Last month, I attended the Pontifical Mass at the Throne that His Excellency, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, offered on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. The feast was deferred to March 20 because the Lenten Sunday took precedence. You can see photos here (https://www.latinmassmadison.org/photos-from-pontifical-mass-for-st-joseph/).
What interested me most was the Lesson (aka Epistle) for the Mass. I expected something that referenced the Old Testament patriarch Joseph. Instead, the Lesson is borrowed from the Mass of a Holy Abbot (Os justi . . .). It’s from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, 45.1-6. This passage honors Moses. Upon consideration, it occurred to me that Moses is in many ways a quite fitting Old Testament type of St. Joseph.
First, let’s cite the relevant passage of Ecclesiasticus, per the translation in the Baronius Press Missal. The passage omits the name of Moses so you can apply the text more easily to the saint being commemorated in the Mass:
“Beloved of God and men, whose memory is in benediction. He [God] made him like the Saints in glory, and magnified him in the fear of his enemies, and with his words he made prodigies to cease. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, and showed him His glory. He sanctified him in his faith and meekness, and chose him out of all flesh. For he heard him and his voice, and brought him into a cloud. And He gave him commandment before His face, and a law of life and instruction.”
At first sight, this passage doesn’t seem to reflect St. Joseph very well. Moses, after all, had a very public life filled with miracles, while St. Joseph lived a very quiet, hidden life with Our Lord and Our Lady. But consider the following:
Delivered from sin to highest sanctity
Both Moses and St. Joseph were mere men, conceived in Original Sin but raised to an eminent degree of sanctity (the “predilection” mentioned in the lesson from Ecclesiasticus). Just as Moses praised the Lord for delivering him “out of the hand of Pharao” (Ex. 2:22), St. Joseph could praise the Lord for justifying him from Original Sin, which subjects men to the Devil, the allegorical significance of Pharao.
Saved through Mary, partnered with Mary in salvation history
Moses’ sister Miriam guarded him in the bulrushes so that he would be safe from Pharao’s henchmen. Decades later, when Moses led Israel out of Egypt, Miriam was part of his administration, as it were. She composed and sang the canticle of victory over the Egyptians, in which she magnified the Lord for what he had done (Ex. 15:20-21).
To sum up, Miriam rescued Moses from death and later was partnered with him in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.
Miriam is the same name as Mary. Mary rescued St. Joseph from sin and is his partner in salvation history. Here’s how:
1.) Our Lady is the Universal Mediatrix of all graces merited by Her Son. As such, she intervened to save St. Joseph from Original Sin, much as Miriam kept guard over the infant Moses. I don’t mean that Our Lady was older than St. Joseph. Rather, the graces that God gave St. Joseph came to him through Our Lady’s universal mediation, which is not limited by time.
2.) More specifically, St. Joseph was called from Original Sin to a preeminent degree of grace because he was predestined to be the most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this sense, Our Lady was a proximate cause of St. Joseph’s salvation, much as Moses was saved through his relationship with Miriam.
3.) Much as Moses and Miriam (together with Aaron) led Israel during the Exodus, St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church joins Our Lady, Mother of the Church, as guardian over the Church of their Son, which is the New Israel. Moses and Miriam led Israel (called God’s firstborn son) out of Egypt; St. Joseph and Our Lady led Christ (God’s literal firstborn son) out of Egypt. They lead us, Christ’s sinful members, out of the bondage of sin as well.
Tangential bonus point: Just as Miriam magnified the Lord for defeating Pharao, the Blessed Virgin Mary sang the Magnificat.
Adopted into the house of the King
Although Moses was a Hebrew slave condemned to death because of his race, the daughter of Pharao rescued him and adopted him into Pharao’s royal house.
Although St. Joseph was conceived in Original Sin and doomed to Hell because of this sin inherited from Adam, God predestined him and adopted him into the hypostatic order of grace. Specifically, St. Joseph was betrothed to Our Lady, the Daughter of Zion, Daughter of God our King. He thus entered God’s royal house, being foster father to God the Son.
Pursued by the rulers of this world
Pharao pursued Moses after he killed an Egyptian who was oppressing a Hebrew. Pharao sought to kill Moses, so he fled into the land of Madian and dwelt there until after that Pharao died and a new one was in power. Only then did God appear to Moses, who then returned to Egypt with his wife and children.
St. Joseph rescued Our Lord from Herod the Great by fleeing from Judea to Egypt. The Holy Family remained there until after Herod died, after which they returned to Nazareth. St. Joseph resembled Moses by 1.) defending the innocent, thereby 2.) incurring the enmity of the sinful rulers of this world.
Parallel theophanies: the burning bush and the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God
God first revealed himself to Moses from the burning bush. The bush burned but was not consumed. The Church has interpreted the burning bush as a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who remained a virgin while conceiving and bearing Our Lord. God dwelt within Her immaculate soul, which was full of grace, yet She remained a living, breathing human being. She was enflamed by the divine presence, yet not consumed. In both the East and the West, you find religious paintings that show Moses looking upon the burning bush, and in the midst of the bush is an image of the Madonna and Child.
As God revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush, He revealed Himself to St. Joseph through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He literally revealed Himself in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Son of God and Son of Mary. What Moses beheld under the type of the burning bush, St. Joseph beheld in its reality.
Meek and silent leader
Moses was a very meek and humble man. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he humbly confessed his unworthiness for the task before him. Moses declined to speak publicly himself, so God appointed Aaron to speak on his behalf. Later, after Moses time spent in the cloud with God, his face shone. To hide the light that radiated from his face, he wore a veil over his face when he spoke to the people, but he removed the veil when he communed with the Lord.
St. Joseph is famous for being silent. Holy Scripture records no word of his, other than that he named Our Lord “Jesus.” When he learned of Our Lady’s virginal conception, he considered divorcing Our Lady. Like Moses, he sensed his own unworthiness to be so closely involved in so profound a mystery as the Incarnation.
Though the holiest of saints after Our Lady, St. Joseph did not live his earthly life as a wonderworker or prophet or priest or religious reformer. Rather, he lived a quiet life in Bethlehem, in Egypt, in Nazareth, preferring a meek, humble, silent life. The hiddenness of St. Joseph’s sublime vocation resembles Moses’ own hiddenness — tending Jethro’s flocks in Madian, silent while Aaron spoke, hidden in the cloud atop Mt. Horeb, under the veil, in the Tabernacle. And just as Aaron communicated to Pharao and to Israel what Moses received in his hidden communion with God, the Church dispenses to the world the merits, suffrages, miracles, graces that come from St. Joseph.
Highlights from the next installment(s):
–Leads his family into Egypt
–Hidden in the cloud, he beholds the glory of the Lord
–Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant
–Dies before entering the Promised Land
–Succeeded by Joshua/Jesus, son of Joseph
–Answering an objection
–So what? Hints at tropological and anagogical significance in the identification of St. Joseph with Moses