in the married state. He was the model of fathers, being the foster father of the Son of God Himself, and at the same time he was a religious in the strict sense of the word. The Holy Family, while being the image of the human, natural family, was the image of the supernatural family, which is the religious life.”

Father John Gregory of the Trinity