I come from a long line of Polish Catholics. I’ve long been interested in how my ancestors celebrated the various holidays, saint’s feast days, and other holy days. The Catholic Poles had many, many religious ceremonies and prayer services unheard of here in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Poland has long been a country that struggled for peace, was dominated and taken over by its neighbors, and suffered when those neighbors tried to extinguish its very culture. Through it all, the strong faith of the people of this predominantly Catholic country has prevailed. It’s enlightening to take a look at the religious rites that were and still are practiced in Poland, the land of my ancestors. Here is an example of a Polish Catholic prayer service for the Advent season.
A traditional Polish observance of the season of Advent differs greatly from the heavily commercialized time before Christmas in this country. It is a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus which means the coming. We await the coming of the Messiah not only in the flesh but also for His second coming as Judge at the end of the world. Hope is the dominant characteristic of the season of Advent. There is a focus during the season on our longing for God’s grace and His friendship. It is understood that parties, weddings, and other boisterous events would be an obstacle to the search for God’s grace and building that friendship, and so they are avoided. Advent is also a time for reconciliation with God through the Sacrament of Penance.
Throughout advent many people in Poland participate in an early morning Mass called Roraty. It begins just before sunrise in almost complete darkness in the church. The name roraty comes from the ancient Latin chant that is sung to begin the service: Rorate Coeli, de super; et nubes pluant justum – O Heavens, drop down your dew from on high and may the Just One be rained by the clouds. The words of the ancient hymn are a plea for God’s gift of His Son. As the hymn is sung candles are gradually lit in the dark church. Roraty is a kind of daily Advent vigil ceremony. The people wait in darkness not only for the rising of the sun but ultimately for the return of the Son of God, so beautifully symbolized by dawn’s first light.
The roraty service has a definite Marian dimension to it as does the entire season of Advent. In the sanctuary is found one special candle that is more predominate than the others used in the ceremony. It is traditionally decorated with greenery and white ribbon in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who plays and important role in the raining down of the Just One.
The Advent roraty ceremony originated in the 13th century during the reign of King Boleslaw Wstydliwy (the Bashful) who was the husband of St Kinga. According to historical documents, a representative of every social state lit one candle of a specially prepared seven-branch candelabrum in the cathedral at the early morning service, starting with the king. As each man lit his candle he proclaimed: Paratus sum ad adventum Domini/Gotow jestem na pryjscie Pana – I am ready for the coming of the Lord! After the king lit his candle he was followed by the cardinal primate, then a senator, a nobleman, a knight, a townsman and finally the seventh candle was lit by a peasant farmer.
Preparation for the Lord’s coming, both interior and spiritual as well as exterior and temporal is an integral part of a truly Catholic observance of the holy season of Advent.
Many thanks to Rev. Mark A. Borkowski, Associate Pastor, Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan, who was kind enough to allow me to share his article with you.
Below is a video showing a portion of a Roraty service filmed in a village not far from my maternal grandfather’s village in Poland.