St Joseph’s Day and Karl Barth

March 19th is the Feast of St. Joseph – the Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Much has been said and developed in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions regarding Mary and her blessed status. Vatican II ascribes to her some titles which most protestants might well find a bit hard to swallow! The Lumen Gentium calls her, among other things:

Blessed Virgin



Mother of God

‘Full of Grace’

Handmaid of the Lord


Queen of the Universe!

At this point it’s worth remembering briefly that Vatican II warns against over-exalting Mary, saying:

[The Holy Synod] exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. (IV.67)

However, compared to the depth and quantity of reflection on the place and significance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph can sometimes seem to be rather neglected.

I always remember a particular letter by Karl Barth to Prof. Oscar Cullmann on this point.

To Prof. Oscar Cullmann

Dear Friend,
Many thanks for your card from Mote Pincio (an unforgettable association for me). You can imagine it with with the closest attention and even with “burning concern” that I receive from the holy city the news filtering through from the fringe of the mystery council, and I anxiously await your direct reports. Your activity among the “other” council fathers (as we read in the paper yesterday) must be considerable. What has been decided about St. Joseph greatly pleased me. Is not the relationship between J. and Jesus Christ (“foster-father”) a much more exact model for the church than Mary’s relationship is! (cf. Pius IX, Quemadmodum Deus, 8 Dec. 1870). A Jesuit, Fr. L. Filas, whom I met in Chicago, gave me instant approval in this. Some mariological ideas would then, of course, require careful modification. Will there be any headway on the second schema before 8 Dec.? Here the Dies academicus has taken its usual course, but without me. My private colloquia at the Bruderholz come around with almost uncanny frequency. I do not know what is going on at the Perersplatz and Rheinsprung. At noon today I am seeing the four Czechs. Has the Spiegel affair been “mirrored” in Rome too?
With sincere greetings,

Karl Barth

(Karl Barth | Letters, 1961-1968, Eds. Fangmeir and Stoevesandt, Trans. G.W. Bromiley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981. pg. 74-75. (Bold emphasis, mine).

So what had been decided about St. Joseph, which Barth found so pleasing?

Well, in 1962 as part of Vatican II it was decided that Jospeh should be added to the ancient Roman Canon and included in Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.

The faithful in the Catholic Church have shown continuous devotion to Saint Joseph and have solemnly and constantly honored his memory as the most chaste spouse of the Mother of God and as the heavenly Patron of the universal Church. For this reason Blessed Pope John XXIII, in the days of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, decreed that Saint Joseph’s name be added to the ancient Roman Canon. In response to petitions received from places throughout the world, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI deemed them worthy of implementation and graciously approved them. The Supreme Pontiff Francis likewise has recently confirmed them. In this the Pontiffs had before their eyes the full communion of the Saints who, once pilgrims in this world, now lead us to Christ and unite us with him.

Accordingly, mature consideration having been given to all the matters mentioned here above, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by virtue of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, is pleased to decree that the name of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is henceforth to be added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, as they appear in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, after the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as follows: in Eucharistic Prayer II: “ut cum beáta Dei Genetríce Vírgine María, beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, beátis Apóstolis“; in Eucharistic Prayer III: “cum beatíssima Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum beátis Apóstolis“; and in Eucharistic Prayer IV: “cum beáta Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum Apóstolis “.

Decree regarding the Mention of the Divine Name of St. Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV

There’s one last interesting snippet of Barth’s thought about Joseph mentioned in the editorial footnotes of the letter. The Jesuit, Fr. Filas, wrote in his book ‘Joeseph: The Man Closest to Jesus: the Complete Life, Theology, and Devotional History of St. Joseph (Boston, 1962), p. 462:

“In a conversation in Chicago with the author of the present book (April 27, 1962), Dr Karl Barth used substantially these words, ‘If I were a Catholic Theologian, I would lift Joseph up. He took care of the CHild, he takes care of the Church.'”‘

Following this encouragement to reflect on the place of Joseph in the life of the Church, it seems only appropriate to end with the Anglican Collect of the Day:

God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
give us grace to follow him
in faithful obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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