Thursday, June 20, 2013

St. Joseph in the Mass - 50 years (or more!) in the making

Pope Francis this week made his first real liturgical move as Pope by decreeing the addition of the name of St. Joseph into Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV.  I had the opportunity to be at a wonderful Mass last night celebrating the ministry of a good priest-friend of mine and it was a packed Church with at least 25 concelebrating priests and it was my first time to hear "with blessed Joseph, her spouse," added into the prayer and it was wonderful.  There was a sound, I don't know what to call it, a joyous sigh that emanated in the Church at those words, as though they had been missing all along.  

Now, this may seem like a small change to the Mass - it is five words after all - that isn't much in comparison to the changes in the Mass we all undertook a few years ago (consubstantial anyone?), but these five words have been part of a longer process and a really interesting one at that.  

The desire for the inclusion of St. Joseph's name dates all the way back to at least 1815 when there were many campaigns that culminated in the sending of hundreds of thousands of signatures of bishops, priests and laity to the Vatican. These efforts became intensified around the First Vatican Council in 1868.  The efforts hoped to honor St. Joseph’s by placing his name after the Virgin Mary in the Mass to give recognition to his eminence in sanctity, after Mary, over all other saints.  

By the time we get to the Second Vatican Council, this impulse was still strong and in mid-March 1962, Pope John XXIII was presented with six volumes containing the signed petitions of 30 cardinals, 436 patriarchs, archbishops and bishops, and 60 superiors general. While examining the signatures, Pope John said, “Something will be done for St. Joseph.” These signatures confirmed him in his personal desire to do something special for St. Joseph, whom he had venerated from childhood with a very special devotion.

The Bishops were gathered for the Council in late October 1962 and discussing the reform of the liturgy.  A few bishops, namely Auxiliary Bishop Ildefonso Sansierra of San Juan de Cuyo, Argentina and Bishop Albert Cousineau of Cape Haitien, Haiti, both had made requests to the Council that “the name of Blessed Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, be introduced into the Mass wherever the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned.”

Just a few days later, on November 13, the Cardinal Secretary of State announced that the Pope wishing to conform to the desire “expressed by many Council Fathers,” had decided to insert the name of St. Joseph in the Canon of the Mass, immediately after the name of the Most Holy Virgin to serve for all time as a reminder that St. Joseph had been the Patron of the Second Vatican Council.  This would later be described as “a surprise for the Council from the Pope.”    

This is where the story gets really interesting. After all, why would the Pope make such a dramatic move on his own instead of waiting for the Council to decide?  This bit of the story comes from Vatican Council II by Xavier Rynne:
Speaking the same day (November 10th), the aged Bishop Petar Cule (Mostar, Yugoslavia) put in a long plea for the inclusion of the name of St. Joseph in the canon of the mass, but as he talked on, nervously repeating himself, murmurs began to be heard and Cardinal Ruffini was prompted to interject: "Complete your holy and eloquent speech. We all love St. Joseph and we hope there are many saints in Yugoslavia." The next speaker launched into a long and tedious sermon on the Virgin Mary, which also brought forth murmurs. He too had to be cut off by Ruffini, who remarked: "One does not preach to preachers" (Praedicatoribus non praedicatur). Winding up the day's proceedings at 12:45 with the customary Angelus and Gloria Patri, the Cardinal President brought down the house with a loud invocation of the name of St. Joseph.
It was this cutting off of Bishop Cule that prompted Pope John to order the insertion of the name of St. Joseph in the canon of the mass on his own authority (decree announced November 13th, effective Dec. 8, 1962), without waiting for any conciliar recommendation in the matter. This caused great astonishment, but few were aware that the pope, following the debates on closed circuit television in his apartments, knew Bishop Cule personally and also knew that his nervous manner of speaking had a tragic source: he had suffered through one of those long trials made famous by the Communists and was sentenced to four years in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. He and other prisoners were then put on a train which was deliberately wrecked in an attempt to kill all aboard. The bishop survived, but both his hips were broken. In poor health, he had nevertheless made great effort to attend the Council and speak up for St. Joseph. Thus his wish was fulfilled.
And now that wish is even more greatly expanded as Pope Francis extends this reverence for St. Joseph from the Roman Canon to the other Eucharistic Prayers as well.  Thank you St. Joseph, thank you Pope Francis.  And, as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

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