The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 in order to Christianize the concept of labor and give to all workmen a model and a protector. By the daily labor in his shop, offered to God with patience and joy, St. Joseph provided for the necessities of his holy spouse and of the Incarnate Son of God, and thus became an example to all laborers:
As to workmen, artisans, and persons of lesser degree, their recourse to Joseph is a special right, and his example is for their particular imitation. For Joseph, of royal blood, united by marriage to the greatest and holiest of women, reputed the father of the Son of God, passed his life in labour, and won by the toil of the artisan the needful support of his family. It is, then, true that the condition of the lowly has nothing shameful in it, and the work of the labourer is not only not dishonouring, but can, if virtue be joined to it, be singularly ennobled.
—Pope Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries, August 15, 1889
“May Day” has long been dedicated to labor and the working man. It falls on the first day of the month that is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Pius XII expressed the hope that this feast would accentuate the dignity of labor and would bring a spiritual dimension to labor unions. It is eminently fitting that St. Joseph, a working man who became the foster-father of Christ and patron of the universal Church, should be honored on this day.
Today is the First Class Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, established by Pope Pius XII. In earlier times it was celebrated on the Third Sunday after Easter as the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. In the 1800’s it was changed to the Wednesday of the third week after Easter, yet still solemnly said on the following Sunday. Pius fixed it as May 1st. It is the same feast, only the title St. Joseph the Worker has been added for it is the same Proper of the Mass.
The Epistle speaks to us of Joseph who in the Old Testament is a figure of St. Joseph. The dying Jacob prophesies that his son Joseph shall be the pastor and strength of Israel and that the Almighty shall shower blessing over the entire land of Egypt, so that the salvation of all depended upon him. The whole church has recourse to St. Joseph with confidence.
The Gospel, Collect and Communion, explaining the connection between the Heavenly Trinity and the Holy Family, this trinity on earth, show forth the power of St. Joseph. Jesus is at the same time Son of God and Son of man. Mary is the spouse of the Holy Ghost, and it is the will of God the Father that St. Joseph should be considered father of Christ and that he should exercise paternal rights over Him (Preface).
Lastly, the Introit, Collects, Alleluia and Offertory show us St. Joseph as the guardian of the new Jerusalem, which is the Church, to watch over her in the midst of all her tribulations. Full of confidence in the patronage of St. Joseph, let us honor his title of Protector on earth so as to deserve his help from Heaven (Collect). He is Patron of the Universal Church.
Prayer to St. Joseph the Workman
We speak to you, O blessed Joseph, our protector on earth, as one who knows the value of work and the response of our calling. We address you through your holy spouse, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and knowing the fatherly affection with which you embraced Our Lord Jesus, ask that you may assist us in our needs, and strengthen us in our labors.
By our promise to do worthily our daily tasks, keep us from failure, from a greedy mind, and from a corrupt heart. Be our watchful guardian in our work, our defender and strength against injustice and errors. As we look to your example and seek your assistance, support us in our every effort, that we may come to everlasting rest with you in the blessedness of heaven. ℟. Amen.
See also the Litany to St. Joseph.