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Why have Catholics always had such great devotion to St. Joseph?

Life and Glories of Saint Joseph


Joseph Included in the Order of the Hypostatic Union

WHATEVER God disposes is disposed in a marvelous and perfect order. Wherefore the Church which Jesus came to found on earth imitates the Heavenly Sion. As in Heaven there are angelic hierarchies, and in these ranks there are diverse orders, so also on earth there is a hierarchy of grace, and in that hierarchy are included various orders or ministries, which, according to the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas, excel each other in proportion to their approximation to God. The highest of all these orders, whether angelic or human, is the order of the Hypostatic Union, in which is Christ Jesus, God and Man. By the Hypostatic Union is meant that the Eternal Son of God, in His Incarnation, assumed human nature, and united it to Himself in Personal unity; in other words, that in the one Divine Person of Jesus Christ, the two Natures, the Divine Nature and the Human Nature, ever distinct in themselves, became inseparably and eternally united.

If a wonderful order is displayed in all the works of nature, an order supremely perfect is displayed in all the works of grace, especially in the great work of the Incarnation. Among these orders of grace some precede the mystery of the Incarnation, others follow it. Among those which precede it the most remote is the order of the Patriarchs, chosen to prepare the progenitors of Jesus down to St. Joachim and St. Anne. To some of these, as to Abraham and to David, it was expressly revealed that of their blood and of their family, the Savior of men should be born into the world. The next is the Levitical and sacerdotal order, preordained by god to figure in all its rites the Priesthood of Jesus, His Church., His Sacraments, the Bloody sacrifice of the Cross, and the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Altar. The third is that of the Prophets, destined to foretell and announce to the world, so many centuries before the coming of Jesus, His Birth of a Virgin, His country, the place of His Nativity, His flight into Egypt, His Apostles, his preaching, miracles, His Passion and Death, his Resurrection and glorious Ascension into Heaven. Greater than all these Prophets was john the Baptist, because destined and preordained to be the immediate Precursor of Christ, and to point to Him as being actually present on the earth. . . These are the orders which under the Old Law preceded Jesus.

Others succeeded Him, and these are the various orders or ministries of Holy Church, which form the ecclesiastical hierarchy, beginning with the Apostles, who were to render to the whole earth and to all ages their solemn testimony to the Divinity of Jesus Christ; they were to announce all His Doctrine, His Law, His Sacraments; they were to found and spread His Church throughout the world, so that all might attain salvation. And, as the Apostolic order was nearer than any other to jesus, even so, says St. Thomas Aquinas, did the Apostles receive greater grace than any other saint in the other orders of the Church.

Now, above all these orders rises supreme the order of the Hypostatic Union. All the other orders, including the angelic, are subordinate and subject to it; for this reason, that Jesus is the beginning, the author, and the head of this order, and on Jesus, as Sovereign Prince, depends every hierarchy, every sacred princedom in Heaven and on earth, since Jesus is the end of the whole law [Rom. 10:4] . . . Jesus is the sole and true source of salvation to all men. By faith in Him Who was to come all were saved who lived justly from Adam until His day; and all those who have lived and shall live justly since His coming have been and shall be saved by Him alone. . . all the various orders of grace circle, from Him alone receiving light, virtue and power to fulfill faithfully the holy offices to which they are ordained; and so much the greater or less grace and dignity do they receive as they are more or less approximated in their ministry to Jesus, the author of grace, just as one who is nearer to the fire participates more largely in its heat. It is clear, then, that the order of the Hypostatic Union transcends and surpasses the other subaltern orders, even as the sun transcends the inferior stars.

Now, Joseph by Divine predestination was placed in this sovereign order. Three only composed it—Jesus, Mary, Joseph. Jesus is true God and true Man; Mary is true Mother of God and Mother of men; Joseph is true spouse of Mary and putative father of Jesus. Jesus is the principal subject of the Incarnation, and the author of the Redemption of the world; Mary is the immediate co-operatrix and, so to say, the executrix of the Incarnation itself; Joseph, the faithful depository of these two most precious pledges, was to provide that this sublime mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption should be brought about with the greatest possible congruity, so that the honor of the Mother and of the God-Man, her Son, should remain intact.

That Joseph should be comprised in this supreme order is not a mere devout opinion or the fruit of pious meditation, it is a sure decision of the soundest theology. Suarez, that eminent theologian, after having spoken of the Order of the Apostles, upon which he said the greatest grace was conferred, goes on to say: "There are other ministries appertaining to the order of the Hypostatic Union, which in its kind is more perfect, as we affirmed of the dignity of the Mother of God, and in this order is constituted the ministry of St. Joseph; and, although it be in the lowest grade of it, nevertheless, in this respect, it surpasses all others, because it exists in a superior order!" [1] Thus spoke Suarez, the learned theologian of Granada, about three hundred years ago, when the opinion of the faithful respecting St. Joseph and the devotion due to him had not been so openly and generally displayed.

But the doctors who followed spoke still more clearly. Giovanni di Cartagena, contemporary of Bellarmine and Baronius, and very dear to Pope Pius V for his piety and science, out of the numerous learned homilies which he wrote, devoted thirteen to the praises of Joseph. After having spoken of the Apostolic order, he passes on to treat of the order of the Hypostatic Union, and says that in its kind it is more perfect than the other, and that in this order the first place is held by the Humanity of Christ, which is immediately united to the Person of the Word; the second place is held by the Blessed Virgin, who conceived and brought forth the Incarnate Word; the third place is held by St. Joseph, to whom was committed by God the special care, never given to any other, of feeding, nursing, educating, and protecting a God-made-man! [2] After Cartagena comes P. Giuseppe Antonio Patrignani, highly praised also by Benedict XIV, who, almost two centuries ago, wrote thus of St. Joseph: " He, as constituted head of the Family immediately belonging to the service of a God-Man, transcends in dignity all the other Saints; wherefore he is happily established in an order which is superior to all the other orders in the Church." [3]

We might adduce other doctors of high authority, but we will proceed to consider some of the legitimate consequences which flow from this doctrine.

1. It is an exceeding honor to Joseph "to be comprised in the same order wherein are Jesus Himself, the Son of God, the King of kings, and Mary, Mother of God and Queen of the universe, to be united with them in the closest relations, and enjoy their most entire confidence. The nobles of the earth deem themselves to be highly honored in being brought into near association with monarchs of renown, holding the foremost places in their courts, and being the most trusted in their councils. What, then, shall we say of Joseph, who, placed in the order of the Hypostatic Union, was destined by God, not only first in His court and the closest in His confidence, but even to be the reputed father of the King of kings; to be, not only the confidential friend, but the very spouse of the most exalted of all the empresses in the universe? Next to the Divine Maternity, no honor in the world is comparable with this.

2. To be comprised in the order of the Hypostatic Union implies being, after Jesus and Mary, superior to all the other Saints, both of the Old and the New Testament; and the reason is clear: for, this order being superior to all the other orders in the Church, it follows that whosoever has a place in this order, albeit in its lowest grade, as Joseph has, ranks before all who are even in the highest grade of a lower order, such as that of the Apostles, which is the most eminent among them.

3. It follows that Joseph is superior, not in nature, but in dignity, to the Angels themselves, since the orders of Angels are subject to the order of the Hypostatic Union, subject to Jesus, their King and their Head, subject to Mary, their Queen; hence, as the Apostle declares, when the Eternal Father sent His Divine Son upon earth He commanded all the Angels to adore Him. [4] And on account of Jesus the Angels became subject also to Mary and to Joseph: thus we find them hastening gladly to serve them, to warn them, to console them; and were they not sent expressly from Heaven to act as attendants on Joseph, at one time to assure him that his Spouse has conceived the Son of God Himself; at another to make known to him the plot of Herod, so that he might place the Virgin and her Divine Son in safety by flying into Egypt; and, again, to announce to him that now he may joyfully return into the land of Israel? [5]

4. We conclude that Joseph was comprehended in this order because he was truly the head and guardian of this Divine Family. To rule and govern this august family belonged of right to Jesus, who was God. Mary and Joseph, exalted as they were in dignity, were, nevertheless, only creatures; but Jesus willed to give an example of the most perfect humility. It was His will to magnify our Saint, and to concede to him this high glory, making him the head and guardian of His family; so that Joseph had rule and authority over the Son of God Himself and over the very Mother of the Son of God. And Joseph, being thus destined to be the head and guardian of Jesus, the head and guardian of Mary, became at the same time the patron and guardian of the Church, which is the spouse of Jesus and, in a manner, the daughter of Mary. Whence [St.] Pius IX, of blessed memory, in proclaiming Joseph Patron of the Church, did not so much confer a new title of honor upon him as affirm and declare this his most ancient prerogative, which had not before been so expressly promulgated by Holy Church.

5. It follows that Joseph was comprised in that order and in that family the highest representation which it is possible to conceive, inasmuch as he was made the very representative of the Divine Father, Who alone has the right to call Jesus His Son, having begotten Him from all eternity; and yet that same God, Who by the mouth of Isaias [6] protested that He would never give His glory to another, that God Who, in communicating to the Word and to the Holy Spirit His Divine essence, does not in any wise communicate to them His Divine paternity, was so generous to Joseph as to concede to him His glory, and communicate to him His name and His paternity; not actually, for that was impossible, but so that he should be in His place and stead, and should be called the father of Him who was the Divine Word, and that the Word Himself should call Joseph by the sweet name of father, so that he might with true joy appropriate to himself that passage in Holy Scripture:

"I will be to Him a father and He shall be to me a son!" [7] Herein we see manifested the great love of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity for our Saint and the confidence They reposed in him; for the Eternal Father committed wholly into his charge His well-beloved Son; the Divine Son delivered Himself entirely to his care and to his will; the Holy Spirit consigned and committed to him His most immaculate Spouse; so that this Holy Family, of which Joseph became the head, was another Triad on earth, a resplendent image of the Most Holy Triad in Heaven, the Ever-Blessed Trinity: Joseph representing the Eternal Father, Jesus representing and being in very truth the Eternal Word, and Mary representing the Eternal Love, the Holy Spirit. This thought is borrowed from the Doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales. "We may say"—these are his words—"that the Holy Family was a Trinity on Earth, which in a certain way represented the Heavenly Trinity Itself." [8]

6. Finally, it follows that Joseph, in that he was comprised in that sublime order, superior to that of all the other Saints, must as a natural consequence have been predestined to receive greater gifts and graces than all the other Saints, that he might be made worthy to be so near to Jesus and Mary, and fitted to discharge most faithfully those high ministries to which he was elected. Hence the pious Bernardine de Bustis makes this bold assertion: "Since Joseph was to be the guardian, companion, and ruler of the Most Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, is it possible to conceive that God could have made a mistake in the choice of him? or that He could have permitted him to be deficient in any respect? or could have failed to make him most perfect?" The very idea would be the grossest of errors. When God selects anyone to perform some great work He bestows upon him every virtue needful for its accomplishment." [9]

Let us rejoice, then, with our most loving Patriarch that he has been exalted to so sublime an order, and has obtained such grace, power, and dignity as none other, after Jesus and Mary, has ever received, to the glory of God, Who made him so great, and for our profit and that of the whole Church.

Taken from The Life and Glories of St. Joseph by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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