By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
One of the most famous prayers approved by the Church in honour of St Joseph is entitled “Officia Parvum Sancti Joseph” (the Little Office of St Joseph). The antiphon of that prayer opens with the solemn words of salutation: “Salve Patriarcharum decus, et Ecclesiae Sanctae Dei oeconomae, cui Panem vitae et frumentum electorum conservasti”,, which means “Hail Glory of the Patriarchs, Steward of God’s Holy Church, who didst preserve the Bread of life and the wheat of the elect.” Our point of consideration in the present reflection shall be on the first sacred title of Joseph as “Glory of the Patriarchs”. What does this mean?
The word, Patriarch derives from two Greek words, Pater (father) and arche (ancient). A Patriarch is one who can be considered an ancestor in and by a family, since in the history of a family tree or genealogy, reference must be made to him as one whose fatherhood is long-standing. An important thing to note here is that Patriarchs concern men who are fathers, grandfathers and forefathers, hence, patriarchism flows from masculine side. The Little Office salutes Joseph as Glory of the Patriarchs. But who are these patriarchs being referred to? The answer is found in the pericope of Gospel of Matthew 1:1-17. The hagiographer informs us that Jesus’ genealogy is traceable to Abraham who precedes other fathers, and the implication of Matthew’s summation of the number of the generations from Abraham to David (14), from David to Babylonian deportation (14), and from the Babylonian deportation to Christ (14) equals forty-two (see v 17). Interestingly enough, Maria, the Mother of Jesus recognized this genealogy of her Son and of Joseph her spouse in the Magnificat where she sings that God made a promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever (see Luke 1:55). Part of those being referred to as descendants of Abraham here are the fathers mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, among whom is Joseph. Joseph, thus, ends the list of Patriarchs for directly after his name, that of Jesus is the next in the genealogy.
In the exegesis of the Church Father, Melito of Sardis recorded in his Homily on the Lord’s Pasch which is read in the Office of the Readings of Good Friday, he notes that Jesus Christ was present in some righteous men of the Old Testament so as to endure great things and to prepare His coming. One of those he mentioned that has his name inscribed in Matthew’s genealogy is Isaac, whose being bound by his father, Abraham prefigures the tying of Jesus in His Passion experience in the abandonement by His Eternal Father. All these patriarchs longed to see the Messiah, yet none of them did, except Joseph. Thus, their anticipation was fulfilled in Joseph who not only saw Jesus, but becomes His Foster-Father in the flesh, as well as adored Him as His God in the manger. Thus, Joseph culminates the desire of the Patriarchs for their dream was realized in him. This becomes a way of glorifying Joseph, and it is Jesus His Son who glorifies Him.
Joseph is the Glory of the Patriarchs because unlike them all who never saw Him, he became His earthly provider. Perhaps, one of the longings of these patriachs would be to father Jesus, the Messiah. It therefore becomes clear that Joseph had a personal encounter with Jesus the Man-God. In fact, it was not just an ordinary encounter, but rather the one that revealed to Joseph that His Son is the Messiah.
Joseph is the Glory of the Patriarchs not just because he surpasses them by his personal experience of Jesus, but because unlike them, He discovered several secrets about Jesus in union with His Mother, Maria. Therefore, since Joseph found the secrets about Jesus, his dignity was glorified and exalted.
Joseph is the Glory of the Patriarchs because unlike them who were devoid of seeing Jesus face to face on earth, Joseph not only saw Jesus face to face, but received from Him the privilege of being the Head of the Holy Family where he served as Father, Maria as Mother, and Jesus as Child. Therefore, Joseph unlike them had a foretaste of Heaven while on earth, for if Heaven is defined as presence of God, then in Joseph’s Family, God was present in the Person of Jesus. Is this not a glory for Joseph? Certainly it is.
Joseph is the Glory of the Patriarchs because too unlike them, He was privileged to be Jesus’ tutor in wisdom. If he was a carpenter, it implies that he was a diligent worker. Hence, he would not have been diligent while Jesus his Son languishes in idleness. Therefore, what he knows he taught his Son, and this teaching also included things about God and life. Thus, we see here a humility demonstrated by God – Jesus allowed Himself to be taught by Joseph so that the world would learn that fatherhood is not just a title, but an office dignified by God. This is what Joseph enjoys as one of his Glories.
The greatest bewilderment to even note is that Joseph is the Glory of the Patriarchs for his name has same meaning with that of Jesus – God saves. This passes a deep and solemn information about this holy man, for while Jesus’ name is given from above, Joseph’s comes from below, yet both have one and same implication with reference to soteria tou anthropou (salvation of man) which both names reflect. This indicates that Joseph’s name speaks directly about God, and it carries so much secret about his personality. His name reminds us of our salvation and simultaneously of our Saviour whose name dignifies his. It is consequent upon this and the above reasons that we receive the Church’s recommendation to *Go to Joseph*, for he is a great man of God.
O St Joseph, Glory of the Patriarchs and Faithful spouse of Maria! Pray for us who have recourse to You.