A tradition of light in Polish homes

In Poland it is a tradition to involve all families and especially children during the typical Advent celebrations, such as the Rorate Mass or the Kolenda visit.

Ignacy Soler-November 29, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
Advent candles

Christmas Candles (Photo: Laura Nyhuis - Unsplash)

It is known that faith is strengthened when it is communicated, just as a teacher understands better what he explains to the extent that he tries to explain it better and better, to be a more effective communicator. Certainly, faith is a gift of God and no one can give it as well as someone who explains the theory of relativity, however, it is a gift of God. fides ex auditoFaith - God's gift - comes by hearing, that is, by its nature it demands the word.

Children learn the language of faith as they learn to speak: through continuous dialogue with their parents. I think that some ways of transmitting the faith in Poland and in other Slavic peoples can enrich other countries, so that they can introduce these or similar ways with wise prudence and according to the way of doing in other Christian peoples.

In the time of Advent I would like to highlight in Poland the Rorate Masses and, at Christmas time, the custom of the pastoral visit to the houses called Kolenda. Let us begin by talking about the custom of the Rorate Masses.

As is well known, the Rorate Mass takes its proper name from the first word of the Introit, that is, from the entrance antiphon: Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum - Pour down the dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain on the righteous (Isaiah 45:8). It is celebrated before dawn and is always the votive Mass of St. Mary in Advent. With white vestments and the singing of the Gloria.

I remember that some years ago a priest friend of mine, parish priest of a small village of six hundred souls, invited me to preach and celebrate the Rorate Masses for three days. I left Dworek, where I lived, before five o'clock in the morning, to cover a distance of twenty kilometers with snow, ice and a freezing wind, we were at minus ten. When I arrived in Guzef I was impressed: a crowd of children with lighted lamps in their hands, and the temple in darkness. The small, cold and beautiful church, full of worshippers: that was the only heating the church had. Mass started on time: at six in the morning. When we sang the Gloria, always with the organist, all the lights came on: a spectacle of light and joy. I remember that I could not keep my hands open during the Eucharistic prayer, they would freeze, and from time to time I would piously collect myself in prayer, rubbing my palms together to warm them.

In Poland, the Rorate masses in honor of St. Mary have the flavor of the hope of the ChristmasThese Masses are especially prepared and directed to children. They are Masses in which there are always surprises and little reminders of the presence of children: like a kind of game in which the faithful are challenged to come every day to the Advent Rorate Mass, from Monday to Saturday. At the end of the Mass, something hot, milk or chocolate, is usually prepared for the children in the parish halls next to the church.

More than a few parents have told me how it is their children, and sometimes even the youngest ones of five or six years old, who wake them up at five in the morning, pulling them by the sheets to tell them: "Dad, Mom, wake up: we are going to the Rorate Mass!

The Rorate Masses, votive of St. Mary in Advent, are celebrated every day of Advent with the exception of Sundays and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Since December 8 is a school day in Poland, the Mass is also celebrated at dawn, although, logically, the texts are those of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In all the Rorate Masses there is always a homily for the children: with dialogue and questions, lasting ten to fifteen minutes. It is a good occasion for children's catechesis and for instructing parents. Another characteristic element of the Rorate Masses is the lighting of a specially decorated and large candle, called Roratka. This candle is placed near the altar only during Advent and symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary. Children come to mass with lighted lanterns. The Rorate mass begins only with the light of candles and lanterns with the lights off in the temple, and with the hymn "Glory to God in the highest" all the lights in the church are turned on.

Secondly, I would like to explain what the pastoral initiative called 'Kolenda' consists of. The Church in Poland always has something to offer to its faithful, it has a way of being that leads it to go out of the parishes, to look for the faithful - those near and those far away - wherever they are.

A concrete example of this parish initiative are the pastoral visits to homes on the occasion of Christmas, called 'Kolenda'. The Christmas period lasts - according to a Slavic custom - until the day of the presentation of the Lord, that is, until February 2. During these forty days - in accordance with the duration of the other important liturgical seasons, such as Lent and Easter - pastoral visits to families are made. All the parishes in the country prepare for these pastoral visits. The parish priest and the vicars visit their parishioners by going to their homes. The visits are prepared in detail, a plan is made of streets and houses with days and times of visitation, so that no one is caught unawares. The priest is accompanied by some assistants, usually altar boys, who sing Christmas carols -that means kolenda- and go ahead calling the houses and asking if they are willing to receive the priest who comes for the pastoral visit.

Nationwide, sixty percent of Poles open their doors to the priest. He leads a short prayer, sprinkles the house with holy water and sits down for a family chat. He asks if there is anything he can help them with, he is interested in the catechesis for first communion, confirmation or marriage. He talks about Sunday Mass and the teaching of religion in schools, or other topics that come up. The family usually presents him with typical products of those feasts. At the end he blesses the family and the house by marking on the door lintel the signs M+G+B 2012. There is no set time of duration but the average is about ten to fifteen minutes per family. The visits are usually in the afternoons from three to nine o'clock in the afternoon, in an intensive schedule without breaks, except on Sundays, and so on for forty days: something exhaustively exhausting and spectacularly effective. There is no better way to bring people closer to God than by going to their homes, getting into their living rooms and even their kitchens.

The authorIgnacy Soler


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