Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saint Joseph

March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph. Though he appears in the early chapters of the life of Jesus, primarily in the Chirstmas story, his later life is unrecorded in scripture, and what we know about it comes from other sources.

Joseph fares about the same in hymnody. He has some lines in several Christmas hymns and carols, and a few more in hymns about the childhood of Christ, but not much beyond that. Most denominations that sing saints' day hymns don't include one for Joseph. It seems to me that I have seen a few contemporary (and therefore copyrighted) ones, but I couldn't even locate those when looking for a hymn for today.

But of course, the Roman Catholic Church has always venerated Joseph, though not to the level of his wife Mary. This hymn comes from the Catholic Church Hymnal of 1905. It was set there to this same melody, though a slightly different (obviously earlier) arrangement. Author Frederick William Faber was an Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1846. Joseph is still defined in relation to Mary and Jesus, but it's nominally his hymn at least.

Dear husband of Mary!
Dear nurse of her Child!
Life's ways are full weary,
The desert is wild;
Bleak sands are all 'round us,
No home can we see;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
We lean upon thee.

For thou to the pilgrim
Art father and guide,
And Jesus and Mary
Felt safe by thy side;
Ah, blessed Saint Joseph,
How safe I should be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
If thou wert with me!

O blessed Saint Joseph!
How great was thy worth,
The one chosen shadow
Of God upon earth,
The father of Jesus!
Ah, then wilt thou be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
A father to me?

Thou hast not forgotten
The long, dreary road,
When Mary took turns with
Thee, bearing thy God;
Yet light was that burden,
None lighter could be;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
Oh, canst thou bear me?

God chose thee for Jesus
And Mary; wilt thou
Forgive a poor exile,
For choosing thee now?
There is no saint in heaven
I worship like thee;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
Ah, deign to love me!

Frederick W. Faber, 19th c.
German melody; 18th c.
arr. Sydney Nicholson, 1916

I probably wouldn't include this in a hymnal of my own, as it is quite unrestrainedly Catholic. But many of my readers don't come from a tradition of singing any saints' day hymns, so I suppose it is only a matter of degree.

A personal note: I was born in St. Joseph's Hospital in Savannah (only because my father was in the Air Force) and the nuns told my (non-Catholic) mother that I had to have at least one saint's name, so Joseph was chosen for the middle one. Which apparently makes this my sort-of name day.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I've always been fond of a couple of Joseph hymns. One is Thomas Troeger's "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child" and the other is "Saint Joseph Was a Quiet Man":

Saint Joseph was a quiet man who made things out of wood;
He worked with love to guide his hand, and what he made was good.
He lived with God, a little boy, from whom all thing have come;
He worked for him, in peace and joy, who made the stars and sun.

A carpenter to guard the Son who set the stars so high,
A carpenter made chairs for one who made the earth and sky.
He lived with God, a little boy, from whom all thing have come;
He worked for him, in peace and joy, who made the stars and sun.

—I don't recall by whom. Both can be sung to Kingsfold, and so they can be combined into a six-stanza song that looks at this saint from two quite different viewpoints. These songs seem to me to treat Joseph relatively independently of his putatively conjugal relationship with the BVM; I've boldfaced my favorite line of the lot above.

And of course there's the other Joseph, himself a type of David and of Christ, the one with the technicolor dreamcoat. I alluded to him in my Innocents' Carol "In Bethlem Town":

God said to Joseph and his wife:
To Egypt go, to save your li-ee-ife.
Thine ancient namesake as a slave
To Egypt came, your folk to save.
Too-loo-ree-lask, too-loo-ree-lun,
A sim'lar task awaits your son.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

See, I knew there had to be contemporary texts, even though I'm not sure those were the ones I was thinking of.