If you were to ask people what we know about the death of Joseph, odds are that they would say he died in the presence of Jesus and Mary at the end of a long and fulfilled life. This idea is the basis for our understanding of Joseph as the patron of a happy death.
The reality is that we know absolutely nothing about the end of Joseph’s life. We don’t know if he died as a relatively young man or if he died as the elderly patriarch of his family. We don’t know if he died as the result of an illness or accident. We don’t know if he died on a jobsite or at home in his bed. We have literally zero biblical information about Joseph’s death. What we do seem to know is that he died before the Crucifixion because Mary is always mentioned as being alone.
Our image of him dying peacefully surrounded by his loving family seems to have come from the History of Joseph the Carpenter, written in the fifth or sixth century. This apocryphal story has him dying at the age of 111 with Mary, Jesus, and a host of angels in attendance.
So why was such an image created? Probably because that is the ideal, and we project this ideal on Joseph. It seems only fitting that after a lifetime of service in raising Jesus that Joseph would be rewarded with a glorious death.
Even though our ideas about the death of Joseph are not based in fact, that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. When we think about death, we can hope and pray that we will die at peace after a life lived in obedience to God’s will. We can still ask Saint Joseph to intercede for us at that moment. Indeed, we are encouraged to do so.
“The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the litany of saints, for instance, the Church has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord’; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1014).
Saint Joseph, grant that I may be faithful to God’s will throughout my life, even unto the hour of my death. Amen.
Image credit: VELA/CIRIC