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How May 1 Became the Feast of St Joseph the Worker

Updated: May 21, 2023

It was on May 1, 1955 that Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and decreed that holy mass in honor of St Joseph be celebrated on May 1st.

Read his speech in full:




St. Peter's Square - Sunday, 1st May 1955

A little more than ten years ago, on 11 March 1945, in a delicate moment in the history of the Italian nation, and especially of the working class, We received the ACLI for the first time in audience. We know, beloved sons and daughters, that you hold in great honor that day when you had the public recognition of the Church, which, throughout the long course of her history, has always been attentive to responding to the needs of the times, inspiring in the faithful the thought and intention to unite in particular Associations for this purpose. Thus the ACLI entered the scene, with the approval and blessing of the Vicar of Christ.

From the very beginning We placed your Associations under the powerful patronage of St. Joseph. Indeed, there could be no better protector to help you let the spirit of the Gospel penetrate your life. Indeed, as we said then (cf. Speeches and Radio Messages, vol. VII, page 10), from the Heart of the Man-God, Savior of the world, this spirit flows into you and into all men.

But it is certain that no worker was ever so perfectly and profoundly penetrated by it as the putative Father of Jesus, who lived with Him in the closest intimacy and community of family and work. Thus, if you want to be close to Christ, We too today repeat to you "Ite ad Ioseph": Go to Joseph! (Gen. 41, 55).

The ACLI must therefore make the presence of Christ felt by their own members, their families and all those who live in the world of work. Never forget that your first concern is to preserve and increase the Christian life in the worker. To this end it is not enough that you satisfy and exhort the fulfillment of religious obligations; it is also necessary that you deepen your knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, and that you understand ever better what matters in the moral order of the world, established by God, taught and interpreted by the Church, in what concerns the rights and duties of today's worker.

We therefore bless these efforts of yours, and especially the courses and lessons that you opportunely organize, no less than the priests and lay people who lend you their work as teachers. Not enough will ever be done in this field; so great is the need for methodical, attractive formation that is always adapted to local circumstances. Let every thought be taken to avoid the successful outcome of generous work expended in establishing and extending the kingdom of God from being hindered or wrecked by yielding to personal ambitions or to the rivalries of particular groups. Let the ACLI know that they will always have our support, as long as they comply with these norms and give the other organizations an example of disinterested zeal in the service of the Catholic cause.

For too long, unfortunately, the enemy of Christ has been sowing discord among the Italian people, without always and everywhere encountering sufficient resistance on the part of Catholics. Especially among the working class it has done and is doing everything to spread false ideas about man and the world, about history, about the structure of society and the economy. It is not uncommon for the Catholic worker, for lack of a solid religious formation, to find himself disarmed when similar theories are proposed to him; he is unable to answer, and sometimes even lets himself be contaminated by the poison of error.

The ACLI must therefore increasingly improve this formation, persuaded as they are that they exercise in such a way that apostolate of the worker among the workers, which Our Predecessor Pius XI of f. m. wished in his Encyclical "Quadragesimo anno" (cf. Acta Ap. Sedis, vol. XXIII p. 226). The religious formation of the Christian, and especially of the worker, is one of the principal offices of modern pastoral action. Just as the vital interests of the Church and of souls have imposed the institution of Catholic schools for Catholic children, so also the true and profound religious instruction of adults is a first order necessity. Thus you are on the right track; continue with courage and perseverance, and do not be led astray by erroneous principles.

For these erroneous principles are at work! - How many times have We affirmed and explained the love of the Church for the workers! And yet the atrocious slander that "the Church is allied with capitalism against the workers" is spreading widely! She, mother and teacher of all, is always particularly attentive to her children who find themselves in the most difficult conditions, and she has also effectively contributed to the attainment of the honest progress already achieved by various categories of workers. We ourselves said in the Christmas Radio Message of 1942: «Always moved by religious motives, the Church condemned the various systems of Marxist socialism, and condemns them even today, as it is her permanent duty and right to preserve men from currents and influences, which jeopardize their eternal salvation. But the Church cannot ignore or fail to see that the worker, in an effort to improve his condition, bumps into some device which, far from being in conformity with nature, conflicts with God's order and with the purpose He has awarded for earthly goods. However false, condemnable and dangerous the paths that were followed were and are; Who, and above all any priest or Christian, could remain deaf to the cry that rises from the depths and which in a flood of a just God invokes justice and a spirit of brotherhood? » (Speeches and Radio Messages, vol. IV p. 336-337).

Jesus Christ does not wait for the path to be opened to him to penetrate social realities, with systems that do not derive from him, whether they be called "lay humanism" or "socialism purged of materialism". His divine reign of truth and justice is also present in regions where class opposition ceaselessly threatens to gain the upper hand. Therefore the Church does not limit herself to invoking this more just social order, but indicates its fundamental principles, urging the rulers of peoples, the legislators, the employers and the directors of enterprises to implement them.

But Our discourse now turns particularly to the so-called "disappointed" Italian Catholics. In fact, there is no shortage of them, especially among young people with very good intentions, who would have expected more from the action of the Catholic forces in the country's public life.

We are not speaking here of those whose enthusiasm is not always accompanied by a calm and sure practical sense concerning present and future facts and the weaknesses of the common man. Rather, we are referring to those who recognize the considerable progress achieved despite the difficult condition of the country, but feel painfully that their possibilities and capacities, of which they are fully aware, find no scope to be put to use. No doubt they would have an answer to their complaint, if they carefully read the ACLI programme, which demands the effective participation of subordinate work in the elaboration of the economic and social life of the nation and asks that within companies everyone is truly recognized as a true collaborator.

We do not need to insist on this subject, which We Ourselves have already sufficiently treated on other occasions. But we would like to draw the attention of those disappointed to the fact that neither new laws nor new institutions are sufficient to give the individual the security of being protected from any abusive constraint and of being able to evolve freely in society. Everything will be in vain if the common man lives in fear of being subjected to arbitrariness and does not succeed in freeing himself from the feeling that he is subject to the good or bad will of those who apply the laws or who, as public officials, direct the institutions and organizations ; if He realizes that in daily life everything depends on relationships, which perhaps he does not have, unlike others; if he suspects that, behind the facade of what is called the State, the play of powerful organized groups is hidden.

The action of Christian forces in public life therefore certainly has to promote the promulgation of good laws and the formation of institutions suited to the times; but it means even more that the dominion of empty phrases and deceptive words is banished, and that the common man feels supported and supported in his legitimate needs and expectations. It is necessary to form a public opinion which, without looking for scandal, indicates with frankness and courage the persons and circumstances which do not conform to just laws and institutions, or which unfairly conceal what is true. It is not enough to give the ordinary citizen influence by placing the ballot paper or other similar means in his hand. If he wants to be associated with the ruling classes, if he wants, for the good of all, to sometimes remedy the lack of profitable ideas and overcome intrusive selfishness, he himself must possess the necessary inner energies and the fervent will to contribute to instilling a sound morals in all the public order.

Here is the foundation of the hope which We expressed to the ACLI ten years ago and which We repeat today with redoubled confidence before you. Only those who direct their gaze solely to the immediate political aspect, to the game of majorities, can suffer real disappointments in the workers' movement. Your work takes place in the preparatory - and so essential - stage of politics. For you it is a question of educating and introducing the true Christian worker through your "social formation" to trade union and political life and of supporting and facilitating all his conduct through your "social action" and your "social service". Continue therefore without weakness the work done so far; in this way you will give Christ immediate access to the world of workers, and then mediately also to other social groups. This is the fundamental "openness", without which any other "openness" in any sense would be nothing but a capitulation of the forces that call themselves Christian.

Beloved sons and daughters, present in this sacred square; and you workers of the whole world, whom We tenderly embrace with paternal affection, similar to the one with which Jesus enthralled the hungry multitudes of truth and justice; rest assured that in every occurrence you will have a guide, a defender, a Father at your side.

Tell us openly, under this free sky of Rome: will you be able to recognize, among so many discordant and bewitching voices addressed to you from various quarters, some to undermine your souls, others to humiliate you as men, or to defraud you of your legitimate rights as workers, will you be able to recognize who is and will always be your sure guide, who is your faithful defender, who is your sincere Father?

Yes, beloved workers; the Pope and the Church cannot escape the divine mission of guiding, protecting, loving above all the suffering, all the more dear, the more in need of defense and help, be they workers or other children of the people.

This duty and commitment We, the Vicar of Christ, strongly desire to reaffirm, here, on this day of May 1, that the world of work has awarded itself, as its own celebration, with the intention that everyone recognizes the dignity of work, and that this inspires social life and laws, based on the equitable sharing of rights and duties.

Thus welcomed by Christian workers, and almost receiving the Christian chrism, May 1st, far from being an awakening of discord, hatred and violence, is and will be a recurring invitation to modern society to accomplish what is still missing to social peace. Christian feast, therefore; that is, a day of jubilation for the concrete and progressive triumph of the Christian ideals of the great working families.

So that this meaning is present to you, and in a certain way as an immediate return for the numerous and precious gifts brought to us by every region of Italy, we like to announce to you our determination to institute - as in fact we institute - the liturgical feast of St. Joseph the Worker, assigning to it precisely the 1st day of May.

Do you welcome, beloved workers, this gift of Ours? We are certain that yes, because the humble craftsman of Nazareth not only embodies the dignity of the worker with God and the Holy Church, but is also always the provident guardian of you and of your families.

With these wishes on our lips and in our hearts, beloved sons and daughters, and with the certainty that you will remember this day so full of holy intentions, so radiant with good hopes, so promising for what has been accomplished, we invoke the most elect blessings from the Most High on you, on your relatives, on the patients in hospitals and sanatoriums, on the fields and workshops, on your Acli and on their great and noble activity, on the employers, on beloved Italy and on the whole world of work, to Us always expensive. May our paternal Apostolic Blessing descend from heaven to earth, worked and fertilized by you in accordance with the primordial divine precept!

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