St Joseph 

Feast day: 20th March

Patron of a Happy Death

A happy death! What an interesting concept. In palliative care, we are familiar with the idea of striving for a “good death”. But do we ever think of death as being “happy”? We must challenge ourselves: is this truly how we see our death? Surely as Christians we believe that this earthly life is simply a precursor to eternal happiness in the next. And if so, then our dying and death becomes the greatest journey we ever make. To look after the sick and dying is therefore a great privilege but also a grave duty. It is very good to alleviate suffering, to communicate well to aid a patient’s and/or family’s understanding of what is happening, and to accompany them through this time. But we must also make sure that our patients have access to the spiritual care they need and an opportunity to receive the Sacraments. Where doctors are physicians of the body, priests are physicians of the soul. 

So why is St Joseph the patron of the happy death? Given that Joseph is not mentioned later in the Gospels, it is reasonably assumed that he died prior to the public life of Jesus, and with his family around him. St Joseph is popularly depicted on his death bed, Jesus and Mary at either side, tenderly caring for him. What sweeter place can there be than to lie in the arms of Mary and Jesus?

Here it is, then: “the happy death”. 

“O Blessed Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary. When the seal of death shall close my life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me. Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen.” (Traditional prayer to St Joseph) 

The Conference of the Bishops of England and Wales have recently launched a dialogue on death and dying called “The Art of Dying Well”. You may find some helpful resources on their website:

Image: Death of St Joseph. Paolo de Matteis (1662–1728). Current location: Civic Museum of Castel Nuovo (Naples)

– written by a colleague working in a hospice