Saint Joseph the Worker

All we know definitely about Joseph can be found in the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph is called a ‘just’ man, someone who always did what was right.

According to the Gospel, Joseph was descended from the house of King David, which is why he and Mary had to go to Bethlehem, David’s city, to register for the imperial census.   The Gospel also tells us that he was a carpenter from the village of Nazareth in the northern province of Galilee.  He became the husband of Mary and the guardian of her Son, Jesus. 

After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the family returned to live in Nazareth.  Only two other incidents are mentioned where Joseph was present.  One was at the circumcision of Jesus eight days after his birth.  This was when they met Simeon who made prophecies about Jesus’ future and spoke of a ‘sword of sorrow’ which would pierce Mary’s heart.  The other was when Jesus, now 12 years old, went with Mary and Joseph to celebrate the Pasch in Jerusalem.  After the celebration, Jesus, unknown to his parents, stayed on in the city and he was only found by them three days later discussing with the teachers of the Law in the Temple. 

That is the last reference to Joseph in the Scriptures and it is not known when he may have died.  During the public life of Jesus, only his Mother is mentioned as being with him up to his death and resurrection.

Devotion to Joseph began very early in the Eastern Church but spread to the whole Church.  From the 9th and 10th centuries he is called foster-father of the Lord.  The first church dedicated to his name was in 1129 in Bologna, Italy.

It was Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) who first added the name of St Joseph to the liturgical calendar and Pope Pius IX placed the whole Church under his patronage in 1870. 

In 1989, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter on Joseph entitled Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) describing “the person and mission of Saint Joseph in the life of Christ and of the the Church.”

Joseph’s patronage covers the Mystical Body of Christ, the Christian family and schools, carpenters, fathers, labourers, and all individuals who appeal to his intercession, especially in the hour of death.

His major feast is celebrated on March 19 but today, May 1, there is a special memorial to Saint Joseph the Worker, to coincide with Labour Day (International Workers’ Day).

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