LAFLIN — It could have been a Sunday Mass. Except that it was on Monday. A federal holiday when many are trying to squeeze in the last fun of the summer.
At this Mass, however, people chose to come early for pre-Mass prayers – the rosary and Triduum prayers to St. Joseph. And before the procession, a few moments of meditation.
It was the annual Labor Day Mass at St. Joseph’s Oblates Seminary in Laflin which brought more than 200 to the church to honor St. Joseph, patron saint of those who work.
Some in the pews were men and women who gave thanks for many years of the privilege of earning a living for themselves and their families and now enjoy retirement. Others who still get to their jobs every day offered prayers for endurance and strength. And some were folks petitioned the saint for help in finding employment.
It is an act of faith and thanksgiving for those who attend. Many of those at the Mass make it a point to be at the annual ceremony.
“We come almost every year,” said Joe LePore, who sat in a forward pew with his wife, Theresa. “This is a special Mass.”
The congregation prayed during the Mass that included glorious song, incense and a solemn ceremony that celebrated the honor and dignity and work and the service it provides.
There are plenty of reminders of labor in this building. The walls are of brick from the hands of masons who constructed the church. There are wooden pews and metal work, the handwork of laborers. The gardens outside bloom with the last of the summer flowers, showing attention from those who get their hands dirty to make the beauty happen.
And there are the words during the Mass that reinforce the message.
This year’s celebrant was John Doughtery, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Scranton, who, at 84, can look back on his own years of work as a shepherd for the Catholic flock in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He took a break in his own retirement to work once again as chief celebrant at the Mass.
The bishop wore vestments woven with gold threads and embroidered with the image of St. Joseph and his son, Jesus, on both front and back. Eight members of Knights of Columbus Assembly 948, complete with tuxedoes, capes, swords and their signature plumed hats, led the entrance procession, along with half a dozen priests in white vestments and half a dozen acolytes to help with chores on the altar.
In a strong voice that belied his age, Dougherty gave a history lesson about May Day and a brief summary of some of the Cold War between Russia and the United States. The bishop explained that Labor Day is celebrated in Russia on May 1 as a day to honor workers and, during the years of the Communist Soviet Union, a way to deliver an anti-church message. That was until 62 years ago, when Pope Pius XII May 1 the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, melding the Catholic church’s efforts with the lay campaign to honor those who earn a living.
“His thought was to celebrate the dignity of workers,” he said.
He explained that it was an effort to combat the idea that workers are simply chattels or goods that generate wealth for the few.
“Every honest worker reflects the foster father of God’s own son,” Dougherty said. “He was a carpenter.”
Even during the readings offered at the Mass the message was clear: Work is honorable. God himself, in the passages from Genesis, labored for six days at creating the world and saw that it was good. The reader noted that on the seventh day, God rested, reminding the parish that rest and holidays are also important for both body and soul.
Dougherty’s final job of the day was to bless the three or four large baskets containing bread that was distributed to the people as a take-home symbol of the work of that people do to help sustain society.
And, before heading to the parking lot and holiday activities, the choir and worshippers ended the service with “America the Beautiful,” a nod to the country that celebrates those who have labored in the past and who work today for a sustainable life.
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