Honoring Saints Twice: St. John, St. Michael, and the Eastertide Feast of St. Joseph

The Removal of “Duplicate” Saints in 1960

Besides the significant changes and alterations to the Holy Week Liturgies in the 1955 “reforms” (so-called) as part of the temporal cycle, there were a few other noteworthy changes. With the advent of the 1955 Calendar, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of “St. Joseph the Worker” on May 1 (moving the feast of “Saints Philip and James” from May 1, where it had been since the sixth century, to May 11; and suppressing the Patronage of St. Joseph that, since Pope Pius IX’s decree of September 10, 1847, had been celebrated on the second Wednesday after the Octave of Easter). In 1954, Pius XII also instituted the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen on May 31; and to make room for it, he moved the Feast of St. Angela Merici to June 1.

Additional changes that occurred in 1960 under John XXIII included the removal of most saints who were on the calendar twice. For instance, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross on May 3rd, the second Feast of St. Agnes commemorating her apparition to her parents, and the Feast of St. John before the Latin Gate were all removed.

St. John before the Latin Gate

The Feast of St. John before the Latin Gate was celebrated each year on May 6, and it recalled the boiling in oil of St. John the Apostle. Since he survived this ordeal unscathed (as well as an attempt to poison him), he was then exiled to the island of Patmos. It was on a Sunday while he was on that island that he received the divine revelation which we know as The Apocalypse (the last book of the Bible). He later returned to Ephesus, battled the gnostic arch-heretic Cerinthus, and died circa 100 AD. His Feast on May 6th was celebrated with red liturgical vestments like that of a martyr. Father Alban Butler writes about this feast day:

“In the year 95, St. John, who was the only surviving apostle, and governed all the churches of Asia, was apprehended at Ephesus, and sent prisoner to Rome. The Emperor Domitian did not relent at the sight of the venerable old man, but condemned him to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. The martyr doubtless heard, with great joy, this barbarous sentence; the most cruel torments seemed to him light and most agreeable, because they would, he hoped, unite him forever to his divine Master and Saviour.

“But God accepted his will and crowned his desire; He conferred on him the honor and merit of martyrdom, but suspended the operation of the fire, as He had formerly preserved the three children from hurt in the Babylonian furnace. The seething oil was changed in his regard into an invigorating bath, and the Saint came out more refreshed than when he had entered the caldron. Domitian saw this miracle without drawing from it the least advantage but remained hardened in his iniquity. However, he contented himself after this with banishing the holy apostle into the little island of Patmos.

“St. John returned to Ephesus, in the reign of Nerva, who by mildness, during his short reign of one year and four months, labored to restore the faded lustre of the Roman Empire. This glorious triumph of St. John happened without the gate of Rome called Latina. A church which since has always borne this title was consecrated in the same place in memory of this miracle, under the first Christian emperors.”

The Apparition of St. Michael

On May 8th we traditionally recall the Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel, another feast day eliminated in 1960 in the name of removing “duplicates.” Saint Michael is regarded as the special Guardian Angel of Saint Joseph, the Guardian Angel of each one of the Popes, and one of the seven great angels who stand before the throne of God.

In the late 5th century, during the reign of Pope Gelasius, the angelic St. Michael appeared in southern Italy on a mountain named Gargano. In this apparition, St. Michael asked that the cave in which he appeared would become a shrine to the True God in order to make amends for the pagan worship that once occurred there. The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano still remains to this day.

Saint Michael later appeared with a flaming sword atop the mountain during a storm on the eve of battle between the Italian Lombards and the Neapolitan Byzantines. This was a time of crisis in the Church as Pope Vitalian (657-672) worked to defeat Monothelitisim, a heresy favored by the Byzantine Emperor. The Pope had settled a dispute between bishops vying for the Patriarchate of Constantinople (one had been unlawfully deposed) and had to excommunicate the Archbishop of Ravenna, who sought to leave the jurisdiction of the Pope (that schism lasted ten years). Saint Lawrence, Bishop of Siponto, prayed to St. Michael on behalf of the Lombards and their armies were greatly emboldened by the angelic apparition. The Duke of Benevento then led the Lombards in a great victory on May 8, 663. Attributing the victory to their heavenly patron, the Church then established a Feast in honor of the Apparition of St. Michael on May 8th, the anniversary of the battle.

St. Michael appeared there once again in 1656 to save the local populace from a terrible plague. He came in answer to the prayers and fasting of the bishop Alfonso Puccinelli. Saint Michael appeared to the bishop and told him to bless the stones in his cave and to engrave them with the letters “MA.” Anyone who devotedly kept these sacramentals was preserved from the plague.

The removals of duplicate feasts days for these saints from the liturgical calendar were incorporated in the 1962 Missal; however, a priest may still choose to offer a votive Mass for those saints on those traditional feast days.

The Eastertide Feast of St. Joseph

While many Catholics should be familiar with the annual Solemnity of St. Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus Christ, celebrated annually on March 19th, fewer are likely familiar with the Eastertide Solemnity of St. Joseph.

According to Father Francis X. Lasance, it was instituted during the hostile occupation of Rome by the troops of the Italian King, Victor Emmanuel II. Pope Pius IX proclaimed St. Joseph the Patron of the oppressed Household of the Faith, entrusting to St. Joseph the defense of Holy Mother Church.

In the beginning, this feast day was observed on the Third Sunday after Easter, but when Pope St. Pius X reformed the liturgical calendar to restore the Sunday Offices to prominence over those of the Saints, the second Feast of St. Joseph was moved to the Wednesday preceding the Third Sunday after Easter. In 1911, the Feast was raised to a Double of the First Class, and it was assigned an Octave after it was moved to the Wednesday before the Third Sunday after Easter. It is a Common Octave, so the Octave may or may not be commemorated on the intra Octave days, depending on the rank of the feast days that occur during the Octave. While this feast day is not in the 1962 Missal, it is still kept by priests who celebrate Holy Mass according to the pre-1955 liturgical calendar.

At the time of the writing of his illustrious The Liturgical Year 15-volume set, Dom Prosper Guéranger observed that the Feast of St. Joseph during Eastertide was said on the Third Sunday after Easter. Here is an excerpt from his work for that Feast:

“The Easter mysteries are superseded today by a special subject, which is offered for our consideration. The holy Church invites us to spend this Sunday in honouring the Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of the Son of God. And yet, as we offered him the yearly tribute of our devotion on the 19th of March, it is not, properly speaking, his Feast that we are to celebrate today. It is a solemn expression of gratitude offered to Joseph, the Protector of the Faithful, the refuge and support of all that invoke him with confidence. The innumerable favours he has bestowed upon the world entitle him to this additional homage. With a view to her children’s interests, the Church would, on this day, excite their confidence in this powerful and ever ready helper.

“Devotion to St. Joseph was reserved for these latter times. Though based on the Gospel, it was not to be developed in the early ages of the Church. It is not that the Faithful were, in any way, checked from showing honour to him who had been called to take so important a part in the mystery of the Incarnation; but Divine Providence had its hidden reasons for retarding the Liturgical homage to be paid, each year, to the Spouse of Mary. As on other occasions, so here also; the East preceded the West in the special cultus of St. Joseph: but, in the 15th Century, the whole Latin Church adopted it, and, since that time, it has gradually gained the affections of the Faithful. We have treated upon the glories of St. Joseph, on the 19th of March; the present Feast has its own special object, which we will at once proceed to explain.

“Hence it is, that the Church invites us, on this day, to have recourse, with unreserved confidence, to this all-powerful Protector. The world we live in is filled with miseries which would make stronger hearts than ours quake with fear: but, let us invoke St. Joseph with faith, and we shall be protected. In all our necessities, whether of soul or body — in all the trials and anxieties we may have to go through — let us have recourse to St. Joseph, and we shall not be disappointed. The king of Egypt said to his people, when they were suffering from famine: go to Joseph! (Genesis 41:55) the King of Heaven says the same to us: the faithful guardian of Mary has greater influence with God, than Jacob’s son had with Pharaoh.”

We would do well to recall the Patronage of St. Joseph during the Easter Season and thank God for the many graces given through his intercession. May devotion to St. Joseph not be relegated only to the month of March. But may we have recourse to him and all the saints whose Feasts have been forgotten by the changes of the 1950s and 1960s.

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