Which Designated Year Should Catholics Celebrate?

COMMENTARY: Next Spring, the Church will be simultaneously observing four specially designated years: Our Lady of Loreto, St. Joseph, Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia.

(L) Statue of St. Joseph alongside a statue of the Holy Family,
(L) Statue of St. Joseph alongside a statue of the Holy Family, (photo: Rosesmith / Shutterstock)

Next March, should Catholics be celebrating St. Joseph or Amoris Laetitia with special devotion? The answer from the Vatican seems to be both, with a greater emphasis on the latter. 

As 2020 draws to an end, the Vatican announced two special years, one for St. Joseph and another for Amoris Laetitia. Both are a bit unusual and draw attention to a recent proliferation of designated years.

Next spring, the Catholic Church will be simultaneously observing four specially designated years: Our Lady of Loreto, St. Joseph, Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia


Silence on the Year of St. Joseph

The Year of St. Joseph might appear to be the most conventional and straightforward. There have been special Marian years, and Benedict XVI had a Year of St. Paul (2008-2009) to mark 2,000 years since the apostle’s birth. St. Paul VI declared a Year of Faith (1967-1968) to mark 1,900 years since the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Benedict’s own Year of Faith (2012-2013) marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

This December marked the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX declaring Joseph the patron of the universal Church in 1870. It’s the kind of anniversary that might well lead to a designated year.

It would certainly seem to appeal to Pope Francis, who does not hide his personal devotion to Joseph. 

Elected on March 13, 2013, he chose to have his inaugural Mass of the solemn feast of St. Joseph, March 19.  St. Joseph’s symbol appears on his coat-of-arms. He added the name of St. Joseph to the second, third and fourth Eucharistic Prayer soon after his election, just as St. John XXIII had added Joseph’s name to the Roman Canon (first Eucharistic prayer).

“I would also like to tell you something very personal,” the Holy Father said in the Philippines in January 2015. “I have great love for St. Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my table I have an image of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words, I tell him: pray for this problem!”

Pope Francis issued a special apostolic letter for the 150th anniversary of Joseph’s universal patronage earlier this month, Dec. 8, entitled With a Father’s Heart (Patris Corde). There he revealed that every day for 40 years he has added a prayer to St. Joseph to his morning prayers:

Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that I commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.

 Given that devotion, it is strange is that the papal apostolic letter has no mention of the Year of St. Joseph. The Holy Father has not mentioned it once, not even in his annual address to the Roman Curia, wherein he went through a list of biblical figures in crisis — Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and St. Paul, skipping over Joseph entirely. In his Christmas homily, nothing about the designated year, nor in the urbi et orbi. In his Angelus address for the feast of the Holy Family, there was no mention of the Year of St. Joseph. 

Indeed, the only mention that the Year of St. Joseph even exists is a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, granting certain indulgences for what it calls a “Year of St. Joseph.” The decree itself does not explicitly contain the approval of the Holy Father, but that is usually presumed. However, given the Holy Father’s total silence on the matter, is it the case that the Year of St. Joseph has been declared by the Apostolic Penitentiary, with the tacit knowledge, but not active support, of Pope Francis?

Another strange dimension of the Year of St. Joseph is that it was not announced in advance, so that people could prepare. The year, which runs Dec. 8,  2020 to Dec. 8, 2021, was already underway before anyone knew it existed, meaning that no pastoral preparation was possible.


Year of Amoris Laetitia 

Contrast this with the designated year which the Holy Father did speak about on the feast of the Holy Family. He announced that in 2021, the feast of St. Joseph (March 19) will not be celebrated as the highlight of the Year of St. Joseph, but rather the fifth anniversary of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Indeed, it will begin the “Amoris Laetitia Family Year,” which will conclude on June 26, 2022, on the occasion of the X World Meeting of Families in Rome. A website for the designated year went live that very day.


Designated Years for Documents

The Amoris Laetitia Family Year will overlap with the “Laudato Si Anniversary Year” which got underway last May 24, the fifth anniversary of the encyclical, and will run for exactly one year. That year also has a special website.

That approach is an innovation. St. John Paul had the habit of designating various years, and then issuing magisterial documents to commemorate them. There was encyclical for the Marian year 1987-1988, and apostolic letters for the Great Jubilee, the Year of the Rosary and the Year of the Eucharist. 

Pope Francis has reversed that, designating special years for the Church to give more intense focus to his own teachings. While the Laudato Si year has not, to date, captured the pastoral imagination of many parishes, that may be due to the pandemic. Perhaps the the Amoris Laetitia Year will be more intensely observed, while the Year of St. Joseph continues to be observed in silence.