Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph – Accompanying Words

The Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph is one of my favorite prayers. I wrote a reflection on the prayer which can be read here. In this article, I wanted to focus on the words and claims that generally accompany this prayer and are the roots of its “Ancient” title.

Depending on where the prayer is published, a disclaimer may preceed the words that accompany the prayer, noting that there is no guarantee of accuracy or certainty in the claims. These words generally accompany the prayer,

“This prayer was found in the 50th year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In 1505, it was sent from the pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle. Whoever shall read this prayer or hear it or keep it about themselves, shall never die a sudden death or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy or be burned in any fire or be overpowered in battle. Say for nine mornings for anything you desire. It has never been known to fail.”

I will admit that part of my initial attraction to this prayer was due to the allure of its claims of its age and military style mysticism, such as never being “overpowered in battle”. Looking into these claims further, we might account them as slightly more mythical than factual.

Public devotion to St. Joseph does not appear until the early fourth century by the Copts. Recognized devotion to St. Joseph in the western church seems to have started much later than that, with the first church dedicated to St. Joseph being constructed in 1129 in Bologna. The claim that the prayer was found in the 50 AD would be unlikely as during the infancy of the church “only martyrs of the church enjoyed veneration.” St. Joseph was not passed over completely in the early church, but it would be somewhat difficult to find a prayer dedicated specifically to him during the first century AD.

In regards to the claim that the prayer was sent to Emperor Charles V from the Pope in 1505 while going into battle, the year 1505 raises doubt about historical accuracy. Charles V was born in the year 1500. This would mean either Pope Julius II would have sent the prayer to a five year old Charles V and his family, or the prayer was sent much later than the stated date, as Charles V began his rein as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. While this prayer may have existed at the time, and could have been sent to Charles V, the lack of specification of which pope sent the prayer and the questions surrounding the date detract from the overall credibility of the claim.

The claims that the prayer renders poison ineffective or prevents a hearer or sayer of the prayer from being captured or overpowered in battle are claims of faith, that currently have no historical validation or corroboration, but it can be easily understood why these specific claims accompany a prayer to St. Joseph. They are quite masculine and valiant which solidifies the depiction of St. Joseph’s strength, virtue and protection. If the prayers origins were during the early 16th century, the claims would be quite relatable and useful to soldiers and men of the time as well.

Lastly, the claim that it is never known to fail should be evaluated with reverence and nuance. Our understanding of prayer and God’s answers to them would require volumes of theology books, intense study of scripture and hours of discussion. We do know that God can hear our prayers and God can answer our prayers. What we want to avoid at all costs is the reduction of our prayer, worship and devotion to simple superstition. Superstition is a misunderstanding of our relationship with God. Our prayer should be focused on conforming to His will and not asking God’s will to conform to our fallen, earthly wills (although at times our petitions can be just and in accord with His will). Novena’s do not bring about anything we want on earth, but taken at face value, the claim “it has never been known to fail” can certainly sound as a promise of such. It could be said that none of our prayers fail or go unanswered, but we must accept that our infinite God has an infinite number of ways to answer our prayers. We cannot expect our desired outcome to always arise, and it is our duty to ask God for his grace and strength to help us accept any answer we receive.

With the claims about the Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph being evaluated, we can cherish and implement the powerful request for St. Joesph’s intercession in our life appropriately.

An Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph

Image result for st. joseph

Icon of St. Joseph the Worker

The Terror of Demons, The Solace of the Wretched, The Splendor of Patriarchs and The Protector of the Holy Church are all titles ascribed to St. Joseph in his litany. Although not a single word from St. Joseph is recorded in scripture, by the accounts of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels we know that these names have been bestowed upon him for his humble obedience to God and his fortitude in protecting the Holy Family.

St. Joseph is a true example of authentic masculinity. He is bound by his faith, trusting in God and God’s Angel by not dissolving his marriage with Mary. He is devoted to loving Mary chastely and on her own terms as the Mother of God. He is tender and gentle with the baby Jesus. He is patient in teaching Jesus his earthly trade of carpentry (Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:54-55).

Can you imagine being tasked to marry the most beautiful woman to ever exist and be required to preserve her perpetual virginity? Can you imagine trusting in God so deeply to not only raise a child that is not yours, but to raise the only begotten Son of God? Can you imagine having to travel far and wide to protect the Holy Family from the ruler of the land? St. Joseph is the only man in history, by the power of God’s grace to obediently and silently carry out these tasks.

Thusly, St. Joseph’s example of a fierce protector, a masculine father and a chaste spouse make clear that veneration and imitation of  him is urgently necessary in the culture of today. Entrenched in a society hailing the pursuit of lust as virtuous and propagating perilous evils such as sexual license, fatherlessness and pornography, the powerful intercession of Jesus’ earthly foster father should be sought expediently, especially by men.

When I first received my Prayer Book, I turned to the Powerful Prayers section and found the following words.

“An Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph;

O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires.

O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me.


A powerful prayer indeed. The image of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus is powerful. It illustrates the reverence we seek to have for Christ in our hearts, daring not to approach the baby Jesus lest we wake him from his rest. Again we see the way in which protection of Jesus is entrusted to the powerful St. Joseph, with Jesus asleep peacefully in his arms. The ending supplication brings a chill to my spine every time. “Kiss his fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.” Our hearts yearn for the graces of God to overcome hardships and setbacks in our lives. Is it not our ultimate goal to live according to God’s will for us and cooperate as St. Joseph did, with his grace, so that we may be worthy to receive the kiss from Jesus as we pass from this life into the hope of heavenly beatitude?

The closing request, “St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me” stems from what can be inferred about St. Joseph’s death. St. Joseph is recognized as the Patron of a Happy Death, as he was personally consoled and accompanied by both Jesus and Mary during his departure from this world. Once again, can you imagine being surrounded by Jesus and Mary on your deathbed and not only the tenderness and love, but the magnitude of  heavenly graces bestowed upon you for your humble obedience to God? It is again our hope, and our request to St. Joseph to pray for us on our behalf that we may depart from this world in the imitation of his own pious departure.

This prayer, and the image and example of St. Joseph are strong reminders of what genuine, sanctified masculinity requires of us. To love our families deeply and to protect them. To commit ourselves to right chastity according to our state in life. To deny our love for sensual pleasures and love for self so that we may humbly follow God’s will for us. To protect those who cannot protect themselves. To stand strong in the face of any earthly adversity. To advocate for justice and peace. To grow deeply in our love for God and to grow in virtue every day, glorifying the Lord by our lives.

My hope is that this prayer will find a home in your life, help deepen your relationship with St. Joseph through his foster son, our Lord Jesus Christ and bring about his powerful intercession.

Sanctus Ioseph, Ora Pro Nobis.

Note: Click here to read an article I’ve written about the “words that usually accompany this prayer”.