A PolAm Easter Story: Saving The Swieconka
By Robert Strybel
Polish/Polonian Lifestyle Writer
The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s prompted some revved-up younger priests to go overboard in ridding their parishes of religious artworks, artifacts and customs which many parishioners held dear. Statues of the saints, beautiful hand-crafted confessionals, even artistically carved Stations of the Cross were removed in an attempt to make Catholic churches look more modern, streamlined and Protestant-like.
One Holy Saturday the people of one Polish-American parish brought their baskets to church as they had always done, but were told that the custom had been discontinued. That year, neither had the familiar tableau of Christ’s Tomb been set up at the side altar.
“Vatican Two has modernized the Church,” explained a younger priest – let’s call him Father Nowak. “ Statues, novenas, rosaries and other medieval notions are no longer relevant for contemporary Catholics. And quaint Old Country customs like the food-blessing have nothing to do with religion.” The parishioners’ arguments that the food-blessing custom was cherished by many in the parish fell on deaf ears.
The parishioners were disappointed, but most quietly slipped out of church with their baskets and headed home. However, a small group stayed and were far more adamant. “Our parents and grandparents built this parish with their hard-earned money, and now the statues and furnishings they funded are being dumped,” one parishioner complained, and the group marched over to the rectory, baskets in hand.
A somewhat surprised Father Nowak explained he had orders from the Archdiocese to discontinue the food-blessing custom. “If you won’t bless our święconkas, then we’ll go to the Polish National Church down the street. In fact, we may take all our business there!”, a member of the delegation bluffed.
The priest was dumbfounded, just stared and finally left the room to make a phone call. When he returned, he said: “I can bless your baskets right here and now.” He sprinkled the baskets and uttered a shortcut prayer, “Lord, bless these food baskets in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
The following year the food-blessing was re-introduced as the in-church practice it had always been. It took a few more years of pleading and pressure for the Lord’s Tomb to be restored. In the 1970s, it suddenly became “in to be ethnic.” Even Catholics of non-Polish descent found the food-blessing tradition quite appealing.
The moral of the story: We cannot promote our Polish heritage if we hide it from view. After all, St. Matthew had written that a lamp cannot shine its light if it’s covered with a bushel basket.