Religion in Poland
Poland is traditionally a highly religious nation, with the leading faith being the Roman Catholicism – over 93% of Poles admit to be Catholics, with the remaining groups being either Orthodox Christians (mostly those residing close to the eastern border), or Protestant. The event that signified the beginning of the Christianization of the country (previously a pagan state) was the Baptism of Poland in 966, over 1000 years ago. This clearly indicates a relatively long Christian tradition, with many of the historical events over the millennium, such as numerous wars and battles, fought in the name of the Christian faith and believed to be won thanks to the supernatural support of the Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary.
It is probably good to know that the Mother of Jesus, for instance, is commonly venerated in Poland, chiefly for her protection and intercession with Jesus, the son of God. There are numerous Marian sanctuaries and churches across the country, with the best known location being the Jasna Góra (Luminous Mount) Monastery and church in Częstochowa with the revered icon of the Black Madonna. Poles owe it to the Blessed Virgin Mary for her protection during the Swedish Deluge of 1655 when, through the continuous prayers of the congregation, the month-long Siege of Jasna Góra by the Swedes failed and changed the course of the war. An equally momentous time was the Battle of Warsaw, often referred to as the Miracle of the Vistula, a decisive battle of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 when the Polish troops won unexpectedly on August 15, the day on which the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is celebrated.
Obviously one should not forget the Polish Pope, John Paul II, who reigned the Holy See for 27 years and left a significant legacy through his attitude and teachings which won the Church many young believers. Although not universally approved of, mainly due to the Pope’s views on procreation, this extraordinary Man of God secured himself a lasting position in the ecclesiastical history of Poland and the Catholic Church.
Today, however, despite the rich Christian legacy of over 1000 years and the example set by Pope John Paul II, the ongoing social change has led to the decrease in the numbers of those going to the Sunday Mass and receiving Communion (dominicantes and communicantes, respectively). A recent study showed that in 2011 only some 40% of the faithful attended the Mass and some 16% received the Holy Communion – a clear sign that the times are changing, leaving the bishops with the burden of addressing these issues.
However, going to church (chodzenie do kościoła) is part of the Polish tradition and thousands continue to fill the Lord’s house on Sundays. It is common for entire families to go to the Sunday Mass (niedzielna msza święta) and receive the Holy Communion (komunia święta). Once you enter the church it is customary for men to take off their headwear, and for everyone to make the Sign of the Cross (przeżegnać się) after they have dipped their hands in the holy water stoup (kropielnica z wodą święconą).
The Mass (msza święta) may be celebrated by one or many priests (ksiądz or księża) assisted by a deacon (diakon) and usually helped by several altar servers (ministranci). The priest will start by making the Sign of the Cross and say: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (W imię Ojca, i Syna, i Ducha Świętego), answered with “Amen”. This is followed by the Liturgy of the Word (Liturgia Słowa) when the priest reads out from the Scripture (Pismo Święte). This in turn is followed by the homily (homilia) or sermon (kazanie) during which the priest addresses a selected aspect of the readings, with the current or recent social events becoming more and more prominent during the Sunday sermons, unfortunately driving many believers away from the Church. Then there is the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Liturgia Eucharystyczna), being the ceremony of the transubstantiation (przeistoczenia) of bread and wine (chleba i wina) into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (ciało i krew Jezusa Chrystusa).This is followed by the Communion rite (obrzędy komunijne), succeeded by the concluding rite (obrzędy końcowe) and the imparting of the blessing (udzielenie błogosławieństwa). This is when the congregation departs. It is not customary for members to stand outside the church and wait for the priest to greet them individually – they will usually quickly disperse to their homes for their Sunday lunch (niedzielny obiad).