Sometimes I run across things on the Catholic inter-webs so unintentionally strange that I can’t help but share. Case in point: The Benedicamus Domino web-log which, as far as I can tell, is dedicated to hyperbolic nitpicking and liturgical fetishism. The author’s latest target is the Latin feast of St. Joseph the Worker (San Giuseppe Comunista!), a mid-1950s invention which most traditional Catholics today regard as either imprudent or unnecessary. Those who have been exposed to the Gregorian hymns for this occasion know full well that they fall pretty darn short of “the mark” when it comes to the beauty and richness of the Roman Rite and some of the propers are not exactly inspiring. However, to howl on about the feast being a “modernist invention” is a bridge too far, particularly when one understands that the primary intent and purpose behind the feast was to dislodge May Day as an exclusively secularist (and communistic) holiday. Did it work? Well, of course not, but not because the liturgical texts themselves are riddled with theological error or bumped the feast Ss. Phillip and James (a feast many Catholics have all but forgotten about). Let’s not forget, however, that the feast was introduced during a period of time when the great 19th and 20th century popes took it upon themselves to speak forcefully on matters concerning labor, economics, and society, with stern reminders being issued by the likes of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI on the justice due to laborers. In fact, this teaching is captured nicely in the feast’s introit: “Wisdom rendered to the just the wages of their labors, and conducted them in a wonderful way: and she was to them for a covert by day, and for the light of stars by night, allelúja, allelúja “
Now, none of this is to say that St. Joseph the Worker should stay on the (traditional) liturgical calendar. But it is a bit queer that the author of Benedicamus Domino should exhaust so much energy fretting over the loss of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, a feast often cast as “universal” and yet has no analogue in the Christian East. In fact, the only direct liturgical commemoration of St. Joseph in the Byzantine Rite falls on the Sunday after the Nativity and is dedicated to Christ’s forefathers generally rather than St. Joseph specifically. Again, this is not to say that the Latins cannot or should not directly commemorate St. Joseph, but his traditional Latin feast day — March 19 — remains firmly on the books. The Solemnity of St. Joseph, on the other hand, was a 19th C. addition to the Roman Calendar introduced by papal fiat. Its roots run hardly any deeper than those of St. Joseph the Worker.
At the end of the day, how much does any of this matter? The arguably needless addition of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker pales in comparison to the revolutionary changes introduced into the Roman Rite in 1969. Heck, it even pales in comparison to the wreckovation of Latin Holy Week in the 1950s. Even so, the process of restoring the Roman Rite will be a long and hard one, requiring calm, concerted action by Catholic traditionalists, not wild condemnations of comparatively trivial matters. As anyone with a firm sense of liturgical history (East or West) well knows, feasts come and go through the centuries; ordos are revamped; and calendars shuffled about. Sometimes these changes are organic, though both Western and Eastern Christendom’s respective histories testify to numerous top-down changes which left the faithful wanting. It would come as no surprise to yours truly if, in a century from now, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker became a thing of memory, clearing the way for the celebration of Francis the Merciful.