Wearing white vestments, Pope Francis celebrated his inaugural Mass on Tuesday, March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, the simple carpenter and husband of Mary, and the man who raised Jesus. Catholics refer to St. Joseph as the “protector” of the Church and of the family, just as Joseph protected Mary and Jesus throughout his life.
In his inaugural homily before thousands in St. Peter’s Square, including representatives of many faiths and heads of state, the newly-elected pontiff observed that the Feast of St. Joseph is also the “name-day of my venerable predecessor [Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger]: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.”
Taking his cue from the gospel reading of the day, Pope Francis quoted Pope John Paul II:
Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model.
The pontiff preached:
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
Pope Francis said that what God asked of Joseph was the same he asked of David, the subject of the first reading of the Mass of the day: to be “constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.”
Perhaps demonstrating his appreciation for practicality, Francis said that Joseph is a “protector because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will…He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”
The pontiff warned, however, that the vocation of being a “protector,” means “protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world… protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”
“In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it,” Francis said. “Be protectors of God’s gifts!”
The pope urged that “those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life… be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
“Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!” Francis urged. “Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives!”
The pontiff said, “Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!”
Vatican Radio reports that Pope Francis received the two symbols of his ministry as the Successor of St. Peter: the fisherman’s ring, in gold-plated silver, representing the Apostle Peter (who was a fisherman), and the gold and silver keys of the papacy.
At the climax of the inauguration, the new pope also had the pallium placed on his shoulders by the proto-deacon Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran. The pallium, a narrow stole made of white lamb’s and sheep’s wool and embroidered with five red silk crosses, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ, represents the pope’s role as the chief shepherd of the Church. It was laid out over the tomb of St. Peter overnight, as a sign of the continuity of the papacy from St. Peter onward.
Pope Francis asked for prayers as he begins his new ministry. He wrote on his twitter account, @Pontifex, on the day of his inaugural Mass: