It’s Time to Start the Seven Sundays Devotion to St. Joseph

This little-known devotion to St. Joseph was called for by St. Joseph during apparition. If you start this on Jan. 31, you’ll end on March 14, the Sunday before his feast

Francisco Goya, “The Death of Saint Joseph,” 1787
Francisco Goya, “The Death of Saint Joseph,” 1787 (photo: Public Domain)

This Year of St. Joseph is the perfect time to start or increase our devotion to St. Joseph.

One of the longstanding yet little-known devotions is the Seven Sundays honoring the Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys of St. Joseph. This Sunday, Jan. 31, would be a perfect time to start the Seven Sundays devotion because the seventh Sunday falls on March 14, right before St. Joseph’s feast day on March 19.

The devotion developed after St. Joseph appeared to a couple of friars who were aboard a ship that sank.

Some of the specific details of this story known for a few hundred years were shared by Father Matthew Spencer, the provincial superior of the Oblates of Saint Joseph, when he was on Relevant Radio.

Off the coast of Flanders sometime before the beginning of the 16th century, two Franciscan friars found themselves clinging for dear life to the pieces of the ship on which they were sailing sank after being caught in a terrible storm.

For three days and three nights, despite the waves, they managed to stay afloat clinging to the floating wooden pieces, all the while praying for help. Because they had always been devoted to St. Joseph, they continuously asked and begged him with great fervor to come to their aid and save them.

On the third day, a man appeared to them, quite radiant, and told them to have faith and trust in St. Joseph. We can imagine that in their predicament it was the kind of faith that can move mountains as Jesus tells us in the gospels — or in this case, the kind of faith that would somehow get them to safety on dry land.

They listened. The man rescued them, getting them safely ashore. Once on land the two friars asked him who he was and how could they thank him or what honor they could they pay him. Obviously, this was no ordinary, natural kind of rescue.

He identified himself as Joseph. He told them that if they wanted to something pleasing to him and honor him, daily recite the Our Father and Hail Mary seven times while meditating on his Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys during the days with Jesus and Mary.

Then St. Joseph disappeared from their sight.

The account was recorded in the 16th century by Father John da Fano, a Capuchin, in a little work he wrote about devotion to St. Joseph. Mentioning this in a radio talk, Father Spencer also said that meditating on St. Joseph’s sorrows and joys actually appeared over one thousand years earlier because St. John Chrysostom “describes the life of Saint Joseph concretely in terms of a life that is characterized by sorrows and joys.”


The Devotion Expands

It took a bit of time, but the devotion to the Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph really took off and spread in the early 18th century when Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli put together the official prayer-meditations to go along with the seven Our Fathers and Hail Marys. He isn’t a household name today even though he was beatified by St. John Paul II. But we all know someone he was closely associated with. Even before the founding of the order, Blessed Gennaro was a religious companion of St. Alphonsus Ligouri who founded the Redemptorists where Blessed Gennaro then joined him as a priest.

As the devotion spread, popes approved and in a sense promoted it by attaching indulgences to this powerful devotional prayer, including Blessed Pius IX and the popes after him.

“So you can see that in recent years this particular devotion has not only become much more widespread, it’s become recognized in the Church in a very formal way and validated by the Church as an efficacious and beautiful form of prayer,” Father Spencer said, hoping “that helps convince you to say you should start praying the Seven Sorrows and Joys in your own life as well.”


The Seven Sorrows of St. Joseph

  1. The doubt of St. Joseph (Matthew 1:19)
  2. The poverty of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:7)
  3. The Circumcision (Luke 2:21)  
  4. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34) 
  5. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:14)  
  6. The perilous return from Egypt (Matthew 2:22) 
  7. The loss of the Child Jesus (Luke 2:45) 


The Seven Joys of St. Joseph

  1. The message of the Angel (Matthew 1:20)
  2. The birth of the Savior (Luke 2:10-11)
  3. The Holy Name of Jesus (Matthew 1:25)
  4. The effects of the Redemption (Luke 2:38)
  5. The overthrow of the idols of Egypt (Isaiah 19:1)
  6. Life with Jesus and Mary at Nazareth (Luke 2:39)
  7. The finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:46)

Praying the Devotion

“Traditionally the Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph are prayed on Wednesdays or also on a series of Sundays together,” Father Spencer said, mentioning it was one of his favorite devotions. “My recommendation to you though, is to get into the habit of praying the Sorrows and Joys of Saint Joseph every Wednesday.” He reminded, “On Wednesdays the Church invites us in a special way to look to Saint Joseph.” It’s the Church’s traditional day that to remember Saint Joseph just as on Saturday we remember our Blessed Mother and Sunday the Resurrection of our Lord.

“An excellent means to obtain special favors through St. Joseph's intercession is to honor his Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys on seven consecutive Sundays,” emphasizes a wonderful small and very inexpensive devotional booklet, St. Joseph Novena and Prayers, available for years from the Daughters of St. Paul. (More places to find the devotion below)

“This devotion may be practiced at any time of the year,” it says, recommending “fervent followers of St. Joseph like to venerate him especially on the seven Sundays preceding his feast.”

This Sunday, Jan. 31, is the perfect start for that since the consecutive Sundays means the Seventh Sunday falls on March 14, just days before St. Joseph’s feast on March 19.

This particular booklet also recommends the Seven Sundays in honor of St. Joseph “are observed by receiving Holy Communion in his honor on seven consecutive Sundays, and on each Sunday the prayers in honor of the Seven Sorrows and the Seven Joys of St. Joseph are recited.” (The homebound should make a spiritual communion.)

Simple enough.

Furthermore, we’re told to “give priority to this devotion,” since St. Joseph “himself designated it and declared how pleasing it is to him. It will be an excellent means of obtaining precious graces and favors through his intercession.”

Naturally, you can pray this devotion alone. Father Spencer also recommends praying it as a family, as a couple, and also as a parish.

Beginning this Sunday, Jan. 31, that’s exactly what Father Scott Carpentier is doing with his two Rhode Island parishes — St. Joseph in Pascoag, Rhode Island, and nearby St. Patrick.

Father Carpentier “was glad to find it researching on the internet to see what devotions to pray for the Year of St. Joseph.” Finding this Seven Sundays devotion and ready to start it “is really exciting for us,” he said.

Those people coming to church for Mass will, of course, be praying the Seven Sundays devotion together as a parish family, while those unable to come can download the prayers from the parish website and pray along from home, whether as a family or alone.

The response is all positive. “People are grateful we’re doing some added devotions for our patron,” an enthusiastic Father Carpentier said, “and the other parish appreciative of it as well.”

Along with this Seven Sundays devotion, he is hoping to do the 33-day consecration with the parish or by themselves using Marian Father Donald Calloway’s Consecration to St. Joseph, ending with the consecration on another major St. Joseph feast day — May 1, St. Joseph the Worker.

But right now, while the Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph Devotion can also be prayed on Wednesdays since it’s the day devoted to him or any time in addition to Sundays, for the Year of St. Joseph make this Jan. 31 the start of your St. Joseph’s Seven Sundays devotion.

Find the prayers for this devotion in these places: