Fretting over St. Joseph the Worker

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.



  1. marcpuckett
    May 3, 2016

    I don’t read Mr Rotondi very often, although the blog is in the RSS feeder, but in my own case ‘liturgical fetishism’ is not the issue: it is that the feast of the patrocinium has a tradition of (arguably) 300+ years– yes, yes, it wasn’t extended to the entire Latin Church until 1847 but it’s the scion of mediaeval/late mediaeval devotion to St Joseph’s espousals &c and so I take issue with your suggestion that “Its roots run hardly any deeper than those of St. Joseph the Worker”, because of which feast it was ill-advisedly suppressed by, ahem, prelates and their periti who were already noisily paddling on their course through the loss of a true grasp of the sacred Liturgy’s witness to Tradition: no one (I think) is arguing that this business of St Joseph’s feasts is of greater significance than the mess that was made of Holy Week: it’s just a further evidence of the mentality that subordinates the Liturgy to evanescent pastoral considerations (which are of course in se sometimes quite legitimate &c). Now I’ll go read all of the BD post. 🙂 Thanks very much for your sensible and perceptive writing!

    1. Paul
      May 3, 2016

      So it’s fine to celebrate work in the liturgy, with St. Joseph as an afterthought, to displace a nearly 1500 year old feast?!! Have you seen the Matins readings?!! Such banality and grimness!! Honestly, the 19th. century feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, placed on the Wed after the 2nd Sun after Easter, was a much better feast and better in accord with tradition, than a feast that lasted only 12 years before being relegated to a mere memorial! I repeat: I’ve read both Masses, and I can see why the Sacred Congregation of Rites refused so long to implement San Giuseppe Comunista! Why couldn’t St. Philip and St. James displace May Day; after all, St. James’ admonition against rich men was far stronger than anything Marx or Engels wrote!!! John Rotondi is right in this case; this isn’t mere “liturgical fetish.” It is a case of reversing the ancient axiom that the rule of prayer determines the rule of belief! I think your prejudices are showing in this article against those wanting to restore the Roman Rite to something of its former splendor! John R is definitely trying to work to restore the Roman Rite, not having a mere “liturgical fetish”!!

  2. Paul
    May 3, 2016

    Another point: in Rome, the feast was already referred to as St. Joe the Communist before the ink dried on the promulgation of the feast, according to Gregory DiPippo.

  3. […] Opus Publicum, Gabriel Sanchez has an interesting comment about the feast of St. Joseph the Workman, which begins, in relevant […]

  4. Paul
    May 4, 2016

    Yawn. That Semiduplex article doesn’t counter the idea that Pope Pius XII reversed the ancient axiom of St. Prosper of Aquitaine, Making the lex orandi to conform to the lex credendi is a very wrong idea! I go to the liturgy not primarily to be instructed in doctrine, even social doctrine, but to worship God. Jerz the Werz is a man-centered feast, no matter how much you justify it, celebrating not St. Joseph, but labor!

    And concerning the the reform of the Breviary, I admit there has been reform ever since Pius V. But it wasn’t til the 20th century that the considerations of reform were to be suited “to modern man” (whatever that means).

    1. Dale
      May 4, 2016

      Paul, I find this really a strange concept. It contradicts the whole ancient, but obviously not modern, Catholic concept the liturgical tradition as sung theology. Worship is just one aspect of liturgy, but without its foundation to express our Faith, it really simply becomes entertainment. One suspects perhaps that is why the novus ordo is so culturally as well as theologically banal.

      Theology is not simply what is found in dry, dusty writings, it comes alive in liturgy.

      I guess this is another great divide between modernist Rome and the Orthodox.

  5. Gil Garza
    May 4, 2016

    His Most Excellent Highness Hannibal Bugnini, CM was appointed Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Liturgical Jackwagonry (I mean Reform) in 1948 by PPXII. The wreckovations to the Holy Liturgy began almost immediately and include making Holy Week crazy, obliterating the Vigil to Pentecost (which Benedict XVI snuck back into the OF Missal in 2011) and jacking around with St. Joe (because Communists), among other things.

    I think the main idea under Monsignor Hannibal was that if one has a really great reason or no reason at all and Papal approval, one can get away with doing absolutely anything with the Liturgy that one wants.

    Most folks that I know who don’t regard the Liturgy as a their own personal tinkertoy also don’t share warm feelings for good Ole Hannibal or his liturgical tomfoolery, St. Joe Communist in particular because it is a great example of crushing banality created out of whole cloth for no good reason at all (as opposed to baptizing a Communist High holiday and converting millions of atheists or something).

  6. Patrick Sheridan
    May 5, 2016

    “The ‘liturgical books of 1962’ plummet to a nadir today as the ancient feast of SS Philip and James has been cast aside until May 11th, the first ‘free’ liturgical day, and May 1st becomes the repugnant ‘Joe the Worker’ day. Pacelli’s Commission for General Liturgical Reform had discussed making May 1st a Marian feast but settled on S. Giuseppe Artigiano (c.f. minutes of meeting 45; 19 Oct 1954 and 59; 17 Jan 1956 in Giampietro, N., ‘Il Card. Ferdinado Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970’, Studia Anselmiana, Rome, 1998). Clearly feasts of antiquity were not considered particularly sacred – but then neither was anything else – so from 1956 the beautiful, albeit relatively modern, feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph and its Octave were abolished and today’s venerable and ancient feast of the Holy Apostles swept aside to May 11th. The Office of ‘Joe the Worker’ is truly appalling with lessons about multitudes of working men gathering in St. Peter’s Square: ‘…cum occasionem nactus opificum conventus Kalendis maiis…Romae celebrati, ingentum multitudinem in foro ad sancti Petri Basilicam…'” Rubricarius.

    A true monument to the third international…

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      May 6, 2016


  7. Dale
    May 5, 2016

    Perhaps the feast will be updated from “Joe the Worker” to, at least in the United States, “Jose the immigrant lacking documentation”? Once one starts down the road of this sort of liturgical tripe, there is no end in sight.

    I know, that what I have posted is in humour, but quite honestly, does anyone know if this is really being considered? I would not be surprised.

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