Blue is the colour of faith

Fr Pawel Rozpiatkowski

Polish piety has still a strong Marian character – results from the statistics conducted for ‘Niedziela’ among practicing Catholics by the Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church. The favourite prayer of Catholics is the Rosary. The veneration of the Mother of God has still been popular with people. The shrines with miraculous pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary draw huge crowds. The pictures of the Mother of God prevail in homes and she also protects those who wear her medallions.

‘We adore God but we honour his saints’ – I always remember this statement’, says Fr Jaroslaw from Czestochowa, who has been a priest for a dozen or so years. The late Bishop Miroslaw Kolodziejczyk used to ask this question during the examination in dogmatic theology. Some friends of mine who did not know the right answer had to repeat the examination’, Fr Jaroslaw laughs. Then they knew the answer well. This theological formula defines and precisely describes the place of the saints and the Mother of God in the hierarchy of faith. The Church worships God himself in the Mother of God and proper Marian piety can be defined by the short sentence, ‘Through Mary to Christ.’ The Mother of God always points to her Son. ‘Do whatever he tells you’, she said at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. This defines the ultimate goal of Marian piety. It is worth noticing that you can see some deviations from a healthy religious faith and teaching of the Church in folk piety. The classical example of such a deviation is the second stanza of the known song ‘Serdeczna Matko’ [Beloved Mother], in which its author enclosed the words, ‘But when angry Father lashes, happy is the one who falls back on the Mother.’ The words can suggest God’s vindictiveness with which the Creator has nothing to do. However, even such ‘flowers’ do not entitle us to formulate here and there the thesis that Polish piety has too much of the Mother of God.

Favourite prayers

Conducting research on the Marian element in Poles’ faith we asked questions concerning Marian prayers, e.g. the Rosary or the Litany of Loreto, pilgrimages to Marian shrines, which determine the specificity of Polish faith to a great extent. We also tried to describe the influence of external manifestations, expressed by pictures in homes or medallions worn around necks. Three thirds of Polish Catholics, who believe in God and practice their faith, declare that they often pray the Rosary. It is interesting that the Rosary is not prevailing among older generations. Young Polish Catholics eagerly use this prayer as well. 60 % of the respondents from the 17-25 year group claim to often say the Rosary. Professional situation, education and place of residence do not influence the popularity of the Rosary to a considerable extent. Who does not say the Rosary at all? 0.8 % of the respondents of our survey answered this question. It was exactly 17 people out of 2,058. The responses concerning participation in May devotions or rosary services were similar. 67.5% of the respondents declared to take part in these services; every third respondent (30.1%) indicated the answer ‘sometimes’ and 1.9% indicated the answer ‘never’.

Catholics – pilgrims

Walking pilgrimages to Marian sanctuaries are common phenomena among practising Polish Catholics. A decisive majority of those who regularly go to church has been on a pilgrimage to one of the numerous Marian shrines in our country at least once in their lives. Every third respondent answers that he often goes on pilgrimages and over half of all respondents answer ‘sometimes’. Only 14.3% say that they never go on pilgrimage. Among the Polish dioceses with the lowest number of those who do not go on pilgrimages are: Przemysl (2.3%), Tarnow (2.9%) and Sosnowiec (5.6%). The most popular pilgrimage trail is naturally the Shrine of Jasna Gora. As far as this shrine is concerned nothing has changed, and looking at the responses of particular age groups no changes are to be expected. Six out of ten respondents indicated Czestochowa as the place of their pilgrimages. Then they pointed at Lichen (29.1%). It is twice less than Czestochowa but the result is impressive. The last shrine that can be called national is Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. Every tenth Polish Catholic (9.4%) went to this place, which the Servant of God John Paul II liked so much. The other places of Marian cult are not so popular. Every 20th respondent went to Gietrzwald, 3.5% went to Swieta Lipka, 2.6% visited Niepokalanow and 2% went to Piekary Slaskie. Regional shrines have also been popular with pilgrims. 41% of all respondents said to have visited these places.

Pictures of Mary

Jasna Gora as the favourite place of pilgrimages is connected with the fact that Our Lady of Czestochowa reigns in Catholic Polish households. The image of the Black Madonna is in over half of all Polish households. And other religious pictures are in the remaining ones. Apart from the Black Madonna the most popular pictures of Christ’s Mother are: Madonna with the Child, in one out of five households; Our Lady of Perpetual Help (the Wednesday Marian services are very popular in Polish churches) is in one out of ten Polish families. Our Lady of Lichen and Breastfeeding Mother of God occupy similar places. The interesting fact is that in spite of the popularity of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska the image of Our Lady of Kalwaria is seldom found in Polish homes. It is found only in 1.2% of the respondents’ homes.

The most important feasts

The survey also contained the question about the hierarchy of the Marian feasts in the liturgical year. The most important feasts for Polish Catholics are decisively: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven on 15 August (70.4%); Mary Queen of Poland on 3 May (19.7%), the Immaculate Conception on 8 December (9.9%), the Annunciation on 25 March (7.5%); Our Lady of Czestochowa on 26 August (6.1%) and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple on 2 February (4%); the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 8 September and the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God on 1 January (each had 2.8%). Two of these feasts are the solemnities of the Lord, i.e. focused on Christ. We placed them in the survey on purpose because they function as Marian feasts in the conscience of Polish Catholics. Finally, we asked about Marian religious signs we have with us, for example a picture or a medallion with the Mother of God. Only 17% of the respondents said that they did not have them. As many as 82.1% said that they had a picture or a medallion.

"Niedziela" 33/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: