In 1955 Pope Pius XII established May 1st as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. On the modern Liturgical Calendar in use since the release of the 1970 Roman Missal this Feast Day ranks as a Memorial. The institution of this Feast by Pope Pius was in response to communist-backed “May Day” celebrations on the 1st of May and served to offer a Christian view of labor. Communism, and really Socialism as well, are incompatible with the Catholic faith and both have been repeatedly condemned by the Holy See:
To this goal also tends the unspeakable doctrine of Communism, as it is called, a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow.
Blessed Pope Pius IX, Qui Pluribus 16 – November 9, 1846
Hence we have reached the limit of horrors, to wit, communism, socialism, nihilism, hideous deformities of the civil society of men and almost its ruin. And yet too many attempt to enlarge the scope of these evils, and under the pretext of helping the multitude, already have fanned no small flames of misery. The things we thus mention are neither unknown nor very remote from us.
Pope Leo XIII, Diuturnum 23 – June 29, 1881
If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.
Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno 120 – May 15, 1931
See to it, Venerable Brethren, that the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever. Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the triumph of Communism in their own country, will be the first to fall victims of their error. And the greater the antiquity and grandeur of the Christian civilization in the regions where Communism successfully penetrates, so much more devastating will be the hatred displayed by the godless.
Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris 58 – March 19, 1937
Now, the Catholic Church is no stranger to the cause of worker’s rights. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: … injustice to the wage earner” (CCC 1867). And when it comes to presenting a solid Christian view of labor I don’t believe that it should be any surprise that devotion to St. Joseph has long been the vehicle chosen to do so.
The Gospels present him as both “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a) and a laborer – Jesus is called “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:54-58). The Church presents these passages to us on the Solemnity of St. Joseph (Gospel 1st Option) and on the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker (Gospel) respectively. And notice that Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical condemning atheistic communism, Divini Redemptoris quoted above, on March 19th – the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A bit closer to our own day Pope John Paul II held up St. Joseph, as a laborer, as a model of holiness for us all:
Work was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth. The Gospel specifies the kind of work Joseph did in order to support his family: he was a carpenter. This simple word sums up Joseph’s entire life. For Jesus, these were hidden years, the years to which Luke refers after recounting the episode that occurred in the Temple: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). This “submission” or obedience of Jesus in the house of Nazareth should be understood as a sharing in the work of Joseph. Having learned the work of his presumed father, he was known as “the carpenter’s son.” If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus’ work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.
Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos 22 – August 15, 1989
The more time that I spend meditating on the life and the work of St. Joseph the more I am coming to appreciate him as a role model. Over the past few years I have slowly been growing in devotion to him. And this is something I foresee continuing well into the future.