Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who accepted the divine mission of being the foster-father of Jesus, was also a skilled carpenter. It is through his work of manual labour, that he must have provided for the Holy Family. Saint Joseph is one of the few Saints honoured with two feasts in the Sanctoral. The first feast is that of the Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, normally celebrated on the 19th of March. The second feast is Saint Joseph the Worker celebrated on 1st of May.
Saint Joseph in traditions and scriptures
The sources about Saint Joseph are from both non-canonical books (also referred to the Apocrypha) and the opening chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. According to early non-biblical sources, Saint Joseph was born in Bethlehem where he was a manual labourer practicing carpentry. He probably died in Nazareth. In addition to his profession as carpenter, Joseph also undertook a special mission in God’s plan of salvation. It is through Joseph that Jesus acquired the religious and cultural legitimacy to be from the line of David from whom, according to the prophets, the Messiah would be born. It is through Saint Joseph also that Jesus and Mary acquired Jewish civic status.
Devotions to Saint Joseph
Pope John XXIII was the first to add Saint Joseph to the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) of the Mass in 1962. On May 1, 2013, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to promulgate the decree “Regarding the Mention of the Divine Name of St. Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV”. With the Apostolic Letter “Patris corde” (With a Father’s Heart), the Holy Father also proclaimed the “Year of Saint Joseph” from 8 December 2020 to December 2021.
Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Church cannot but celebrate Saint Joseph the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary every year. Hence, even when March 19 fell on a Sunday of this year 2023, the Church, rather skipping the feast, moved it to Monday 20th as stipulated in the prescriptions of the General Norms that “The Sundays of Advent, Lent and Easter have precedence over all Feasts of the Lord and over all Solemnities […] Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are transferred to the following Monday unless they occur on Palm Sunday or on Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection.” (General Norms, 5). Even though it was a Monday, Blessed Joseph, was celebrated with all the honours associated to every Solemnity; white was maintained, Gloria was sung, 2 readings and the Gospel were read, and Credo was said!
Saint Joseph the Worker
This feast was officially instituted by Pope Pius XII on 1 May 1955, to ensure that workers do not lose the Christian understanding of work. Like every dedicated father, Joseph raised Jesus to follow in his path as a carpenter. The Gospels refers to Jesus as “the son of the carpenter”. Saint Joseph’s life reminds us about the dignity of human labour. Through his work, the human person participates in perfecting creation. He also offers his services to the community. There is no doubt that Joseph was dedicated to his work and must have been contented with what he had to do. His primary motive was not wealth hence one can safely imagine that work, for him a noble means to provide for his family and build his local community. It must be noted that earlier Popes had already prepared the ground for 1st May 1995. Blessed Pius IX, in a certain way, had recognized the importance of Saint Joseph as a labourer, when he proclaimed him Patron of the Universal Church. The principle of work, as a means to eternal salvation would be taken up again by St. John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem exercens, where he refers to “the Gospel of Work”. Saint Joseph the Worker is honoured as patron of workmen throughout the world on 1st of May.
Joseph “the just man”
The New Testament gives us little information about Saint Joseph. No words of his are recorded in the Gospels; he was the “silent” man. The Gospel of Matthew refers to him as “a just man”, (Mt 1:19-21) because of his faithful submission to the will of God, even when he does not fully understand who he is asked. To be a just man, in the religious understanding of Israel implies to be a man of “righteousness” (tzedekah) and “justice” (mishpat). As a just man, Joseph is therefore a man who placed the justice of God above all. He was totally attuned to the right thing and did it.
Patron Saint of many causes
From a spiritual perspective, St. Joseph is invoked as patron for many causes. He is the patron of the Universal Church. He is the patron of the dying because Jesus and Mary were at his deathbed. He is also the patron of fathers, of carpenters, and of social justice. According to Pope Francis, Saint Joseph “the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution, and poverty…. every prisoner” Many religious orders and communities are placed under his patronage.
Model of uprightness and moral character
Tradition and Scriptures, Pope Francis centers his teachings on Saint Joseph around his positive influence on family life and on the society. To the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph was a courageous, creative loving protective spouse. To Jesus, he was a beloved, tender, obedient father. The Holy Fathers sees Saint Joseph, the just man with sound, upright and consistent moral character. Hence, Saint Joseph is a model and an inspiration to every man (and woman) who is vested with the responsibility of caring for others in family and society, and earning a just living. The importance of moral character of Saint Joseph in management and leadership in all strata of our society cannot be overemphasized. It is generally agreed that most of the institutional, socio-political, economic, and religious crises we experience in contemporary Nigerian society can largely be attributed to the absence of men and women of sound integrity in families, churches, mosques, traditional belief systems, business, and politics. The current political situation in the country, whereby credible elections are not able to take place, in spite the colossal investments of billions of Naira, association of erudite academicians (as INEC Chairman and State officers) and the introduction of UpToDate technology, reveal the importance people of good moral character in making a system work. The celebration of Saint Joseph the Worker has both religious and socio-ethical considerations. Religiously, it is an opportunity to thank God for the grace of work. It is also the time to remember that: “Labour is not a thing to be ashamed of, if we lend our ear to right reason and Christian philosophy, but is an honourable calling, enabling a man to sustain his life in a way upright and creditable.” (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, §20). In addition to providing for daily living, work, faithfully executed in the love and fear of God, work is also a mean for sanctification. Through work, God blesses us and we in turn bless others, beginning with our families, friends, and others in the society. While we thank God for our own work, we must pray to Saint Joseph for those who are looking for descent work. The socio-ethical dimension of the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker reminds us that every work must be valued. We are challenged to appreciate those who do menial work around us. House helps, labourers, all manual workers deserve our respect. Pope Leo XIII writes: “It is shameful and inhuman to treat men like chattels to make money by or look upon them merely as so much muscle or physical strength.” (cf. Rerum Novarum, §20). The ethical consideration of work includes, the issue of just relationship between the employer and employee. In fact, the Church teaches that employment must be on “contract, whereby the worker and the employer agree and place themselves under a strict obligation, the former to give his strength and skill, the latter to give a return in value or wage, previously agreed upon.” (cf. A Catechism of Social Questions by Fr. T. J. O’Kane,1935). Hence, while the employee is morally bound to exercise his duties with joy, honesty, dedication, and commitment, contributing to the growth of his source of income, the employer is equally bound by high ethical and moral standard of not exploiting the employee, not even in the pretest of substituting generosity with wage. It is imperative for the employer to separate charity from salary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church unambiguously teaches the following about wages: “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. “Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.” Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.” The Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, celebrated on workers’ day, is another opportunity for the Church to remember that its commitment to make known the Social Teaching of the Church through practical examples of just employment being attentive to issues of social justice affecting workers and proposing comprehensive catechesis and inspiring liturgical and paraliturgical celebrations of such issues. Catholics must be aware that between “Rerum Novarum (Of New Things) of Pope Leo XIII in1891 and Laudato Si (Praise Be) of Pope Francis, the Church has published at least 16 official documents (encyclicals and apostolic exhortations) that deal with vital sociopolitical, cultural, economic, and ecological issues, that if practiced, would change the face of the world and bring about the Kingdom. Parish Priests must continually avail of the richness of the Church’s liturgy to constantly make present to the faithful Christ’s eternal act of intercession for us through special Masses of various needs that are proposed in the current edition of the “Roman Missal”. Hence Masses for the promotion of Justice and Peace from among the 17 Masses “for Civil Needs” should be frequently more celebrated. This will remind the faithful of their duties, encourage those committed to social justice and comfort those who experience social injustice.
• Rev. Fr. Basil Soyoye is a Nigerian Catholic Priest, a member of the Society of African Missions, (SMA). He is presently a member of the Formation Team at the SMA International Spiritual Year Center in Calavi, Benin Republic and an African Cultural Consultant in Lyon France.