Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Litany of St. Joseph: A Prayer For Fatherhood

Francesco Conti, St. Joseph With The Child
    Today, Father's Day, is a good time to talk about the Foster-Father of the Son of God. We need St. Joseph like never before, in fact, because fatherhood has never been in so dire a situation. I’ve had occasion to write recently about the power of the Evil One in the spiritual  warfare that’s engulfing our society [here], and I’ve commented very often about how the family is a primary target, with particularly heavy fire being directed at fathers and fatherhood [here]. Who better to ask for intercession, and who better to look to as a model than the “chaste guardian of the Virgin”, “watchful defender of Christ”, “pillar of families”?
      A good place to start, both for seeking intercession and for forming ourselves according to this great Saint’s virtues is the “Litany of St. Joseph”[here],  a prayer given formal approval by Pope Pius X at the dawning of the twentieth century. I’d like to comment on just a few aspects of this Litany that resonate with me.
     First of all, we see in St. Joseph, as he is presented here, the model of Human Fatherhood, which is related to, but distinct from, the Divine Fatherhood we see in God himself. We see that we fathers have been made head of the household, but not for our own sake. Notice that St.Joseph’s prayer starts with an invocation to Christ, then to God the Father, then to the Trinity: Christ is the real head of the household, we are only his stewards (more on this point below).
     Then, “Holy Mary, pray for us.” Joseph’s wife also takes precedence! This brings to mind the
following passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ
loved the Church and gave himself up for her”.  The purpose of our fatherhood, then, is not our own exaltation, but service to our family, as embodied in our wives.
     Next, we call upon Joseph himself, first recalling his lineage (Scion of David), his role in
Salvation History (“Spouse of the Mother of God . . . Foster-father of the Son of God”) and a
long list of his virtues and attributes, all of which are given to him for the purpose of protecting
and serving (Head of the Holy Family . . . Most Chaste . . . Pillar of Families . . . Terror of
Demons . . .”).
     Then, after asking St. Joseph to pray for us, we turn our attention back to Christ under a title that highlights his sacrificial role, “Lamb of God”:

     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

     In the Closing prayer we call on God to grant us St. Joseph as a protector in this world, but first there is this very interesting verse and response:

     V. He made him lord over his house,
     R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

     This is an exact quote from Psalm 105, verse 21, which itself refers back to Genesis 39.5: “So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” This, of course, is not a reference to St. Joseph himself, but to Joseph the Patriarch many centuries before. As it happens, there are many compelling connections between the two (for a fuller treatment of those, see here). The one that most concerns us here is this, that Joseph the Patriarch, a servant, is granted authority by the King of Egypt over his royal household, just as centuries later Joseph of Bethlehem is granted authority by the King of All Creation over his Holy Family. Our role as fathers today (and this includes all men, because we are all called to exercise Fatherhood in some way, even if we don’t preside over a household with children) follows the same pattern. Our family here on Earth is not really our own, it has been put temporarily under our care by the King of Kings (needless to say, we will be answerable to him for how we carry out the charge). As Catholic men we are also responsible for the protection of his larger family, the Church.
     It has become increasingly difficult to be just, chaste, prudent, etc., in a world where fatherhood has become more and more debased, and men are encouraged to behave like overgrown adolescents, or randy satyrs. Our society simply does not support fathers. That ‘s why we need help from someone up above; who better fight along with us than the Foster-Father of the Son of God?

Litany of St. Joseph

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ,
graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost,
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph,
Illustrious Scion of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Watchful defender of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most valiant,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of workmen,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the afflicted,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. He made him lord over his house,
R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

Let us pray.
O God, who in Thine ineffable providence didst vouchsafe to choose blessed Joseph to be the spouse
of Thy most holy Mother: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may have him for an intercessor in heaven,
whom we venerate as our protector on earth. Who livest and reignest world without end, Amen.