“Take this glorious Saint for your master, and you will not wander out of the way.”
Devotion to St Joseph – Sermon by Fr Bover SJ
In honour of St Joseph, we are publishing this exclusive translation of a sermon by Fr José María Bover SJ in two parts. This first part was published in advance of the feast of St Joseph the Worker (1 May 2022), with this second on the traditional date of the feast of his Patronage of the Universal Church, Wednesday in the Second Week after Easter (4 May 2022).
Fr José María Valente Bover SJ was a Spanish theologian and writer. He joined the Jesuits in 1895, and was ordained a priest in 1910. As Professor of Sacred Scripture (1911-1950), he was a specialist in the textual criticism of the New Testament. He wrote a work on the theology of St Paul and collaborated with another writer on a Spanish version of the Bible.
As such, the following sermon represents the thought of a respected theologian, and cannot be written off as pious devotionalism.
Image: The Holy House at Loreto, Wiki Commons
The Feast of St Joseph – Part II
Fr José María Bover SJ
From Homilías Evangélicas, p. 273-301
Edited by S.D. Wright
THE LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF ST JOSEPH’S PREROGATIVES
From all the grounds previously discussed – and from others which could be enumerated – it follows logically that we must attribute to St Joseph a veneration superior to that of all of the other saints in heaven – except of course, the Mother of God alone.
The veneration paid to the saints must correspond to their dignity and holiness – or, in other words, to the glory which they now enjoy in heaven, and to the union which they have with Jesus Christ. This dignity and holiness, this glory and union, are not only the reason forthe veneration they are to be paid, but also its measure.
Therefore, if after the Virgin Mary, St Joseph surpasses all the other saints in dignity and in holiness; if he enjoys a greater glory in heaven than they do; and if he is incomparably more united to Jesus Christ than they are; then it is only right that he should be paid a veneration which is correspondingly more noble and excellent than that which is paid to all others.
As Leo XIII writes, “[if St Joseph] stands out alone among [all the saints] by his most august dignity”, then it is only right that the veneration paid to him should stand out also. This is what Leo XIII himself teaches elsewhere:
“He who, chosen as the Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God, shared in her dignity by virtue of the conjugal bond […] excels with such excellence that there is no gift to which he is not entitled.”
Many give the names “protodulia” or “supreme (suma) dulia” to this singular and superior veneration due to St Joseph, which distinguishes it both from the veneration of hyperdulia due to the Mother of God, and from that simple dulia due to the other saints. It is true that in a strict and absolute sense, the term protodulia can only be understood as the worship due to God. But if this were a valid reason to stop using the term, it would be all the more reason to deny to the Virgin the veneration of hyperdulia – which in an equally strict and absolute sense can be rendered to God alone.
And yet, as far as we know, there is no theologian who does not, with St Thomas, call the veneration of the Virgin hyperdulia – always in a more relative sense, of course.
In the same sense, then – namely in a looser and more relative sense – we can call the singular veneration due to St Joseph protodulia.
2. THE GROWTH OF THE DEVOTION TO SAINT JOSEPH
The devotion of the Christian people to the Patriarch St Joseph is undoubtedly great, and is increasing day by day. Leo XIII, like Pius IX before him and Benedict XV after, noted “how deeply rooted in the hearts of Christians is devotion to the holy Patriarch, and with what confidence all have placed their hope in his heavenly patronage.”
However, the words of Benedict XV himself [quoted in the appendix of the last part] have not lost their timeliness: namely, that contemporary calamities and dangers demand a greater increase of this salutary devotion. Further, the prerogatives of St Joseph are grounds that demand that this devotion be intensified and extended still further.
Benedict XV’s intention was aimed at obtaining from God this due and desired increase. The progress made so far is consoling; but such progress, rather than calming or dampening our desire, instead stimulates it – inasmuch as what has already been achieved is an encouraging pledge for achieving what is still lacking.
In two things, or in two ways, the longed-for progress must be made, if it is to respond fully to what St Joseph deserves: progress in the private devotion of the faithful, and in the public liturgy of the whole Church.
3. AN INCREASE OF PRIVATE DEVOTION.
It is not necessary to ponder how just it is for the faithful to increase in devotion to this kind Patriarch, and how profitable this would surely be. There are many and varied acts by which this devotion is exercised and developed. The roots from which it springs, the foundations on which it rests, and the soul which informs it are as follows: tender love, the esteem of his incomparable prerogatives, and the confidence in his goodness and merits.
The principal manifestations of this devotion are the gifts of a deep piety, and the frequent and trusting recourse to this its mighty worth. In order to be solid and fruitful, it must be accompanied by effective desires and constant commitment to imitate his virtues and to follow his example – especially in this holy Patriarch’s ardent and self-sacrificing love for Jesus and Mary. Above all, we must aspire to grow day by day in this salutary devotion – without setting ourselves limits, without ever being satisfied.
One thing should be noted here, which may prevent or dispel certain hesitations or anxieties born of poor intelligence or narrow-mindedness, which not infrequently torment some pious souls.
Properly understood, devotion to St Joseph does not hinder or obscure those two great devotions which every good Christian should have, namely to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Our Lady, the Virgin, the universal Mediatrix of grace. Moreover, just as the ever-increasing love for Jesus and Mary spontaneously brings with it an increase in devotion to St Joseph, so too does the development of this devotion contribute to the gradual intensification of love for Jesus Christ and to the strengthening of filial trust in the Blessed Virgin.
It is a great art to know how to unite these devotions, which in themselves are already so intimately intertwined. Just as St Joseph is all that he is because of Jesus and Mary, so devotion to St Joseph includes love for Jesus and filial affection for Mary.
4. AN INCREASE IN LITURGICAL VENERATION
In recent years, the liturgical honours paid to St Joseph have prodigiously increased.
His feast of 19th March, besides being celebrated as a double of the first class, is [was] a precept for the whole Church.
To this has been added the solemnity of his patronage (Wednesday after the Second Sunday of Easter), also celebrated as a double of the first class and also with an octave.
In 1909 the Litany of St Joseph was approved for public recitation.
In 1919 a proper Preface was granted for the Masses celebrated in his honour.
Finally, in 1922, various invocations and a special prayer to St Joseph, the special patron of the dying, were introduced into the Recommendation of the Soul.
All these liturgical innovations grant to St Joseph singular honours, which are not granted to any other saint apart from the Mother of God. Practically speaking, they are the recognition of the protodulia due to the glorious Patriarch.
But many – very many – still aspire to something more: that whenever his Virginal Spouse is invoked or commemorated in the Ordinary of the Mass (and especially in the Canon), St Joseph himself should be invoked or commemorated after her. Furthermore, many desire that the triple invocation of the Virgin Mother in the Litany of the Saints should be followed by the double invocation of St Joseph.
These innovations are undoubtedly very serious. They must therefore encounter serious difficulties, born of the spirit of tradition and conservatism which has always inspired the acts of St Peter’s Chair. Nor are we the ones called to resolve the delicate problems of the advisability or timeliness of these very serious innovations.
Rather, it is up to us simple faithful to express our desires humbly; to pray to God that the longed-for hour may come when they will be realised; and if it is in our power, to raise awareness of this pious cause amongst those who are to present the desires of the Christian people to the Apostolic See, by reason of their hierarchical office.
For the rest, the goodness with which Pius XI deigned to approve and bless the general intentions mentioned gives wings to our hope, and allows us to glimpse the happy day when, in the daily celebration of Holy Mass (and especially in the sacred Canon) we will have the consolation of being able to invoke the sweet name of the Patriarch St Joseph, together with the name of Mary.
5. THE FRUITS TO BE EXPECTED FROM THE INCREASE OF DEVOTION TO ST JOSEPH.
There are many and unfathomable benefits to be expected from this increase of devotion to St Joseph, both for individual sanctification and for social prosperity. This social prosperity refers to the Christian family, to civil society, and to the universal Church above all. It will suffice to list them briefly.
Individually, today more than ever, the spirit of piety is absolutely necessary for every good Christian – that is, if he does not want to fall victim to the alluring seduction of the world, which is becoming more and more coarse, more insolent, more corrupt and corrupting. In St Joseph we will find both a model and an advocate of interior life, of withdrawn industriousness, of intimate piety. Spiritual persons, especially those entirely dedicated to the service of God, have much to learn and to imitate in that just man, exclusively consecrated to the love and service of Jesus and his divine Mother.
Today, the Christian family is passing through a most dangerous crisis which threatens its total dissolution and ruin. Atheistic laws and immoral customs, enfeebling spectacles and absorbing business, anti-Christian philosophies and infamous literature, indecent fashions and pornographic magazines, cinemas and dances, schools and factories, neglect in many men, and the spirit of independence in not a few women – and many other things which cannot be mentioned: all these things seem to have conspired not only against the sanctity of marriage and marital fidelity, not only against family life and the indissolubility of the marriage contract, but even against the very existence of marriage and the family.
The Christian family cannot emerge unscathed from such a dangerous crisis without extraordinary help from heaven.
This help is offered by God in St Joseph, under whose special guardianship and patronage he has placed the Christian family.
No less serious is the crisis of civil society throughout the world, caused by communism, which has exacerbated the social conflict between capital and labour, and between employers and workers. In St Joseph, too, God has given the world not only a model and a patron for the workers, but also a living embodiment of the true Christian solution to the age-old social question.
By his example, St Joseph not only teaches the austere simplicity of life, untiring and self-sacrificing industriousness, and resignation in poverty; but above all, he teaches the dignity and nobility of the worker and of labour. This dignity and nobility should inspire both the capitalist with respect and appreciation of the worker, and the worker himself with generosity of sentiment, removed in equal measure from both abjection and rebellion. In St Joseph, the humble worker can see that the work of a workshop is carving out a crown of immortal glory – which one day soon will be the envy of the rich of this century, if not their despair.
Finally, too, the universal Church is in a particularly critical situation today. On the one hand, she is besieged and fiercely fought by the insidious slander and the bloody persecution of all kinds of enemies; and, on the other hand, she sees before her eyes “a great door open”, whether for the evangelisation of the Gentiles or for the reconciliation of many misguided children.
In these circumstances the solemn proclamation of St Joseph as Patron of the Catholic Church is providential. In this way, the Lord seems to invite the Church to have recourse to the patronage of St Joseph with growing devotion and confidence, with whose help she can emerge unscathed from the snares and persecutions of her enemies, and extend and consolidate the Kingship of Jesus Christ throughout the world; with whose help she can gather all men into his one fold, under the staff of one Shepherd – both those who still lie in darkness and the shadow of death, and those who have abandoned the path of truth and broken the bonds of unity, seduced by error or led astray by a false freedom.
As patron of the Church, St Joseph will protect and bless the Church – for after God and his Immaculate Mother, she has placed all her trust in his heavenly patronage.
CONCLUSION – THE WORDS OF ST TERESA OF AVILA
Although somewhat lengthy and fairly well known, we shall reproduce the classic passage, in which St Teresa of Avila (NB: we earn commissions through Amazon links) strongly recommends devotion to the Patriarch St Joseph. Its unction and literary beauty will advantageously supply what is lacking in our cold and arid exposition:
“I took for my patron and lord the glorious St Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly that both out of this my present trouble, and out of others of greater importance, relating to my honour and the loss of my soul, this my father and lord delivered me, and rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul.
“To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that as He was Himself subject to him upon earth – for St Joseph having the title of father, and being His guardian, could command Him – so now in heaven He performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth.
“I used to keep his feast with all the solemnity I could, but with more vanity than spirituality, seeking rather too much splendour and effect, and yet with good intentions. I had this evil in me, that if our Lord gave me grace to do any good, that good became full of imperfections and of many faults; but as for doing wrong, the indulgence of curiosity and vanity, I was very skilful and active therein. Our Lord forgive me!
“Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious Saint; for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God. I have never known anyone who was really devout to him, and who honoured him by particular services, who did not visibly grow more and more in virtue; for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him. It is now some years since I have always on his feast asked him for something, and I always have it. If the petition be in any way amiss, he directs it aright for my greater good.
“If I were a person who had authority to write, it would be a pleasure to me to be diffusive in speaking most minutely of the graces which this glorious Saint has obtained for me and for others. But that I may not go beyond the commandment that is laid upon me, I must in many things be more brief than I could wish, and more diffusive than is necessary in others; for, in short, I am a person who, in all that is good, has but little discretion. But I ask, for the love of God, that he who does not believe me will make the trial for himself – when he will see by experience the great good that results from commending oneself to this glorious patriarch, and being devout to him. Those who give themselves to prayer should in a special manner have always a devotion to St Joseph; for I know not how any man can think of the Queen of the angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Infant Jesus, without giving thanks to St Joseph for the services he rendered them then. He who cannot find anyone to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious Saint for his master, and he will not wander out of the way.”
St Joseph – Pray For Us!
Devotion to St Joseph – Sermon by Fr Bover SJ
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Help The WM Review by donating today – all donations go directly towards helping us produce real Catholic research and studies.
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated and helps us to keep things going.
Your contribution is appreciated and helps us to keep things going.DonateDonate monthly
Subscribe to stay in touch:
Always read the footnotes – sometimes containing hidden gems. See here for the full WM Review Reading List.
Translated and edited by S.D. Wright.
 Leo XIII, Encyclical Quamquam pluries, 1889 n. 3. Available at https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15081889_quamquam-pluries.html
 “Excellit praestantia, ut nullo non sit obsequio prosequendus.” Leo XIII, Quod paucis, 1890.
 Leo XIII, Letter Quod erat, 1891
 From the text of St Teresa: “Of the devotion to St Joseph, F. Faber (The Blessed Sacrament, bk. ii. p. 199, 3rd ed.) says that it took its rise in the West, in a confraternity in Avignon. ‘Then it spread over the church. Gerson was raised up to be its doctor and theologian, and St Teresa to be its Saint, and St Francis of Sales to be its popular teacher and missionary. The houses of Carmel were like the holy house of Nazareth to it; and the colleges of the Jesuits, its peaceful sojourns in dark Egypt.’”
 St Teresa of Avila, The Life of St Teresa of Jesus, Chapter 6, translated by David Lewis, Thomas Baker, London, 1904. Available at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/8120/8120-h/8120-h.htm