Traditionally, on May 1st, the Church celebrated the feast of Saints Philippe and James the Lesser, two of Christ’s apostles. In 1955, Pope Pius XII decided instead to place the celebration of the solemnity of St. Joseph the Worker on that date, with the goal of Christianizing a day devoted to the world of work.
Behind the parades, the atheist socialism propaganda preaching class struggle was in danger of actually of redirecting the faithful from the bosom of the Church to recruit them into the service of communism and revolution.
Originally, it was the feast of the patronage of St. Joseph, which Pope Pius IX extended to the universal Church in 1847 and fixed on the 3rd Sunday after Easter. In 1913, St. Pius X transferred this solemnity to the previous Wednesday. Pius XII ordered a complete rewriting of the liturgical office and set on it on May 1st as, “the solemnity of St. Joseph the Worker, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The Roman Breviary presents the institution of this feast thus: “So that the dignity of human labor, and the principles on which it is founded, may be engraved deeper in their minds, Pius XII has instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, to give his example and his protection to all labor unions. Indeed, by his example, those who exercise the working professions must learn according to which plan and which spirit they must fulfill their charge so that by firstly obeying the order of God, they subdue the land and contribute to economic prosperity, while at the same time gaining the rewards of eternal life.
“And the provident guardian of the Family of Nazareth will not abandon those who are his fellow tradesmen and workmen: he will cover them with his protection and he will enrich their houses with heavenly riches.”
“Very fittingly, the Sovereign Pontiff ordered the feast to be celebrated on May 1st, the day adopted by the workers’ associations. We can therefore hope that this day, consecrated to St. Joseph the worker, henceforth will no longer provoke hatred nor excite conflicts, but that, returning every year, it will invite all men to accomplish more and more what is missing from civil peace, and that it will stimulate even the governments to actively realize and demand the good order of the human community.”
Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker
O glorious Patriarch, St. Joseph, humble and just artisan of Nazareth, thou hast given to all Christians and particularly to us an example of a perfect life through diligent labor and admirable union with Jesus and Mary.
Assist us in our daily work in order that we, Catholic artisans, may also see in it an effective means of glorifying God, of sanctifying ourselves, and of being a useful member in the society in which we live. These should be the highest ideals for all our actions.
O dearest Protector, obtain for us from the Lord humility and simplicity of heart; love for our work and kindness towards our fellow laborers; conformity to God's will in the unavoidable trials of this life together with joy in bearing them; recognition of our specific social mission and a sense of responsibility; the spirit and discipline of prayer; docility and respectfulness towards superiors; the spirit of brotherhood towards our equals; charity and indulgence with our dependents.
Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness, when Heaven seems to be shut in our regard, and even the very tools with which our hands toil appear to rebel against us.
Grant that, in imitation of thee, we may keep our eyes fixed on our Mother, Mary, thy dearest Spouse, who, as she spun silently in a corner of thy shop, would let the sweetest smile course over her lips. Besides, may we never take our eyes off Jesus, who was busily occupied with thee at the carpenter's bench, in order that we in like manner may lead on earth a peaceful and a holy life, a prelude to the life of eternal happiness that awaits us in Heaven forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer composed by Pope Pius XII in 1958.