Christmas Day at American Czestochowa
For many years, the Holy Day of Christmas at the American Czestochowa has been an experience of a joyful and familial atmosphere. The elevated character of the liturgy, the beauty of the choral singing, and other attractions bring to this house of the Mother of God crowds of pilgrims, who desire to experience renewal and hope on the day of Christ’s birth. This is on beautiful display particularly during the two solemn celebrations of the Holy Mass: the 5:00 PM celebration on Christmas Eve in English, and the traditional Polish “Shepherds” Mass, celebrated at midnight on Christmas Day.
The Vigil of Christmas
This year the Vigil Mass, celebrated in the English language, was presided over by Father Christopher Drybka, OSPPE, the Prior of the American Czestochowa. The faithful filled the church to overflowing, with many not finding anywhere to sit. In the twilight, symbolizing expectant waiting for the coming of the Savior, the ceremonial procession set off for the crib, in order to bless the church’s Nativity scene. Children dressed as shepherds, kings and the Holy Family were an eloquent reminder of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth; they brought a statue of the Infant Jesus before the main altar and placed him in a special crib. The homily of our Prior was addressed first to the children, later to the whole assembly. Gathering all the children to the foot of the alter, Fr. Christopher engaged them in a dialogue about the meaning of the Feast of Christmas, reminding us all that we are proclaiming the celebration of Jesus’ birthday to everyone. At the end, all the children sang to Jesus, on the occasion of his birthday, the song “Happy Birthday.” In the next portion of his homily, our Prior made reference to the genealogy of Jesus, assuring us that Jesus’ birth could also take place in the hearts of all of us, despite our sins and weaknesses. At the end of Mass, St. Nicholas was welcomed into the church, who gave out sweet treats to the children. The liturgy was honored by the performance of our Shrine Choir, under the direction of our organist, Mr. Paul Raczkowski.
The Polish “Shepherds Mass”
The Polish community, living here in the United States, did not disappoint us in attendance, and filled every seat in our large main church. This is especially significant in light of the considerable distances which many of our countrymen had to conquer in order to reach the American Shrine of Czestochowa, wanting above all to participate in our traditional, Polish-style “Pasterka”. The Mass was presided over by Fr. Tadeusz Lizincyzk, OSPPE, the Provincial of the Pauline Order in America. The Polish-language liturgy also began with a solemn procession and dedication of the Nativity scene, with the singing of a passage from the Roman Martyrology concerning the birth of Christ. The singing was performed by Father Martin Cwierz, OSPPE. In the homily of the Provincial, referring to a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, he began by reflecting on the importance of being a man “in whom God is pleased”.
“What kind of people do we have to be that God would be pleased in us, that God would give us peace through Jesus Christ?” asked Father Lizinczyk.
Continuing, he pointed out that God comes to us regardless of our spiritual condition, of our darkness and our sinfulness:
“God comes to those who live in darkness. Jesus was born on the darkest night of the year. To come here, we ourselves had to face the darkness, the darkness of the night. The night’s darkness is a symbol of the presence of evil and sin, which also remains in our lives. But this does not deter Jesus, because He himself is the Light. He arrives, that he might transform our darkness, fill us with hope and peace – within ourselves.”
A beautiful liturgy, graced by the singing of a vocal quartet. After the Eucharist the faithful, at the invitation of Fr. Tadeusz, went to the Shrine’s cafeteria, where they ate and together exchanged the Oplatki wafers and made their Christmas wishes.
The faithful visiting us in this holiday season were surprised by beautiful Christmas decorations, which have been talked about already for many years in the Bucks County region. The Christmas decorations at the Shrine grow with each additional year. They are an expression of our joy at the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Around our Shrine one can admire the colored lights, which – this year – number more than 250,000 individual lights, and which are spread from the statue of the Mother of God at the entrance, to the church and the monastery itself, highlighting the whole hill atop which sits the American Czestochowa. They can be related to the words of Jesus: “You yourselves are the light of the world. You cannot hide a city built upon a mountain” (Matthew 5:14). On the grounds of our Shrine, visitors can also find a Living Nativity with animals, a crib and moving figures (in the Neapolitan style) and beautifully decorated Christmas trees and flowers in the church itself. All this greets the pilgrims coming to meet Jesus and Mary in the heightened atmosphere of the Holy Birth of Jesus. The Shrine of the American Czestochowa will be decorated in this way until January 19, or the Feast of St. Paul the First Hermit, the founder and patron of the Pauline Order. Till then, it is well worth it to come to this wonderful place, to more deeply experience the Newborn Jesus.
Photos from Liturgical Celebrations:
Photos of Christmas Decorations: