Francis Hodur, the founder and first Prime  Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) was very careful to initially retain the liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) for the new church whenever possible. He banked on the fact parishioners in the pew were far more concerned about who their local pastor was than who  their distant bishop was. Hodur also understood congregations can be resistant to change,especially when it comes to the weekly church services.  Nevertheless, over time changes in liturgical and ritual practices began to happen, even during his lifetime.  Local language was adopted in church services in 1901, decades  ahead of its adoption by the RCC. PNCC Priests were allowed to marry in 1921 and the traditional list of seven sacraments has differed from the RCC. This article examines several  less explored differences between PNCC and RCC liturgical practices. 

The PNCC liturgical calendar retains many of the features of the pre-Vatican II RCC calendar and also includes some unique commemorations. An examples of the former is the PNCC retains May 3 as the celebration of the Finding of the True Cross, whereas this commemoration was merged into the Exaltation of the Cross celebration on September 14 by the RCC in 1960. Several octaves have been retained, such as the Octave of Pentecost and the Octave of the Epiphany have been retained. (I am sure the reader is aware of the apocryphal story of Pope Paul VI crying when he found out he had eliminated this octave. .He was preparing to offer Mass during the week after Pentecost and his assistants brought him green vestments instead of the red he was expecting. The assistant reminded him that he had eliminated the octave so it was an “ordinary day”.)

Examples of celebration unique to the PNCC include:

The Solemnity of the Founding of the PNCC

The PNCC  commemorates Its  founding on the second Sunday in March, with 2021 marking the 124th anniversary of its founding.  Given Easter can fall as early as March 22 and as late as April 25, this Solemnity will almost certainly fall during Lent. Nevertheless, the usual Lenten color of purple is abandoned in favor of festive white for the day. The Gloria and Alleluia are sung.  The readings for the day are from the Book of Wisdom (5:1-5) and First Timothy (4:1-5). The first reading describes how the oppressed will confront their oppressors who realize the former are now numbered among the saints. The PNCC was founded to combat the purported oppression of the Polish immigrant minority by the RCC bishops who were mainly of Italian and German descent at that time.  This reading also makes explicit reference to labors or toil, a topic near and dear to the PNCC. The motto of the PNCC is “Truth, Struggle and Work.” The refrain for the opening hymn of the PNCC asks God to bless “our toil”.  The PNCC sees itself in a world where hard work and truth will overcome its adversaries, however defined.The second reading explains how many will turn away from the true faith at the end, seduced by hypocrisy and liars. This is an important point for those in a small offshoot of a larger religious body. The PNCC sees the RCC as turning away from truth over the centuries. The reading also emphasizes certain  hypocrites also ban marriage and other things created by God.  One can only read this as a veiled reference to allowing priests to marry.  The Gospel reading for the day is John 15:1-8.  This passage is one of the great “I am” discourses of Jesus.  In this particular reading, Jesus proclaims He is the true vine, reflecting the PNCC’s belief it too is a true church. 

Other Solemnities Unique to the PNCC

Besides the Solemnity of the Founding of the PNCC, examples of other solemnities unique to the PNCC are the Solemnity of The Christian Family (see the separate article on this feast) , the Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds, and the Solemnity of Brotherly Love. This last commemoration is held on the second Sunday of September. It is a reminder for members of the PNCC to exercise their Christian duty and love not only other members of the Church but all people. These celebrations reduce the number of Sunday of Ordinary Time as practiced in the RCC.

Passion Sunday and the Easter Season

The PNCC still retains the title of Passion Sunday for  the Fifth Week of Lent.  This title is no longer used on the Roman Catholic calendar.  Before the revision of the Roman liturgical calendar, Passion Sunday began a two week liturgical season overlapping with Lent. This season is marked by the covering of all statues and crucifixes in the Church and is still celebrated by traditional branches of the RCC.  During Easter time, members of the PNCC do not kneel during the Easter season nor is fasting allowed.

Sunday Service Without a Priest

Like the RCC, the PNCC often suffers from a lack of clergy, As a result a priest is occasionally not available to offer  Sunday Mass. The PNCC published a service book in 2007 named A Service of Worship and Holy Communion for the Polish National Catholic Church. The approved service is similar to other Communion  services used by the RCC and Eastern Christian denominations but with some noteworthy additions.  The preface to the service reminds the deacon leading the service it should not be used during a wedding service.  This is interesting because the service book also indicates deacons are not authorized to perform marriages in the PNCC. This understanding of the diaconal ministry more closely approximates that of Eastern Christianity where deacons do not administer the sacraments of marriage and baptism, unlike the RCC.  The rite of the Asperges, described next, is also permitted in the Communion service. Interestingly enough, incense is not used. In Eastern Christianity the use of incense for such services is allowed because the blessing of the bishop to use the incense is implied. Rubrics for the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament when performed by a deacon are included as an appendix to the booklet. 

The Asperges

The pew book of the PNCC still retains the rite of Asperges and Vidi aquam, the rite of sprinkling the congregation with holy water,  as optional before the Mass.  The idea of the Asperges is to remind the congregation of the need for penance and would be followed almost immediately by a rite of general absolution.  In this context, the Asperges takes on a more profound meaning. The PNCC uses general absolution much more freely than the RCC. The RCC still retains the Asperges, but it is generally performed on more festive occasions. More traditional RCC groups retaining the 1962 Missal still perform the Asperges but do not grant general absolution. As mentioned previously, the rite of the Asperges is permitted during a “deacon service”. The rubrics to the service make no mention of how the deacon is to be attired for this ritual.  The usual vestment for a priest for this ritual would be to wear a cope and deacons do vest in copes when Benediction is performed.

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