Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cum Beato Joseph

Somewhere in his famous day-by-day account of Vatican II, Xavier Rynne recounts one bishop's somewhat impassioned appeal for Saint Joseph's name to be inserted into the Canon of the Mass. That bishop was not alone in this desire. That same fall my high school religion teacher had suggested that St. Joseph's inclusion in the Canon might be one outcome of the Council. In the year before the Council, a petition had been circulated (signed by some 100,000 people in the US alone) requesting St. Joseph's inclusion in four of the five prayers in the Missal which mentioned specific saints - the Confiteor in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Suscipe Santa Trinitas at the Offertory, the Communicantes in the Canon, and Libera Nos, Domine  after the Our Father. It was, nonetheless, something of a surprise when, at the Council's 18th General Session on November 13, 1962, it was announced that Pope John XXIII had ordered St. Joseph's name to be included in the Communicantes, effective that coming December 8. The change altered that liturgical list of apostles and early Roman martyrs for the first time since about the 6th century.
Since then, the Roman Rite as a whole and the venerable Roman Canon itself have undergone changes unimaginable in 1962. But Pope John's devotional addition of the name of the patron of the Universal Church has remained in Eucharistic Prayer I (as the Roman Canon is now called). Not too many years after its addition, however, as part of the post-conciliar liturgical reformation, Pope Paul VI added alternative Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, none of which specifically included St. Joseph. In my experience, apart from certain special days and certain special occasions, most people rarely hear Eucharistic Prayer I. So, in spite of Blessed John XXIII's historic intervention, St. Joseph rarely gets much mentioned in most people's ordinary experience of Mass.
All that is now about to change. Fifty years later, petitions were again received in Rome on the subject of St. Joseph. According to a May 1 Decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship, beato Joseph, eius sponso is now to be added immediately after the reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.
Obviously, this change adds nothing to St. Joseph's heavenly stature, but it is a salutary reminder of his quiet but significant supporting role in salvation history and of his present position as patron of the Universal Church. According to the Congregation's Decree, St. Joseph "stands as an exemplary model of the kindness and humility that the Christian faith raises to a great destiny, and demonstrates the ordinary and simple virtues necessary for me to be good and genuine followers of Christ." Kindness and humility seem to be in particularly short supply  in post-modern societies, which seem systematically to devalue ordinary and simple virtues. Both those who recite and those who hear the Eucharistic Prayer are hardly immune to cultural contagion, and presumably we will all benefit from being reminded of the unassuming qualities of substance, dedication, and integrity St. Joseph models for the world - qualities which in 1863, during the tragic experience of the American Civil War,  caused Isaac Hecker to call St. Joseph "The Saint of Our Day."

No comments:

Post a Comment