Bishop's Column

St. Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church, and the ‘Domestic Church’

A new and beautiful tradition has begun in our lifetime. By order of Pope Francis and by God’s grace, a small but historic change has been made to the Holy Mass: all of our commonly-used Eucharistic prayers now will invoke the intercession of not only the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also "Blessed Joseph, her Spouse."

While Pope Francis approved and implemented this change, it was first proposed by Benedict XVI in response to requests from around the world. It appears many people appreciated Blessed John XXIII’s earlier addition of St. Joseph to the Roman Canon in the 1962 Roman Missal. This continuity – between the work of Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, and their blessed predecessor – is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church.

St. Joseph has long been honored as the Patron Saint of the Universal Church. His paternal protection of the Lord Jesus continues even from heaven, as he watches over Christ’s Mystical Body on earth. The foster-father of the Son of God is also a father to us, who have become God’s sons and daughters in baptism. It is fitting to remember St. Joseph at Holy Mass – when the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body, gathers as a family, in union with the Holy Family of Nazareth.

All of us owe a debt of gratitude to Christ’s earthly father, for his patronage of the Universal Church. But there is another aspect of St. Joseph’s "spiritual fatherhood" which deserves to be explored and appreciated in greater depth: namely, his patronage over what is called the "domestic church."

The "domestic church" refers to the spiritual life of the Christian family – the prayers, traditions, and religious instruction that should be at the center of every Catholic hearth and home. In a 2012 letter, Benedict XVI described the domestic church as "a place of formation in faith and prayer, a seedbed of vocations, the natural school of virtues and ethical values, and the primary living cell of society."

As we remember St. Joseph in our public worship, we should also reflect on his example as the head of the Holy Family, the model for every Catholic home. In an unofficial but very real way, Joseph is the "patron saint of the domestic church," just as he is of the Universal Church.

"He must certainly have taught Jesus to pray," Pope Benedict observed in a 2012 general audience on the Holy Family. "Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel." As a faithful Jewish father, Joseph "would have led the prayers at home both every day – in the morning, in the evening, at meals – and on the principal religious feasts."

This description of St. Joseph is also an image of true Catholic fatherhood. St. Joseph’s increased presence in the Mass should challenge and inspire fathers, who are the natural leaders of the domestic church. Like St. Joseph, men must teach their children to pray and observe the precepts of the Faith.

In their words and actions, fathers, and all men, should model a life centered on Jesus Christ – a life rooted in, and directed toward, the Lord’s presence in the Holy Mass. In this way, each domestic church enriches and builds up the Universal Church. These two realities are ultimately inseparable – which is why St. Joseph is the glorious patron of them both.

St. Joseph is not just an example for fathers and men, of course. He is a model for all believers, who are meant to live each day in a close relationship with Christ. As the "guardian of the redeemer," Joseph inspires us to defend the faith against all kinds of threats. As the chaste spouse of the Ever-Virgin Mary, he is a sign of contradiction to a culture that hates purity and modesty. His addition to our Eucharistic prayers is significant for all of these reasons, and more.

But Joseph’s patronage over the domestic church is especially important in our time. To renew the Church, and re-evangelize society, we must strengthen the everyday life of faith within Catholic families. Pope Benedict made this explicit in a 2011 speech: "The New Evangelization depends largely on the domestic church … Just as the ‘eclipse of God’ and the crisis of the family are linked, so the New Evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family."

Our homes, no less than our parishes, must be centers of Christian community – places where faith is lived and shared. St. Joseph is a sure example for everyone who pursues this essential goal.

As we honor St. Joseph in the Mass, let us also ask his intercession: for the courage to make our homes into houses of prayer, where God is honored in all that we do.

St. Joseph, Patron Saint of the Universal Church, and the Domestic Church, pray for us!

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