Questions Answered – December 2020

Joseph and the Virginal Conception

Question: What was Joseph’s state of mind when he knew for certain that Mary was with child? I cannot believe he doubted her purity, despite the reality before him.

Answer: This is a very important question and is actually the basis for a whole developed Josephology. There is an excellent book called Redeemer in the Womb, by John Saward (Ignatius Press, 1993), which develops the points I am going to make here. Also one should note that the Catholic approach to this question is in accord with Church councils.

The opinion you mention that St. Joseph doubted the virginity of Mary and thought she could be unfaithful to him actually reflects the present way the text of Matthew is translated in the Missal. It reads: “decided to divorce her quietly.” (Mt. 1:19) The implication is that Joseph doubted her purity but did not want her condemned.

This is an impossible translation. The reason is that Nazareth was a very small village. How can one divorce a person quietly in such a place? One cannot. Dr. Saward has suggested a better translation is: “Not wanting to reveal her mystery, decided to depart from her.” Why? To understand this it is important to consider Jewish wedding customs at the time of Christ. The betrothal was not just an engagement but the couple who were betrothed were considered married but did not cohabit. Once the betrothal occurred, the husband had to find a place for them to live. This could take some time, especially if it had to be constructed. Once this was done, then the bride was escorted by the husband to their own home and this was the marriage ceremony. It was during this time that Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant. Why did he want to withdraw from her?

The reason is not that he thought she had been unfaithful. The reaction of Joseph was rather the reaction of many people in Scripture confronted with the fact that they are part of a supernatural action. They deem themselves unworthy to be part of such a stupendous mystery. Some compare Joseph’s reaction to Moses in the presence of the burning bush; he cannot approach and wishes to remove his shoes. There is Peter’s reaction to the miraculous draught of fish: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk. 5:8) Then there is the reaction of Elizabeth to Mary coming to stay with her: “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to dwell with me?” (Lk 1:43)

The reaction of Joseph is the same. He wanted to withdraw from her from holy piety and fear of the Lord because he did not understand how he could have been chosen to be a part of such a stupendous mystery. The angel sets his mind at ease by explaining that he has a mission: Guardian of the Redeemer and of Mary. He tells him: “Do not fear to take Mary as your lawful wife for it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” (Mt. 1:28) His office (munus) in the New Testament and as Guardian of the Redeemer and Mary includes naming the child, Jesus. He is the first to pronounce the Holy Name.

So there is no possibility that Joseph could have doubted the purity of Our Lady or been angry with her as a possible unwed mother and taken her in marriage to cover over her shame. Instead, he is dumbfounded at how he as a limited man could have been chosen to be a central part of this mystery and he embraces it fully in obedience once it is explained.

Entrance Antiphons at Mass

Question: Why don’t we say the entrance antiphon at Mass? I was in a small parish over 30 years and we always said it. Sometimes the priest said it. A priest I know said it was up to the congregation to say it, not him. We have moved and once again no entrance antiphon is ever said. It is so beautiful and I miss it.

Answer: I always find liturgical questions difficult to answer when people couch it in terms such as: “Why don’t we?” I have been ordained for 48 years and have discovered with the reformed liturgy that there are so many options that I never know what is going to happen from one parish to another. That being said, though, it is important to explain why the Entrance Antiphon (called the Introit in the extraordinary form) exists and why it is important to say it.

The Psalms are the prayer book of Israel and, since the Church is the New Israel, are an integral part of Christian worship. In the Mass, this is demonstrated in a number of places where historically psalms were sung. The entrance of the priest is one of them. Originally a whole psalm was sung when the priest entered the assembly. There was a refrain from the psalm and then a cantor sang all the verses solo interspersed with the refrain. This eventually evolved into antiphonal singing from choir to choir, and if the psalm was too long, it was abbreviated and the cantor moved immediately to the Gloria Patri.

The Missal of Paul VI envisions the original repetition of the entire psalm though it does not require it. The present Missal simply understands that someone will recite the entrance antiphon, even just the priest sotto voce before the sign of the cross which was not always the case. In the extraordinary form, it would normally occur after the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.

The text in the later liturgy was not limited to the psalms or scripture but could reflect major feasts. One thinks of the famous “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino” which was adapted to many feasts and celebrations.

When the Introit was sung, it began as a simpler melody which was chanted but eventually assumed more complexity. This is enshrined in Gregorian chant. As one Jewish professor of music noted, however, Pope St. Gregory did not invent or compose Gregorian chant. It actually came from ancient Israel and perhaps the Temple worship. He codified it for Church use and also attempted to demonstrate the proper way to sing it.

Hymns may now be used to begin Mass but they were originally composed for other services, notably the Liturgy of the Hours. The Church has attempted to return to simplified versions of the singing of things like the Entrance Antiphon where the more complex Gregorian form is impractical but still recommends it at least be sung.

Given all this theory, I would say that your parish should at least recite the Entrance Antiphon at the beginning of every Mass. This can be done by the priest alone, the lector or the congregation. If there is a hymn sung, the priest recites the entrance antiphon alone quietly. In some parishes, especially at weekday Mass, the pastor has asked a member of the congregation to lead the reciting of the Antiphon as the celebrant enters. All this being said, one must remember that each situation is different and the pastor may not deem it feasible to do the Entrance Antiphon all the time. The Church has put it in the Missal because, as you rightly note, it is beautiful and expresses the theme of the daily liturgy. One hopes this is understood by those who determine what will happen in the liturgy.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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  1. Avatar Fr. Dan Goulet says:

    OCP is offering a free online course on how to add the Entrance and Communion Antiphon for the Mass on January 15. The Archdiocese of NY offers a similar course on their webpage. I always say both antiphons at the Sunday and Weekday Masses. My Music Director is interested in having them sung on Sundays. Great question!