May 1st is known as “May Day”, a celebration of working classes and laborers, that was started in 1889 in response to difficult working conditions and long hours during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. In order to incorporate the sacredness of work into the secular holiday, in 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on May 1st.
St. Joseph, the Foster Father of Jesus was known to be a carpenter according to the Gospel of Matthew, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). A carpenter who was able to oversee and assist the young Jesus, along with the Blessed Mother Mary, just as he was able to shape the wood with which he worked. St. Joseph is also frequently shown teaching the young Jesus the work of the carpenter in many images such as those shown below.
A carpenter is a highly skilled tradesman able to take the raw material of wood from nature and transform it into beauty and utility to support mankind in building an environment to carry out the ancient cycles of work and life. As a carpenter, St. Joseph illustrates not only the utility of work, but also shows the dignity of work and provides a model for workers to imitate in creating work from their hands.
Frequent symbols found in statuary, paintings and stained-glass windows of St. Joseph the Worker include: a carpenter’s square, a hammer, a saw, an axe, or a workbench. White lilies of purity are also very often included in images of St. Joseph the Worker.
As outlined in a previous post, there are many churches across the world under the patronage of St. Joseph – see https://churchwonders.com/2021/03/17/go-to-joseph/. There are over 350 churches called “St. Joseph the Worker” including a lovely the church at 1640 Addison Street in Berkeley, California where Bishop Michael J. Barber, S.J. will celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on Saturday May 1, 2021 at 5 pm.
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The Catholic Directory – https://www.catholicdirectory.com/
History.com – https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-may-day
National Catholic Register – https://www.ncregister.com/blog/st-joseph-the-worker-on-may-1-and-every-day