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1891: Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes)

The Red Vineyard – Vincent Van Gogh

15 May 2021 All day

Rerum Novarum was a groundbreaking encyclical from Pope Leo Xlll in 1891 that laid the foundation for modern Catholic Social Teaching. It directly took up the issue of the dignity and rights of workers in a rapidly changing world where industrialisation had created an ever widening gap between the materially rich and the working poor. Rerum Novarum offered a just way forward for employers and workers, naming human rights in every workplace as foundational for a just society. The encyclical emphatically stated that moral virtue was central to authentic Christian life. This includes just work policies and practices: 

“… is more easy to understand that the true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue; that virtue is, moreover, the common inheritance of men, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor; and that virtue, and virtue alone, wherever found, will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness.” 

Rerum Novarum #24

To view the Encyclical:  

To find out more about Catholic Social Teaching: 

Prayer for Workers: 

Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Lord God, Master of the Vineyard,

How wonderful that you have invited us
who labor by the sweat of our brow
to be workers in the vineyard
and assist your work
to shape the world around us.

As we seek to respond to this call,
make us attentive to those who seek work
but cannot find it.

Help us listen to the struggles of those
who work hard to provide for their families
but still have trouble making ends meet.

Open our eyes to the struggles of those exploited
and help us speak for just wages and safe conditions,
the freedom to organize, and time for renewal.
For work was made for humankind
and not humankind for work.
Let it not be a vehicle for exploitation
but a radiant expression of our human dignity.

Give all who labor listening hearts
that we may pause from our work
to receive your gift of rest.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that you might work through us to let your justice reign.


Copyright © 2019, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration for nonprofit educational use, provided such reprints are not sold and include this notice.


The Red Vineyard by Vincent Van Gogh 


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