Sorry I missed a couple of days there; I had really wanted to do an entry each day in Holy Week on various Holy Week celebrations. I think my favorite place to celebrate Holy Week has been in Krakow. I have only limited experience of Poland—Krakow and Czestochowa—and while I have made the pilgrimage to Czestochowa several times, I have actually spent Holy Week twice in Krakow. Krakow is a particularly charming city—one of the loveliest in Europe. It is a city of deep tradition with the Mariacki Church in the city’s central square, the Jagiellonian University, and the Wawel Castle where once the Kings of Poland reined and where Krakow’s somewhat unique cathedral stands.
Holy Week and Easter is a time of great tradition in Krakow. As for most Slavic Peoples, Easter is even more a focus of their religious emotions than is Christmas. (It may be that after the rigorous Slavic winters, Poles, Russians, Ukranians, and other Slavic people are just so happy to see the signs of spring!!!) The Poles flood the churches with long lines for confessions around the clock. Services are well attended. The Holy Thursday Liturgy is the same as we celebrate in the States though the traditional Polish songs and carols are at the same time both more joyous and melancholy, giving an emotional intensity that is strange to us Americans. The churches each construct a magnificent altar of repose for the Blessed Sacrament and the faithful make the rounds of the churches throughout the night.
Outdoor processions with Stations of the Cross celebrated along the route are very common Good Friday evening. Huge numbers of people gather in each parish for this ceremony and police escorts guides the processions along their route assisted boy and girl scouts carrying torches. The singing is magnificent and moving. The Good Friday service itself is usually celebrated in the afternoon and the churches are packed.
There is an unique ceremony in Poland that once was part of the liturgy of the Western Church but which was suppressed at the Council of Trent. For some reason it has survived in Poland. At the end of the Good Friday service the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a monstrance, covered with a transparent veil, and carried in solemn procession to the “sepulcher”—a second altar of repose where it remains until Easter morning. Easter morning, about 4:30 or 5:00, it is brought back to the High Altar with a huge procession, a brass band, girls in traditional costume scattering flowers, and hundreds of the faithful. Easter Morning Mass, a sort of Sunrise Service, is then celebrated. The ceremony is lovely though it totally overshadows the Easter Vigil of Saturday night.
While all this is quite lovely, one of my Polish priest friends says that beneath the surface all is not well for the faith in Poland. While people attend Church in considerable numbers, it is out of a sense of custom rather than devotion. Father Jan says that only about 20% of the people confess or receive Holy Communion more than once or twice a year. Vocations are fewer than before and what he calls “western materialism” has replaced Catholicism in the hearts of the people. I don’t know—it looks awfully healthy to me. I did notice however, that on Good Friday there are large grilles set up in the central square, beneath the towers of the Mariacki Church where a trumpeter sounds a fanfare every hour, and kielbasas and kebabs are grilled in great quantities. On this most holy day, the same crowd that has just filled the churches, now sits with their platters of meat, pitchers of beer, and laugh and tell stories. And even I, sinner that I am, succumbed and ate a grilled kielbasa Good Friday evening after Stations. Maybe because it was Good Friday, it was the best kielbasa I have ever eaten.