In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, on Sunday 1 May we celebrate the Feast of St Joseph, Opifex or Worker. We don’t ignore the 5th Sunday after Easter, of course (6th Sunday of Easter in the Novus Ordo): prayers from the Sunday formulary are added after those for Joseph.
Joseph the Worker is a modern feast. Celebration of his principle feast on 19 March goes back to at least the 10th century. In 1870, Bl Pius IX declared Joseph to be the Patron of the Universal Church and gave him a feast on the Wednesday of the 2nd week of Easter. In 1955, however, Ven Pius XII abolished that feast and instituted St Joseph The Worker on 1 May. This was a response to Communist celebrations of “May Day”, which in part commemorated a bombing, riot, and massacre in Chicago in 1886 called the Haymarket Affair, the consequences of which are, according to some, still felt today around the globe.
St Pope John Paul II wrote about work in his 1981 Encyclical Laborem exercens and about Joseph in his 1989 Apostolic Letter Redemptoris custos. Of work, he wrote that it is an essential part of human nature, an activity that gives us dignity, while toil is a consequence of sin. Of Joseph, he wrote,
“Human work, and especially manual labour, 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.”
Joseph didn’t perform miracles that we know of. He didn’t go forth and preach boldly or offer himself in bloody martyrdom, as some did. Instead, in his quiet way, Joseph is as a model for how we should work. That is, he worked with God and for God. He worked with God in that he worked with Jesus and for Jesus as carpenter and bread-winner and then as a teacher of carpentry to His Son. Joseph worked with love.
He was blessed to see the Man God with his physical eyes. That is, he literally had God before his eyes as He worked.
We don’t have the Lord physically before our eyes as we work, but by Faith we can keep him before our inner eyes, the eyes of our hearts, as we work, even in the most menial of tasks.
As a good Jewish man and father he would have prayed many times a day and taught the Lord His prayers as worked. Praying as we work is something we should do as well.
Take Joseph as your model, both you men and women, and also teach your children to do the same. When you work or do chores, however unpleasant you might think they are, remember to do them for God and with love for Him. Begin your day along with your other prayers by saying “Lord, all that I do today, I do for love of you and for your glory.” You can say that all during the day.
Never forget, in all your works, to think of God and perform them for love of him. As we are in the state of grace, those works which are done for God and for the love of him will be rewarded in eternity. The smallest act will be rewarded before the throne of the divine Judge if it is done with love.
Many saints were very humble and worked hard in small jobs for their whole lives, they were not great nobles or flashy public people. They were farmers like St. Isidore, soldiers, manual laborers, craftsmen, servants. How did they save their souls and become saints? Through the good intention with which they worked, which rendered the small tasks they performed meritorious before God.
Again, the most insignificant actions, such as walking, washing, and working, can win for us the joys of heaven. Do all that you do for God and He will crown your works as His own.
The Latin Church approves 6 litanies for official, public prayer, including one for St Joseph. Look it up and pray it. Ask your priests to lead you.
And today, especially, beg the help of Joseph for the unemployed.