Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt (Mt. 2:14)
We can imagine that he took the child in his arms at that moment, wrapped him in his mantle and they began to walk…
In this chronicle, we would like to share with you the details of the grace we received of which we are still left in admiration: The delicacy of St. Joseph.
On the 21st of this past February, we wanted to visit some of Rome’s churches in the Palatine and Aventine localities. Checking their schedules to see at what hour they opened, we discovered a link to a video about a relic that had been conserved in the Basilica of St. Anastasia in the Palatine since the end of the 4th century: nothing other than the mantle of St. Joseph.
We were left in shock. Not shocked by the fact that Rome had one more relic, but because it regarded a relic of our Holy Patron, less than a month away from the 30th anniversary of the foundation of our Institute. This fact remained particularly significant considering all the preparations that we were undergoing, and the 30 day novena which had begun only a few days prior. Like one who becomes excited about something good without thinking too much, we did not hesitate in going… We entered the Church in order to know if the said relic was exposed for public veneration. The only information we received was that the relic was surely there, but it was not accessible to the faithful, rather it was kept in a private place, and for more details we would have to contact the priests who were to come celebrate the Holy Mass at 6pm. The Basilica of St. Anastasia has a perpetual Adoration chapel. When we knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, we found an inscription carved in Latin, carved into the marble wall, that told the story of the relic which we were seeking.
On March 12th, after the Holy Mass at 6pm, we approached the priest who had celebrated and asked him: “Father, we understand that the mantle of St. Joseph is here. Is it true?” To which he responded with amazement, “Yes, but can you believe that it is not possible to venerate it? It is kept privately in an armored closet. I have only begun to come here recently but would like to expose it for veneration!” We told him about our devotion to this Holy Patriarch and that in a few days we were to celebrate very solemnly the Institute’s 30th anniversary of foundation, and that on this occasion it would be a great grace to be able to venerate it. He was so enthusiastic that he told us: “Would you like to take it home?” “We never would have thought … but maybe… Would it be possible to bring it to the Basilica of St. Paul so as to have it present during the Mass of thanksgiving?” From this arose a bold response to a proposal that surpassed all imagination and expectation. But for St. Joseph, who every day shares in the life of the Servants of the Lord, giving them more than what they ask for; and for the Servants who in every passing day feel more and more his protection… Could we imagine that now, at the mark of 30 years, it was he himself who wanted to prepare his own feast and put us under his mantle in the most literal way imaginable?
As the marble inscription and tradition testify, this relic was brought to Rome by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, and has been preserved under special security for centuries; the authorities of the Vicariate of Rome do not permit the relic to leave the Basilica where it is guarded, and did not make an exception this time. On this account, Fr. Francesco proposed that we venerate it publicly during the Solemn Vespers. We were one week away from the great feast, and St. Joseph organized that on his Solemnity the II Vespers (Evening Prayer) would be in this way, so that could glorify God under the shadow of his mantle.
Sunday, March 18th at 5:45pm, Fr. Francesco advised us of a small problem: aside from the armored door, the relic was protected by glass and he did not know if it would be possible to bring it to the Church. But even then he maintained firm that we sing the Solemn Vespers and then later we would eventually go in small groups to venerate it. We told him: “Don’t worry, St. Joseph has always helped us in everything, and now he will not leave us alone, you will find the key”.
As the Holy Mass in St. Paul Outside the Walls finished, Fr. Francesco sent us a message advising us that all was well. While he was looking for a way to remove the protective glass, he touched it and it moved. Together with another priest they were able to remove it and thus access the beautiful reliquary.
After our festive lunch, we went to the Basilica of St. Anastasia in order to arrange the last details with Father before he began the Holy Mass at 6pm. We noticed that there were many people present for the Mass and that the sisters from our community in Prato providentially had arrived beforehand and made the Mass even more solemn with hymns. We entered the sacristy and upon seeing us with great joy Fr. Francesco said: “We did it! It is here!” We were speechless. Sure enough, there it was. Our eyes lit up and with our souls filled with an inexplicable joy we could venerate it. The beautiful reliquary from the 16th century kept the relic of the Holy Mantle of St. Joseph and the veil of the Blessed Virgin! For the first time in history, it would be solemnly exposed. It was the Holy Patriarch who not only prepared his Vespers but moreover had broken through the armored doors and glass because he desired to be surrounded by his Servants.
According to the original plan, when the Mass finished at 6:45pm Fr. Francesco would carry the relic in procession and expose it for veneration. Then at 7pm we would sing Vespers. But it was not foreseen that minute by minute the Church was filling with people; the Mass, enlivened by our sisters, the incense, and the sermon about St. Joseph were preparing something great. Meanwhile, the relic waited under lock and key in the sacristy.
At the conclusion of the Holy Mass, we returned to the sacristy to finish the liturgical details, and so that the Mothers of the General Council could greet and thank Fr. Francesco. To our admiration, he asked us: “And all these people? This many people never come for the daily Mass! I didn’t expect it.” We responded: “Father, you still have not seen the number of sisters who are outside, who haven’t even entered yet.” Sure enough, practically all of the communities of the Servants in Italy were present, some 200 sisters. One last detail to specify was the possibility that the people could come close and kiss and venerate the relic, as is our custom. Fr. Francesco agreed and we would do so after Vespers.
With the hymn Magne Ioseph being sung, the magnificent relic entered in procession, with two sisters as candle bearers. Once it was placed upon the main altar, II Vespers for the Solemnity of St. Joseph began with the majestic hymn Te Ioseph celebrent. What great joy we felt in this act of thanksgiving to God for the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Servants of the Lord! The people tried to be as close as possible. Between the hymn and the verses of the psaltery, a certain emotion was revealed, which reflected our souls full of thanksgiving.
When Vespers finished, the reliquary was prepared in such a way that the people could draw near to the altar and could delicately and devotedly kiss it. As the litany of St. Joseph began, the people began to come close to the altar. Everything spoke of heaven, everything told of God, of the Word Incarnate. It was like being in heaven, singing to God, with the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. In fact, in a single reliquary we were venerating the veil of the Mother of God and the mantle of the foster father of the Son of God. Beyond any doubt, these relics made us wonder how many times they had covered and protected from the cold the very holy Humanity of the Child Jesus.
Two hours… women were crying, children looked and kissed the relic with astonishment, men who knelt before the “Model of workers”, the elderly who with difficulty went up to the altar, bringing the pains and joys of all their lives…, everyone, everyone brought something to offer and to petition. And the Servants, each one of which had been symbolically offered by means of a lily during the Holy Mass that morning, now, at the close of the day, knelt under the mantle of St. Joseph, and placed there their lives, that he would bless them, perhaps calling to mind the gesture of the consecration of their entire lives forever, on the day of their final vows. Aspirants, postulants, novices, temporary and perpetually professed, and among these some who celebrated 30 years of religious life, and others who recalled their 25 years since they first professed vows.
Once the line of those who were present had ended, Fr. Francesco gave the final blessing and a procession carried the holy relics back to the place where they were kept. Here we saw how the armored door once again closed them in, this time without the protective glass. This was placed again in the morning, and as it has been for centuries, it will continue to guard the mantle of St. Joseph and the veil of the Most Holy Virgin. But regarding yesterday, there is something true, and of which we were eye-witnesses: the absolute certainty that St. Joseph wanted to be venerated in this way and that he himself prepared everything for us. This truth does not have a human explanation; it would mean far too many coincidences. Moreover, something new was done in history: after 16 centuries of silence and a hidden presence in a Church in Rome, now, a multitude of faithful could say “we were placed under his mantle” in the midst of the persecutions of the world, just as the Child God surely was while persecuted by Herod, He left for Egypt under the mantle of his father. The things of saints… Thank you St. Joseph!
May each of the Servants, perceiving themselves to be under the mantle of the Protector of Virgins, grow in love and devotion to the Holy Patriarch.
Sisters Maria Vergine dei Tramonti and María José