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Wednesday, 15 March 2023 08:32

St. Joseph and the Carmelite Order

Jerg Ratgeb, Flight into Egypt, 1515-1521 Jerg Ratgeb, Flight into Egypt, 1515-1521 Wall painting from the former Carmelite monastery in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

A pious medieval legend held that the Holy Family periodically visited and spoke with the hermits who lived near the well of Elijah on Mount Carmel. According to the mentality of the time, this affirmed a particular bond between the Carmelites and the Holy Family.

Once the Middle Ages had passed, these spiritual relations of the men and women of the Order continued until today, uniting veneration to the Virgin Mary with that to the one who for her and for Jesus sacrificed himself in the work and silence of his entire life. Thus were merged, in harmonious contemplation, the three great loves: of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

In Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, people found a model for their own contemplative and active life. Devotion to Joseph flourished and he became invoked as “protector and patron” of the Order. In Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Carmelites as well as the Franciscans and Servants of Mary spread devotion to St. Joseph. The liturgical feast of St. Joseph appears in the second half of the 15th century with an Office entirely of its own.

The Belgian Carmelite, Arnold Bostius noted this solemn devotion to St. Joseph in 1479. He wrote:

"We still celebrate St. Joseph, chaste and upright, guardian of the eternal God, providential and diligently considered to be father, beloved husband of Mary, most faithful witness and custodian of her virginity. Like his virgin bride, he was very solicitous for the salvation of all, perfect in all virtues" (De Patronatu BVM, n. 1694).

The Office of St. Joseph was printed in the Breviary published in Brussels beginning in 1480, while the Mass Proper was found in missals edited from 1500 onward. The quality of the readings and the hymns were considered eloquent testimony to the fervor with which the Carmelites honored St. Joseph at that time. The general chapter of the Carmelites in 1680 unanimously elected St. Joseph as the primary protector of the Order.

The feast was suppressed for the universal Church with the liturgical calendar reform after the Second Vatican Council. However, both the Carmelites and the Discalced Carmelites obtained permission to add “Protector of Our Order” to the title of the feast on March 19.

From the 17th century to the present-day numerous Carmelite churches and monasteries were dedicated to St. Joseph. Credit for this diffusion of devotion to St. Joseph can be attributed above all to St. Teresa of Jesus, whose ardent expressions regarding St. Joseph are known:

"I took for my advocate and patron the glorious St. Joseph ... I saw clearly that his help to me was always greater that what I could have hoped for …. If my word could be authoritative, I would gladly take the time to narrate in detail the graces that this glorious saint has done for me and for others.” (Life, VI, 6-8)

Of the 17 houses Teresa founded, 12 were dedicated to St. Joseph.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux also had a great devotion to St. Joseph:

“I prayed St. Joseph to watch over me; since my childhood, I had a devotion to him that blended with love for Our Lady. … I was so well protected that it seemed impossible for me to be afraid.” (Ms A, 158)

Alongside the influence of St. Joseph on the life and piety of the Order, there are also the writings of the theologian Andrew Horuken in 1451 and the incredible poems of the Mantuan in Fastorum Libri XII and in Parthenice I. In the 16th-18th centuries, there was no lack of notable preachers and writers reflecting the importance of St. Joseph. In 1723, Raphael "the Bavarian" published a History of St. Joseph. This work had a considerable influence in the devotion of the saint in modern times at the convents and monasteries of the Order.

(from Dizionario Carmelitano, “Giuseppe, Santo”)

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