Q. What is the new “Year of St. Joseph” just announced by Pope Francis?
A. From time to time a pope will declare a special year to be celebrated by the universal Church as a way of focusing attention on some aspect of Catholic belief or practice. St. John Paul II, for example, declared the “Year of the Eucharist” (October 2004 to October 2005) and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared the “Year of St. Paul” (June 2008 to June 2009).
On Tuesday of this week, December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis issued a proclamation declaring the beginning of a “Year of St. Joseph” (December 8, 2020, to December 8, 2021). That day was the 150th anniversary of the saint’s proclamation as “Patron of the Universal Church” by Blessed Pope Pius IX in the decree Quemadmodum Deus. The decree of Pope Francis says that he has established a Year of St. Joseph so that “every member of the faithful, following his example, may strengthen their life of faith daily in the complete fulfillment of God’s will.”
In addition, the Pope issued on the same day an apostolic letter with personal reflections about St. Joseph, entitled Patris Corde (“with a Father’s Heart”; see the full text at http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20201208_patris-corde.html). “Each of us,” he wrote, “can discover in Joseph — the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence — an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
He ended the text with a prayer: “Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted His only Son; in you Mary placed her trust; with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us, too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.”
The Apostolic Penitentiary, at the Pope’s direction, has granted special indulgences for the year. The decree states that “to reaffirm the universality of St. Joseph's patronage in the Church,” the Penitentiary would grant a plenary indulgence to Catholics who recite any approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, especially on March 19, the saint’s solemnity, and May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Other days for the plenary indulgence are the Feast of the Holy Family on December 29 and St. Joseph’s Sunday in the Byzantine tradition, as well as the 19th of each month and every Wednesday, a day dedicated to the saint in the Latin tradition.
The decree notes: “In the current context of health emergency, the gift of the plenary indulgence is particularly extended to the elderly, the sick, the dying, and all those who for legitimate reasons are unable to leave the house, who, with a soul detached from any sin and with the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions, in their own home or where the impediment keeps them, recite an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, comfort of the sick and patron of a happy death, offering with trust in God the pains and discomforts of their life.”
The “three usual conditions” for obtaining a plenary indulgence are sacramental confession, the reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the pope’s intentions.