Is It the Year of St. Joseph or ‘Amoris Laetitia’ or Both?

COMMENTARY: From the outset there has been something strange with the Vatican’s non-rollout of the Year of St. Joseph. And it is creating another unnecessary controversy.

A painting of the Holy Family by an unknown artist of the 19th century adorns the Church of St. Benedict in Parma, Italy. Pope Leo XIII urged families to place an image of the Holy Family in their homes.
A painting of the Holy Family by an unknown artist of the 19th century adorns the Church of St. Benedict in Parma, Italy. Pope Leo XIII urged families to place an image of the Holy Family in their homes. (photo: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock)

Is the Year of St. Joseph being observed in the Vatican? Or will the focus be on fostering devotion to Amoris Laetitia

All over the world Catholics have taken up devotional activity for the Year of St. Joseph, announced completely without warning last December after it had already begun. While parishes, media apostolates and preachers (myself included) have devoted considerable effort to the special year, it has dropped like a stone in Rome, leaving only the faintest ripples.

From the outset there was something strange with the Vatican’s non-rollout of the Year of St. Joseph. Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on Joseph, Patris Corde, made absolutely no mention of it. Indeed, he has not made reference to the year a single time — not even on the feast of the Holy Family. Quite to the contrary, on that day he announced the Year of Amoris Laetitia, to begin on March 19, solemnity of St. Joseph, and to continue for 15 months. 

The announcement of the Year of St. Joseph was made in a decree establishing indulgences for the year, published by the Apostolic Penitentiary. That document, signed by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, states that Pope Francis has established the Year of St. Joseph. The document does not indicate that its provisions were ever presented to Pope Francis in an audience to be approved.

Thus there is a special year, claimed by others to be established by Pope Francis, but which he has steadfastly refused even to mention, despite his well-known personal devotion to St. Joseph. There has been minimal notice from Vatican offices. In contrast, the Year of Amoris Laetitia was announced by the Pope himself and includes many activities coordinated by Vatican offices. 

Every Monday, the Dicastery of Communications puts out a preview of events it considers significant for the week ahead. It is wide-ranging. For example, this week it noted that climate envoy John Kerry was in Berlin to meet the president of the European Union. Also, the Canadian bishops were hosting the third of four webinars on “Nurturing Friendship,” a look at the Directory for Catechesis in dialogue with the encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

For St. Joseph’s feast on Friday there is nary a whisper about the Year of St. Joseph. The beginning of the Year of Amoris Laetitia is noted, along with a preparatory press conference the day before.

All of which, if not significantly corrected by Friday, will create another unnecessary controversy. If, instead of celebrating Joseph on his feast day in the Year of St. Joseph, the Vatican promotes a 15-month celebration of a papal document, there will be significant confusion and no little dismay.

Historically, special years have commemorated anniversaries of events linked to the history of salvation, or particular aspects of Catholic life. A special year for a papal document is very unusual; this is the second one under Pope Francis, so it may be a new trend. 

We are currently in the “Laudato Si Year” (May 2020 to May 2021) to promote the Holy Father’s environmental encyclical. Though also promoted by Vatican offices, it has not appeared to generate much uptake on the parish level.

Traditionally major papal documents are studied and applied in theological and pastoral circles, with major conferences dedicated on various anniversaries. That tends to be a decentralized and organic process; some documents get considerable attention, others do not. 

A centralized Vatican concentration of energies to promote particular papal teaching may signal dissatisfaction with how much of that deeper examination has been organically generated, even though both Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia generated massive attention when first issued.

Amoris Laetitia was dated on the solemnity of St. Joseph five years ago, hence the beginning of the Year of Amoris Laetitia this March 19. It will be noteworthy to see how the figure of Joseph, whose marriage to the Blessed Virgin did not include conjugal relations, is proposed to those couples who are living in invalid marriages. Some applications of Amoris Laetitia counseled that couples in such circumstances could participate in conjugal life as it would be too difficult to observe traditional Christian teaching.

Amoris Laetitia created no little friction in the Church and some serious questions remained unanswered, principally about how the argument of Chapter 8 relates to the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, the 1993 encyclical on the moral life. In 2016, four cardinals submitted questions to the Holy Father on that issue, but Pope Francis chose not to respond. It is not anticipated that the 15-month Year of Amoris Laetitia will take them up.

It certainly appears that the Vatican’s heart is not really in the Year of St. Joseph, but his feast should not pass with it being ignored yet again. He is, after all, patron of the Universal Church, which the Year of St. Joseph is intended to commemorate.

A statue of St. Joseph and Baby Jesus is seen in the Basilica di San Giuseppe al Trionfale in Rome on March 18.

Go to Joseph

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