St. Joseph’s Greatness in Heaven

There has been a longstanding pious tradition in the Church that St. Joseph was assumed body and soul into heaven. This was the teaching of eminent theologians and members of the hierarchy, such as the Doctors of the Church, St. Augustine and St. Francis de Sales, as well as noted preachers such as St. Bernadine of Siena. Pope St. John XXIII stated this in his conference on May 26, 1960. This article presents a scriptural explanation for that belief.

The common opinion of St. Joseph is that he is not of much importance in the Gospel since he did not accomplish anything great; he was not a preacher nor a wonder worker. He seems quite ordinary, just involved in the family life of a laborer, even though his relationships with Mary and Jesus are mysterious. But uncovering what is implicit reveals another picture of him.

Mark 10:38-40 is about James and John seeking the positions closest to Jesus in his kingdom. Jesus says it is not for him to give. These two positions, one on his right and the other on his left, are reserved, Jesus said, “for those to whom it has been prepared.” He then asks the apostles if they can drink the cup he must drink.

At first sight, it appears to have no reference to Joseph or Mary. It is true that there is nothing explicit about them, but there is a definite implicit reference to them.

The Gospel states that the seats next to Christ are reserved for those who “drink of his cup” — meaning participate in his Passion. Obviously, foremost is the Blessed Virgin Mary on Calvary. But she was not there just as his mother. She was there also in an official capacity.

According to Jewish tradition, the mother of the king was the queen. Since Jesus was born King of the Jews, as is given in the mystery of the Epiphany, Mary was automatically Queen in his Kingdom. In the same mystery of the Epiphany, St. Joseph is told to take the Child with his mother to Egypt. In other words, he was to save the King and the Queen – that is, the foundation of the Kingdom of God.

On Calvary, Mary stood at the Cross not only as a mother, but equally as Queen, because Jesus was crucified as King, as signified by the placard over his head: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, a subject emphasized in St. John’s account of the Passion. That was achieved when, by obedience to His Father’s will, he conquered the prince of this world, Satan. When Jesus became King on Calvary, Mary became rightful Queen at the foot of the Cross, participating with the sword in her heart, as prophesied by Simeon at the Presentation of the Infant King in the Temple (Luke 2:35). Therefore, the first of the reserved seats next to Christ the King is Our Lady’s.

Joseph’s Role in the Infancy Narratives

The other seat belongs to St. Joseph. His participation in the sufferings of Christ, the requirement to have that second seat, was by having the main responsibility for the King and Queen in the mysteries of the Passion of the Infant Jesus: Jesus was hunted by Herod’s soldiers to kill him. St. Joseph suffered the deep anxiety and distress for the child’s and his mother’s safety and survival from Bethlehem, into Egypt, and even in Nazareth.

According to Patrignani’s A Manual of Practical Devotion to St. Joseph, the sixteenth-century mystic, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, recognized this when she said, “How great a share St. Joseph had in the chalice of Jesus’ passion, by the services which he rendered to his sacred humanity.”

These mysteries of his Infancy were prophetic of the Paschal Mystery to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. The influential Golden Legend of the fourteenth century popularized the Circumcision of Christ (Luke 2:21) as the first shedding of his Precious Blood in his mission of redemption. St. Joseph’s participation showed that he allowed the shedding of that blood according to God’s will. It also included the legal recognition of his fatherhood of the Child by bestowing upon him the name “Jesus” by which he would be known in history.

The Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22), follows this redemptive theme by the prophetic announcement of Simeon. His prediction of the rejection of the Messiah and the corresponding suffering of his mother must have pierced St. Joseph’s heart; nor could he have forgotten it, but recalled it for the rest of his life. Most especially, the three days of the Paschal Mystery are mirrored in the loss of the Child for three days before he was found again, as recorded in Luke 2:41-51. The intensity of the tormenting anxiety of his parents, expressed by Mary to Jesus, is not adequately brought out in the English translation of the Greek.

It can be said that in this way he participated “in pectore” — in his heart — in the sufferings of the passion in union with Mary, who represented them both on Calvary. She was present physically and morally, since she was united willingly with her Son in his sacrifice. St. Joseph, in a certain sense, was present morally because he had been united willingly with whatever was ordained for Jesus’ Messianic mission implicit at the Presentation. Thus, St. Joseph participated in Mary’s union with the oblation of their Son.

This interior martyrdom of St. Joseph has been commemorated in the popular devotion to the Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys of St. Joseph. It is also presented implicitly in the liturgy of the Church in its celebration of the mystery of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

The Prayer Over the Offerings for the Mass of the Presentation gives a sacrificial dimension by clearly stating, “O Lord . . . you willed that your Only Begotten Son be offered to you for the life of the world as the Lamb without blemish.” In this way, St. Joseph gave a Lamb and two doves as his sacrificial offering; the two doves can represent his heart and Mary’s joined to the heart of the Divine Victim — united in the one undivided love and the one shared suffering. Here St. Joseph’s role is presented as ministerial.

Lumen Gentium 58 teaches that “the Blessed Virgin Mary advanced in her pilgrimage of faith . . . associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim who was born of her.” Because of their union of hearts, could this not also be said of St. Joseph’s perfect paternal heart?

In The Meaning of Consecration Today, Rene Laurentin points out, “Physically Jesus and Mary had two hearts, but they shared only one love, which was both human and divine. It was for this reason that St. John Eudes . . . commonly made use of the singular more than he did of the plural: the Heart of Jesus and Mary . . . This usage embodied the language of love, and not that of logic and calculation.”

There are liturgical and prophetic indications of this union, for instance, the adjoining feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the two Hearts on the reverse side of the Miraculous Medal. In her Memoirs, Lucia of Fatima recalled how her young cousin, St. Jacinta, reminded her to tell everyone that the Lord wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated beside him.

It should be remembered that Jean Gerson, the Rector of the University of Paris and the Father of Josephology, referred to the Holy Family as the “Earthly Trinity” at the fifteenth-century Ecumenical Council of Constance. Implied in this term is the union of the love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, thus forming a single heart. Since Mary and Joseph lived in union with Jesus, then there was one oblation within them. Can we not then speak of the Triune Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

The Preface for the Mass of Mary and the Presentation of the Lord includes the same sacrificial theme: “She is the Virgin, the handmaid of your plan of salvation, who presents to you the Lamb of Salvation, to be sacrificed on the altar of the cross for our salvation.” Is not St. Joseph perfectly united with her in that one love as a dutiful servant of God’s plan of salvation?

Pope Benedict’s analysis of the mystery of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jesus of Nazareth  The Infancy Narrative states that the tone of that episode is “cultic” since St. Luke uses “[t]he language of sacrificial offering and priesthood.” Here, “to present” also means to offer “in the way that sacrifices were offered in the Temple,” which makes it a “cultic act” by which “Jesus is publicly handed over to God, his Father” in the sacred Temple of sacrifice. St. Joseph’s parental participation united him with this official oblation-like offering of Jesus — to be fulfilled in Jesus’ immolation on Calvary in the presence of Mary.

Further commentaries

Cannot the teaching of St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God, concerning Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, be applied to St. Joseph? Abraham by his will had sacrificed Isaac in his heart, even though the act was not fulfilled. So too, it can be said of St. Joseph: “what a holocaust this holy man offered in his heart!” — by which he merited the other seat beside the King and Queen in heaven. These are the places Jesus prepared for Mary and Joseph in heaven according to John 14:3.

A theological explanation is given by the Doctor of the Church, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, in Opera Omnia: Feastday Sermons. “If Christ sits at the right hand of the Father in the glory of paradise above all the choirs of angels, because he is the first of all the predestined and was the holiest of the holiest in this world, and if the Blessed Virgin, by reason of her own holiness, holds the second place after Christ because she is also second by reason of predestination from all eternity and grace in time, it seems to me that because St. Joseph holds the third place after Christ in eternal predestination and grace in time, so by the same reasoning he also holds the third place in the glory of paradise.”

St. Peter Julian Eymard in the Month of St. Joseph states that “Saint Joseph foresaw Mary’s tears and misery. He would have desired to stay by her side, and he must have begged Jesus to be allowed to remain on earth that he might climb Calvary and sustain Mary . . . How his love for them was crucified!” Here we see a saint, gifted with the grace of the Holy Spirit, entering into the mind and heart of St. Joseph at the thought of his Son’s sacrificial death, knowing the sorrow of his mother. Being already one with her in a perfect virginal marriage, he desired to be one with her at this exceptional time, if it were God’s will. Thus, he was participating in the sentiments of her heart accepting the divine will that their Son be the Lamb of God on Calvary. In this way, he was participating in her act of co-redemption not explicitly but implicitly, not physically but volitionally, “in pectore” — drinking his share of the chalice of the Lord’s passion in union with Mary and thus earning for himself the title of co-redeemer with Mary on Calvary.

Finally, as Abraham, by the sacrifice of his son merited his title “Father of Nations,” so too it could be said that St. Joseph by the sacrifice of his Son “in pectore” acquired a universal spiritual fatherhood as Mary, the New Eve, became the “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). This is implicit in the official recognition of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church by St. Pius IX in Quemadmodum Deus. The title “patron” is derived from the word “pater,” that is, “father.”

Pope Leo XIII, in Quamquam Pluries, analyzes the Patriarch Joseph as a prototype of St. Joseph, stating that the Old Testament Joseph prefigured the New Testament Joseph in glory. The pharaoh bestowed on the Patriarch the title “Savior of the World.”

Referring to Quemadmodum Deus, St. John Paul II stated in Redemptoris Custos that St. Joseph was “‘partaking’ in the plan of salvation.” He also alludes to Joseph and Mary as a new Adam and Eve. As the first Adam and Eve were the sources of the desacralization of creation, Joseph and Mary began its resanctification.

By his dutiful paternal participation in the life of his Son and moral participation in his sacrifice, St. Joseph fulfilled his vocation and mission for which he was granted so exalted an eternal recognition and position, body and soul, nearest the King and Queen in heaven.

Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA About Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA

A priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, in the service of the Diocese of Charleston, for Eucharistic Evangelization, Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA, is a Baptistine Canonical Hermit, and diocesan director of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina, Our Lady and Mother of Joyful Hope.