When you go through the classical Prayer Book tradition, compared with modern Prayer Books such as ours in the ACNA, you’ll find that the list of Holy Days, or Major Feast Days, or Red-Letter Days, has grown rather noticeably. A number of Anglo-Catholics were probably already “unofficially” adding some of these feasts to the Prayer Book calendar in practice, which perhaps helps to remind us that these are not truly “new” feasts in the modern Prayer Books, but simply old traditions that the early Prayer Books omitted and 20th century Anglicans have decided to bring back. Saint Joseph’s Day, on March 19th, is one of those holidays.
The Collect and lessons look to be the same in our Prayer Book as in the 1979:
O GOD, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother:
Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16; Psalm 89:1-4(5-18)19-29; Romans 4:13-18; Luke 2:41-52
There aren’t a lot of stories about Joseph in the Bible. Most of his active presence therein is in Matthew 1 & 2, where he is visited by the Archangel Gabriel, and then leads the family to Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth. But our version of the Revised Common Lectionary covers most of those in Advent and Christmastide. So instead we get the Gospel story in Luke 2 about the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. In the historic calendar (before the 1970’s) that Gospel was appointed for the First Sunday after the Epiphany. But the modern Epiphany season leaves that story out entirely, apparently giving it over to Saint Joseph’s Day instead. It may not be the most interesting or even the most actively Joseph-centric Gospel story with Joseph, but that’s what we’ve ended up with.
Much more interesting, I daresay, are the other readings. 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 together set up a wonderful emphasis on the covenant of eternal kingship God established with David and his descendants. This is mentioned in the Collect as well, and expanded further in the Epistle, which adds the covenant with Abraham into the mix. Joseph, therefore, is presented as the last step in that family succession (alongside Mary of course) from Abraham and David to Jesus. The human parentage and family of Jesus is what legitimizes God’s fulfillment of all the previous covenants in Jesus – the faithful offspring of Abraham, the eternal King of Israel.
There’s more to be said about Joseph, of course, and the Collect hints at some of that. Imitating Saint Joseph’s uprightness and obedience is a shout-out to the stories in Matthew 1 & 2, wherein Joseph gets the incredibly rare introduction as “a righteous man.” Virtually every biblical hero character has reported flaws and sins; Joseph has scarcely a blemish recorded in sacred writ! A role model he is, indeed.
So there are quite a number of directions one can go in observing St. Joseph’s Day today, and hopefully this is a helpful starting point.