What the Year of St. Joseph means, and how to gain the indulgences


By Joseph Pronechen/NCR

The announcement that many people have been anxious and longing to hear for several years finally came on Dec. 8 as Pope Francis declared the beginning of a Year of St. Joseph.

The timing was perfect, coming on the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX declaring St. Joseph as Patron of the Catholic Church and on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Joseph’s spouse.

Along with the Pope’s announcement in his apostolic letter Patris Corde (“Heart of the Father)” came a proclamation from the Apostolic Penitentiary about special plenary indulgences that are now available for this Year of St. Joseph. 

More on the exact ways to obtain them in a moment. First, let’s hear what a couple of St. Joseph scholars think.

“It’s beautiful that after 2,000 years the Church celebrates a special year in honor of the humble and hidden Husband of Mary,” Father Larry Toschi, an Oblate of St. Joseph, pastor, and founder of the Holy Spouses Society in California said.

“As Oblates of St. Joseph, committed by lifelong vow to serving the interests of Jesus in imitation of St. Joseph, it brought great joy to our hearts to receive this announcement from Pope Francis, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the 150th anniversary of his being proclaimed Patron of the Catholic Church. After his Holy Virginal Spouse, St. Joseph is the greatest model of sanctity and the most powerful intercessor ever. May this year bring renewal and re-flourishment to our Church and help each of us grow in holiness through imitating him.”

Father Stanley Smolenski, the director of the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Joyful Hope/Our Lady of South Carolina, is also exceptionally happy about the announcement.

“This third millennium has been providentially reserved for St. Joseph,” he said. “The first was Christocentric via the Councils, the second was Marian-focused on her devotions, apparitions and dogmas. That means that the third person of the Earthly Trinity, St. Joseph, would naturally follow.”

“We have seen the importance of St. Joseph increasing in our times with social decay,” he added. “Isodore Isolanis, a 16th-century Dominican, prophesied that ‘The sound of victory would be heard when the faithful acknowledge the sanctity of St. Joseph.’”

Father Donald Calloway, vicar provincial and vocation director for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and author of Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father, said, “It’s amazing. My phone is ringing off the hook. I’m getting calls from bishops’ offices around the world.”

They’re telling him, “We want to do the consecration for our diocese ending especially on March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph.” And in a single day since the announcement he got more 300 emails about the consecration.

“We’re setting in motion major things for the world. The book has a huge part in it.”

Huge, too, are the plenary indulgences Rome is offering during this Year of St. Joseph.

Plenary Indulgences for the Year of St. Joseph

All this year until Dec. 8, 2021, the decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, which is in charge of indulgences, has established that the faithful “following his example can daily strengthen their life of faith in the full fulfillment of God’s will.” They will have “the opportunity to commit themselves, with prayers and good works, to obtain with the help of St. Joseph, head of the heavenly Family of Nazareth, comfort and relief from the serious human and social tribulations that today afflict the contemporary world.”

Back 150 years ago when Pius IX also saw turmoil aplenty, causing him to then declare St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.

What are these indulgences the Apostolic Penitentiary is bestowing in this Year of St. Joseph per the Holy Father’s decree to “benefit the perfect achievement of the intended purpose?”

We can gain a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions — sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, “with a soul detached from any sin” if we participate in the Year of St. Joseph in several specific ways that the Apostolic Penitentiary has established for us to gain the plenary indulgence.

As long as we’re in the state of grace one sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and separate prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father are required for each plenary indulgence. According to the most recent Church guidelines on the subject, “it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act.” Yet “it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.”

Here are the many opportunities and ways throughout this Year of St. Joseph, from now until Dec. 8, 2021, for us to gain the plenary indulgence over and over. Fulfilling the above conditions along with performing one of the particular works determined by the Penitentiary office can be done daily. One plenary indulgence per day. Remember, the only living person we can apply it to is our self. And we can apply it to any soul in purgatory. Think how many souls you get help — from relatives to unknowns by asking St. Joseph and Mary to pick out the souls for you.

Here we go:

First, because St. Joseph “invites us to rediscover the filial relationship with the Father,” renew faithfulness to prayer and listen intensely to God’s will, the plenary indulgence is granted if we meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Our Father, or be part of a “spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.”

Second, St. Joseph the just man “urges us to rediscover the value of silence, prudence and loyalty in fulfilling one’s duties.” Because St. Joseph practiced the virtue of justice in a perfectly model way “full adherence to the divine law, which is the law of mercy. So following St. Joseph’s example, we can obtain a plenary indulgence carrying out a corporal or spiritual work of mercy.

Third, St. Joseph’s main vocation was to be guardian of the Holy Family, husband of Mary, and legal father of Jesus. To inspire, enthuse and encourage all Christian families to live with the same “intimate communion, love and prayer” that the Holy Family lived, we can obtain a plenary indulgence for praying the Holy Rosary “in families and between engaged couples.” What a start this is for engaged couples’ upcoming marriage too.

Fourth, considering the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was instituted on May 1, 1955, those can gain a plenary indulgence “who daily entrust their activities to the protection of St. Joseph and all the faithful who invoke with prayer” the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker (or Craftsman) “so that who is looking for work can find a job and work [for] everyone is more dignified.”

Fifth, considering the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt “shows us that God is where man is in danger, where man suffers, where he escapes, where he experiences rejection and abandonment,” as Francis said, we can gain a plenary indulgence if we recite the Litany to St. Joseph (Latin tradition), or the Akathistos to St. Joseph, in whole or at least some of it (Byzantine tradition), or some other prayer to St. Joseph “proper to other liturgical traditions” for the Church persecuted ad intra [interior, from inside] and ad extra [exterior, from outside] and for the relief of all Christians who suffer every form of persecution.”

Sixth, “to reaffirm the universality of St. Joseph’s patronage on the Church,” we can gain a plenary indulgence if we recite any legitimately approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph — for example, “To you, O Blessed Joseph”, especially on his feast days of March 19 and May 1, on the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (this year on Sunday, Dec. 27), on the Byzantine Rite’s St. Joseph’s Sunday, on the 19th of each month and on every Wednesday, the day dedicated to St. Joseph.

“Wednesday is special to me,” Father Calloway said. “Just like we have the First Saturdays devotion, I think now we’re going to see an increase of attention to the First Wednesday of the month.” At the same time “we have the incentive to remember that every Wednesday” is dedicated to St. Joseph.

Father Calloway reminds that under these prayers to St. Joseph, we “can also do get the indulgence by doing the Consecration to St. Joseph.” Earlier this year the Apostolic Penitentiary gave him a letter granting that anyone who does the consecration can gain a plenary indulgence.

In Light of the Health Crisis

The Apostolic Penitentiary has also taken into account the worldwide situation regarding the health crisis. The office stated the “gift of the plenary indulgence is particularly extended to the elderly, the sick, the dying and all those who for legitimate reasons are unable to leave the house, who with a soul detached from any sin and with the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions, in their own home or where the impediment holds them, they will recite an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, trust in God the pains and discomforts of their life.”

Furthermore, for people’s fulfillment of getting divine grace, the Penitentiary “earnestly prays that all priests endowed with the appropriate faculties, offer themselves with an available and generous spirit to the celebration of the sacrament of Penance and often administer Holy Communion to the sick.”

St. Joseph’s Time Has Arrived

This Year of St. Joseph is ready to draw down graces upon us through the intercession of St. Joseph. Exactly 103 years after he appeared in the last Fatima apparition with Mary, and as he held the Child Jesus with whom he jointly blessed the world, St. Joseph is ready to bring this downpour of grace after grace upon us — if we accept and follow and ask and pray. What an unbelievable gift from heaven.

Father Calloway thinks each diocese is probably going to organize some specific conferences on St. Joseph. He also thinks “regional events are going to spread in the world,” including “talks on the family, talks on manhood … it’s going to be huge.”

As St. Teresa of Ávila said, “To other saints it seems that God has granted to help us in this or that need, while I have experienced that the glorious St. Joseph extends his patronage on all.” This year St. Joseph wants us to believe that and act upon that.

St. Joseph painting by Bernadette Carstensen

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!