The story says that two Franciscans were shipwrecked off the coast of Holland (Flanders). For two or three days (the legends vary in detail), they clung to a plank and beseeched the help of St. Joseph. The saint appeared to them, in the guise of a young man, and saved them. He identified himself as Joseph and asked them to honor his seven joys and his seven sorrows.
(There is another Franciscan devotion called the Franciscan or Seraphic Crown that honors the Seven Joys of Mary. An earlier devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary is honored by the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15.)
Devotion to seven consecutive Sundays in honor of Joseph’s joys and sorrows can be practiced at any time of the year, but is often linked to his feast day on March 19. So anyone wanting to use seven Sundays to honor St. Joseph before his feast day should start this year on Jan. 30.
Celebrations of a feast honoring St. Joseph can be traced back to the Dominican Order and were especially advocated by such 15th-century saints as Bernardine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer. However, it was not until 1621 that Pope Gregory XV made it a universal feast day.
Another major feast of St. Joseph falls on May 1 — St. Joseph the Worker. (This year, it will also be the beatification ceremony for Pope John Paul II.) It is a much newer feast than the March 19 one (which pious tradition says is the day on which Joseph died). St. Joseph the Worker was declared by Pope Pius XII in 1955 and coincided with the now-defunct Soviet Union’s Labor Day.
St. Joseph is the patron of many causes, but his most important may be that he is the protector of the universal church. It was on Dec. 8, 1870 — the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception — that Pope Pius IX declared Joseph to be protector of the church. At that time, the Vatican’s congregation of rites declared that, as was the age-old tradition, Catholics should turn to Joseph and ask his help in times of trouble. Just as those shipwrecked Franciscans did.
The sorrows and corresponding joys of St. Joseph — including some moments of travel — are:
- Joseph’s doubts over Mary’s pregnancy, and the comforting message of the angel.
- The poverty into which Jesus was born, and the joy over the Savior’s birth and the adoration of angels, shepherds and Magi.
- The circumcision of Jesus, and the giving of the Holy Name of Jesus
- The prophecy of Simeon, and its consoling promise of salvation through the paschal mystery
- The flight into Egypt, and the overthrow of idols, like those in Egypt.
- The difficulty of the return of the Holy Family from Egypt, and the threat of King Archelaus, and the family life in Nazareth.
- The loss of the Child Jesus, and finding him in the Temple.
Sources: Quemadmodum deus at www.vatican.va; catholictradition.org; St. Louis’ shrineofstjoseph.org; Oblates of St. Joseph at objoseph.org; basilianfathermissions.org; catholicculture.org.