Palm Sunday in Krakow – Easter Sunday in Stockholm – One man’s story
Patrick, from San Francisco sends in the following fascinating account:
Holy Week in Northern Europe
Hey, great to be back at St. Ignacy (Polish version) again.
Here is a summary of how I spent my Holy Week. Sorry to miss the Triduum here. It sounded like a beautiful celebration.
Palm Sunday, Krakow
My only option was 6 a.m. Mass due to the fact that we were heading out to Auschwitz around 8 a.m. and were not returning to the hotel but rather taking a train to Warsaw afterwards.
Six a.m. Masses are generally not the best attended and this one was no exception. The closest church was a soaring, ornate, ancient gothic church on the main market square with a massive but elegantly painted “tablet” above and behind the altar that opens to reveal 7 foot high Jesus, Mary and Apostles. The forward nave was composed of dark walnut benches with individual compartments carved along the sidewalls. Plain benches filled in the middle. Regular pews were in the back half, with kneelers made for hard as rock for suffering. The 40 plus congregation listened to three voices chant the short version of the Passion. Temperature inside was slightly higher than the 18-degrees outside. This definitely gave one the experience of such a Mass during the Middle Ages.
Good Friday, Warsaw
With snow swirling down, people scampered along the cobblestone streets to get to the church of their choice for the 3 p.m. Mass. We picked the Jesuit one, which was rather small and austere. Jam-packed, every aisle, including the middle and vestibule space, the church was so full there was no possible way to admit the faithful who stood in the heatless foyer. (I guess the fire marshals in Poland had the day off.) I wondered to myself how Communion would go.
This time the full version of the Passion was sung in three voices followed by the homily, all in Polish of course. After which the Cross, covered in a purple linen, processed down the middle aisle as somehow the standing worshipers parted like the Red Sea. For the adoration of the Cross, each person comes forward to kiss the feet of Jesus. The logistics were confusing but one by one each person there shuffled and squeezed by, eventually to knell and kiss the crucified Lord’s feet. All throughout this long process the entire congregation sang in full voice a wide range of hymns, none of which were familiar to me, not even the tune. But they were passionate in their singing the whole long time. Eventually we came to Communion which, with three priests distributing, went much more smoothly than the Cross ritual. People of all ages were participating, many teenagers and young adults, grizzled veterans who had seen much in their lives, and nuns who are in full black habit in Poland. As long as the ceremony was, it was deeply spiritual and moving without recognizing a single word, but understanding the meaning of them all.
Outside, the snow intensified. We went off to dinner upon returning to our hotel, there were roughly a thousand people processing with candles following a life-sized Cross and other shrines, each carried by four men. They gathered in front of the main church, with a large open square, for additional readings, singing, and a homily. By 10 p.m. everyone was walking back to their cars and homes in the falling snow. So impressive.
Easter Sunday, Stockholm.
St. Eugenia’s, just across the inlet from Gamlastan (Old Town with the King’s Palace) is a rare phenomenon: a Catholic church in Sweden. (Out of 9 plus million Swedes, 87% of whom are Lutheran, there are estimated to be 150,000 Catholics scattered mostly among the 44 churches in the Stockholm diocese.) Yet the church was typically Swedish modern, with artistic faux bricks covering walls, pillars and curves, and very large blond fir beams arrayed from front to back on the vaulted ceiling. An imposing concrete balcony to support a monster pipe organ curved out over the choir’s nook to the left of the altar.
The families in Stockholm are at the top end of income and style worldwide, certainly compared to the struggling Poles. But here in this parish I witnessed something I did not see in Polish churches: ethnicity. There were Africans, Asians, Indians, and Pakistani families throughout the congregation of mostly well-healed Swedes. I am not sure if this was because the parish is near a university, but it was a very welcome change from my previous visits.
The High Mass was the full deal, as one would expect at 11 o’clock Easter morning: candles lit everywhere, incense, a large contingent of priests and servers, and an ample choir composed of men, women and a full complement of children. The altar servers, boys, girls, and young men of different ethnicities, had their hands folded if they were free, and one hand over their heart if the other was occupied. (Not standing like they were waiting for a bus as has become the norm on American altars, at least in SOME parishes, not our’s.) The celebrant was a striking, tall, young, blond priest who had an incredible presence even if we didn’t understand a word of Swedish. Again, we knew every move, every word, saying our responses aloud in English, and chanting in Latin for the Credo.
The tall priest ended the Mass with an Easter anecdote:
A full Swedish family of parents, children and grandparents went to visit the Holy Land. There, unfortunately, the grandmother died. Her son, the father, decided to have her wrapped in an appropriate fabric and flown back to Sweden for burial. The local hospital staff was amazed and told the man he should bury his mother here in Israel where it is much cheaper than in Sweden. The man persisted in wanting his mother shipped back to Sweden arguing: “I have heard that people buried here have been known to come back from the dead.”
Jokes from Swedes, at Mass. Miracles never cease.
The chorus ended with a spirited rendition of the final movement to Handel’s Messiah, the Alleluia Chorus. And, combined with the majesty of the pipe organ, this choir had their own pipes to carry it off. The entire experience was one of the most joyful of Easter Masses we had ever experienced. Here we are in a foreign country in the far north of another continent, among complete strangers, from multiple continents, speaking in foreign tongues, and yet we were all one in the belief in God, Who became Man, suffered and died, and rose again to bring us back to the Source of all love and life.