How Poles observe Easter today
By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer
WARSAWThroughout history, the Polish nation has been known for its strong allegiance to the Catholic Church. The 13th-century clash with the invading Mongolians at Legnica, the 17th-century roll-back of the Protestant Swedish invaders, the defeat Muslim Turks at Vienna a generation later of the rout of the Bolshevik hordes in 1920 at the gates of Warsaw have helped entrench Polands image as a bulwark of Catholicism. Although the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment became violently anticlerical in some countries, in Polands its leading representatives included Bishop Ignacy Krasicki and such priests as Hugo Kołłątaj, Stanisław Staszic and Stanisław Konarski.
The Poles strong attachment to their Catholic faith largely enabled them to preserve their identity against the Pressures of Protestant Prussians and Orthodox Russians during 123 years of partitions ending in 1918. Religion also played an important role in surviving the Nazi occupation in World War II and 45 years of post-war Soviet domination. It is no wonder then that Poland is regarded as Europes most staunchly Catholic country. That is reflected by Sunday Mass attendance, religious vocations and the high percentage of church as opposed to civil marriages. In Poland not only Christmas and Easter but also Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15) are work- and school-free national holidays. And more Poles celebrate the feast day of their patron saint (imieniny) people in any other European country.
Pronounced Catholic lifestyles are reflected in the way Poles celebrate Christmas and Easter. Annual surveys conducted by CBOS (Centrum Badania Opinii Publicznej = Public Opinion Research Center), the countrys major polling organization, show the frequency with which specific customs and practices are upheld in individual Polish families. Here are the results of surveys taken in 2000 and 2005:
The process of declining religious practices that might be expected in view of the wholesale onslaught of consumerism and largely de-Christianized pop culture seemed to have been stemmed or slowed in 2005. Perhaps the suffering of the soon-to-die Polish-born Pope John Paul II, which received blanket media coverage in Poland when the 2005 survey was being taken, had something to do with it.
By contrast, the CBOS 2006 survey, conducted a year later after the initial shock of the Polish Pontiffs death had worn off, showed a slight though clearly visible decline in all the religious practices listed. Good Friday abstinence was observed by 86% (compared to 94% in 2000 and 2005), Easter duty 79% (83% and 80% respectively), Ash Wednesday attendance 71% (76% and 77%), Lenten retreats 67% (74% and 73%). Easter daybreak Mass 66% (74% and 72%), Triduum Services 65% (70% and 66%) and Lenten services 58% (62% and 61%).
Nevertheless, those figures are still much higher than in any other European country. Perhaps it would be interesting to conduct such a survey within the Polish American community. Observations seem to indicate that the Christmas Eve opłatek-sharing and the Holy Saturday food blessing are Polonias most widely celebrated Polish customs. But how widespread are they? How do they differ from one Pol-Am community to another and to what extent are they influenced by the generations separating respondents from the Old Country? Those remain matters for personal impressions and speculations.