Before I ventured over “The Pond” to Europe, I made a promise to my mom that I would go to at least one service in a Catholic Church while I was there. Keeping my promise, I traveled to the Warsaw Old Town where it seemed like my choices of services were plenty on a Sunday afternoon. Being the summer season, it seemed that so many more tourists made their way to Warsaw to experience the beauty it has to offer. That being said, Old Town was packed with a buzz that didn’t quite match the mood I channeled to appropriately go to Mass that morning. I choose a church on the edge of Old Town to avoid the crowds. Holy Cross Church seemed big enough that a non-native speaker might be able to blend in, but small enough that I would feel the intimacy of the congregation.
I discovered quickly that just like everything else the Poles do, Polish Catholic was quite different than the Catholic I was born and raised to be. Because this church was on the populated street leading into Old Town, and the church itself a sight to see with ceiling paintings, gold statues of all the biblical heroes, and the vintage sense of the wooden pews, visitors were common. Walking into the church, you get a feel for a church that was built to replicate a church from the 19th century. The pews were in the true center of the church, roped off from the side walls that attracted the visitors with gold statues, beautiful paintings, and memorial plaques for previous religious leaders. It was quite strange to me that something as holy as Sunday morning Mass was commercialized by tourists in inappropriate church dress, taking pictures of the church while the priest was in the middle of his homily.
The comforting part about the Catholic religion is that no matter where you are in the world, it follows the same proceedings. It was easy to recognize when the congregation was reciting the Nicene Creed, although it was difficult to remember how it is said in English when everyone else is reciting it in Polish. It was easy to shake hands with the people around me and exchange words and hopes of peace for each other. It was easy to know to genuflect before I got to my pew as a sign of respect. Overall, putting my 21 years of experience of Catholicism into practice 5,000 miles away from my home was easy.
I chose not to take communion at this Mass, which was strange for me, as I have exercised my privilege to receive the Eucharist every time I’ve attended Mass since receiving the Sacrament of First Communion when I was eight years old. But I made this decision for many reasons. The first reason was even though I put on a nice sundress with a cover and my nicest sandals (something I would wear for Easter Sunday back home), a sign in front of the entrance to the pews had a huge red ‘X’ over a picture of sandals. I understand fully the concept of “Sunday’s Best”, however my other appropriate option for footwear would have been my heels. As much as I would have loved to fit in with the rest of the crowd that Sunday afternoon with acceptable footwear, the thought of heels walking about a mile on cobblestone streets brought me back to reality. The second reason I did not take Communion was because the Poles are sacrosanct about the act of Reconciliation, or Confession, before receiving the Body of Christ, and I had not met that requirement. I wanted to respect the Polish Catholic Church and all their traditions.
I am happy that I experienced this. I have learned that traditions may vary in different regions of the world, but the main proceedings of the Catholic Mass are a strange comfort of normalcy in a strange country. It showed me how differently casual church is at home, where I can go wearing whatever shoes I select. Plus, in my small, hometown Catholic Church, I am sure we would never have an added audience of tourists!
Catholic Mass in Warsaw, Poland
at Holy Cross Church
Krakowskie Przedmieście 3
Sunday Mass Times: 6:00, 7:00, 10:30, 11:45, 13:00, 16:00, 19:00