On Thursday January 14, 2021, at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, the official visit of St Joseph’s Flowering Staff kicked off. As it was expected already, this visit has been marked as unique since from 8 December 2020 till 8 December 2021 Pope Francis officially declared it as a year dedicated to St Joseph.
Let us remember that on 8 December 1870 Blessed Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph Patron of the Catholic Church. Here is the decree promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Quemadmodum Deus, thanks to which it was communicated the decision of Blessed Pope Pius IX to solemnly declare St Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. This fact also raised St Joseph’s feast, that is celebrated on March 19, to the rank of double of the first class.
As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time had come and He was about to send to earth His only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been the type, and He made him the lord and chief of His household and possessions, the guardian of His choicest treasures.
Indeed, he had as his spouse the Immaculate Virgin Mary, of whom was born by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord, who deigned to be reputed in the sight of men as the son of Joseph, and was subject to him.
Him whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed. He most diligently reared Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life.
Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.
And now therefore, when in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her, the venerable prelates of the whole Catholic world have presented to the Sovereign Pontiff their own petitions and those of the faithful committed to their charge, praying that he would deign to constitute St. Joseph Patron of the Church. And this time their prayer and desire was renewed by them even more earnestly at the Sacred Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.
Accordingly, it has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage, has chosen to comply with the prelates’ desire and has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church.
He has also ordered that his feast on March 19th by henceforth celebrated as a double of the first class, without any Octave, however, because of Lent. He arranged, moreover, that a declaration to this effect be promulgated through the present decree of The Sacred Congregation of Rites on this day sacred to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, the most chaste Joseph’s Spouse. All things to the contrary notwithstanding.
The presence of St Joseph, thanks to his Flowering staff, was immediately felt here at the Oncology Centre. A great enthusiasm circulated among all the staff and patients who were present for the Masses that were celebrated and continue to be celebrated in practically every corner of the Centre these days of great graces.
Before every Mass I would read a beautiful introduction in the Maltese languange concerning the St Joseph’s Staff. First of all, why the Patron of Fathers carries a Flowering Staff in his left hand? Joseph was not a random man that God chose for Mary to be his wife. On the contrary, he was purposely chosen and aided by God thanks to special graces to care for the Holy Family. In the figure of Joseph we find accomplished the imagery of the Flowering Staff of Aaron, which illustrates that he had been chosen by God. This is what the Lord said to Moses in the Book of Numbers: Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them rods, one for each fathers’ house, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods. Write each man’s name upon his rod, and write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi. For there shall be one rod for the head of each fathers’ house (Num 17:2-3). There is a legend which says that a staff at the door blossomed as Joseph went to visit his future wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to tell her he had been selected by God.
Among the many devotions that we find among the Maltese people we come across the one for the Joseph’s Staff. The latter was part of an old, devoted and miraculous statue of St Joseph crowned. This statue is venerated at the National Shrine dedicated to St Joseph inside the Franciscan Friars Church of Saint Mary of Jesus. In Malta we are very blessed and honoured to have this statue of St Joseph crowned. In fact it is one of the few statues of St Joseph crowned to be found around. A decree was issued by Pope Pius XII in 1956 which permitted that this statue be solemnly crowned with two golden crowns whereas on 1st May 1963 the same statue was crowned by precious gems from the then Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Michael Gonzi at Floriana. It needs to be said that this statute is one of the very few sculpted images of St Joseph to be crowned by a Papal decree.
History has it that, throughout the centuries, many flocked to this wooden Flowering Staff of St Joseph. They all felt and still do feel, his powerful intercession and protection. Lots of people received great healings by praying in front of St Joseph’s staff particularly at the hospitals and houses of the faithful. The veneration for the statue of the crowned St Joseph goes back to the 17th century. Countless pilgrimages were made with this statue on national level most of all when there was lack of rain, the plague or praying for protection from earthquakes.
In an interesting article on the Times of Malta, dated 8 December 2020 and entitled A Fatherhood for our times, the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Charles Jude Scicluna, wrote:
“Another aspect that the pope appreciates in the fatherhood of Joseph is his freedom in being a father. ‘Joseph is traditionally called a most chaste father’. The pope says that the ‘title is not simply a sign of affection but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness… He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus. Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust. Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction’” (No. 7).
It is for this freedom of the children of God that we prayed to St Joseph, after some silence following the moment of communion, during the Masses that are being celebrated at the Oncology Centre in these days of great graces as we are lovingly hosting St Joseph’s Flowering Staff. In effect, we prayed the famous prayer to St Joseph, written by the great Pontiff Pope Leo XIII. In praying it we felt St Joseph’s loving protection for each and every one of us. We too need his fatherly protection to accompany us and help us encounter Jesus, the Son of God, whom he cared for and protected with all his mind, heart and soul, together with Mary, as he lived with them in the Holy Family.
To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.
Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.
Let us daily pray this powerful prayer, which is found annexed at the end of the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on devotion to St Joseph Quamquam Pluries, written on August 15th, 1889. It would be also wise and very beneficial if we pray this prayer next to the dying people or offer it for them from afar if we are unable to pray it near them.
Ite Ad Joseph. “Go to Joseph.”
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap