As there seems to be a genuine lack of scholarly material available about the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) I will continue to accumulate notes about the liturgical practices of this peculiarly American Church. My favorite course in graduate school at Drew University was American Religious History. As you can tell from reviewing other articles in this section of my website, I have a great deal of interest in this topic.
In this article, I will catalog some of the practices of the PNCC during the Easter season. The reader will note that like the Pilgrim Egira who visited Jerusalem in the fourth century and recorded early liturgical practices there, my silence about an issue doesn’t necessarily mean something was not done. It simply may have escaped my notice or my interest! This article is by no means a complete catalog of the PNCC Easter liturgical practice.
- Traditional Lenten services. The PNCC celebrates the Stations of the Cross and the Bitter Lamentations (Gorskie Zale), a service that originated in Poland and is also used in Polish Roman Catholic churches. My particular parish did not celebrate this service although English translations of the service are available. In some ways Gorskie Zale resembles the Matins service celebrated by the Byzantine Christian Churches on Holy Saturday. Both emphasize the mourning of the death of Jesus by his Mother.
- Lenten abstinence. PNCC parishioners are required to abstain from meat Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.
- The date of Easter is calculated in the same manner the RCC does. This is interesting since the PNCC has removed the Filioque from the Creed and Lenten abstinence mirrors the contemporary Eastern practice for the laity.
- Three Days Prior to Easter. The PNCC has maintained the traditional services for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Holy Communion is distributed on Good Friday during the vespers prayer service. The Holy Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. The PNCC has published service books for these days, as well as for the blessing of palms on the previous Sunday. The Service of Fire is particularly moving and is one of my favorites in the Church liturgical year.
- Second Sunday of Easter. I have heard the Sunday referred to as Thomas Sunday, the traditional name it carries in the Byzantine Eastern Churches. However, I have not seen any official documentation for that name. The PNCC maintains the Octave of Easter, beginning with Easter Sunday and ending with the Second Sunday of Easter. The Roman Catholic Church has relatively recently named the Second Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday, and the PNCC ( or at least some of its parishes) seems to have followed this “innovation”. The PNCC has resisted many liturgical changes adopted by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). However, adoption of this feast day is not surprising since it is connected with Faustina Kowalska (the first saint canonized by the RCC in the new millennium) and established by Pope John Paul II, both of whom were of Polish descent. There doesn’t appear to be any organized effort to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as recommended by St. Faustina. This prayer, containing some definite Byzantine Christian elements such as the Trisagion, has supplanted the Ninth Hour of Prayer in the West..
- The blessing “Peace be with you” is answered by “and also with you”. This will of course make Latin scholars and liturgical purists blush. The original Latin is “pax vobiscum” (or a variant thereof) and was answered with “et cum spiritu tuo” or, “ and with your Spirit”. This has often been thought of as a reference to the ordination of the celebrant. “And also with you” is a peculiar American translation adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States after the Second Vatican Council. Later liturgical reform in the RCC has restored the original translation. The PNCC has kept the revised translation in its liturgy. The blessing “Peace be with you you” is reserved for the bishop in the PNCC.
- The Easter season lasts until Pentecost similar to other major Christian denominations. The PNCC limits kneeling during the Easter season. It is considered appropriate during the penitential rite (general absolution) at the beginning of the Mass, and during the pre-Communion prayer. Genuflecting is permitted during the recitation of the Creed. The observance of Ascension Thursday has been transferred to the following Sunday to make it easier for all to attend. In the Byzantine Churches, this is the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.
- White is of course the liturgical color for the Easter season, but red is worn for Pentecost.
- The Easter Greeting is “Christ is Risen!”. The response is “Indeed He is Risen!” This is the same greeting used by Byzantine Eastern Christians.
- Pentecost is followed by Trinity Sunday and The Feast of Corpus Christi. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the PNCC retains the original octave for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Solemnity is actually the previous Thursday, but its observance has been moved to the following Sunday. The observance of the Octave of the Corpus Christi was suppressed in 1955 by the RCC.