This is the biggest and the most famous Holy Mass on Sunday. It is just the 35th anniversary of the radio inauguration of the Holy Mass broadcast from the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw

It was a significant event: on 21 September 1980, in Poland of deep communist time, on the first channel of the state radio, the Holy Mass was broadcast! It was celebrated by the deceased auxiliary bishop of Warsaw Jerzy Modzelewski, who did not conceal his emotions. – The Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, as well as whole Poland, from the Baltic Sea to the Tatra mountains, from the eastern border to Odra and Nysa rivers, experiences the significant hour. It enriches momentous religious and national experiences of the whole homeland – he said.

Communists did not let the Holy Mass be broadcast willingly. They were forced to agree to it by postulates of protesters in the area of Pomerania and the Agreement of Gdańsk in August 1980. Demanding broadcasting the Holy Mass was the first of 21 postulates, which was fully realized by the authorities.

Only not in a studio

It is 35 years, since a transmission car of the Polish Radio station has been present on Krakowskie Przedmieście on every Sunday morning. Radio workers plug in all devices and start broadcasting the Holy Mass. There are two microphones at the altar, as well as microphones for a choir and a person leading singing and one more directed towards the church and people. There is a rule that one priest celebrates the Holy Mass. There are no other priests celebrating the Holy Mass, although there are exceptions because it should be a uniform transmission, so that there would not be any polyphony, as it does not sound well on the radio. This rule has been followed strictly for years, and if it sometimes happened that the liturgy was celebrated by a few priests, the voice of only… priest was heard.

The pressure of the radio on priests celebrating the Holy Mass, as Fr. Zygmunt Berdychowski CM, a parish priest of the Church of the Holy Cross and a chief of the Program of Radio Holy Mass says, is enormous. Transmission requires a good diction, care about good choice of words, stylistics, because radio antennae catches everything. This is a big challenge and obligation for a priest. Not only is it broadcast all over Poland, but it is also edited in the form of a book. Fr. Berdychowski, as a cleric, used to sing in a choir during the radio Holy Mass. – I remember singing a Gregorian choral and we were very emotionally moved. These were great emotions and ennoblement – he says.

In the beginning, most sermons were preached by priests from the radio program. Now – when there is such a need – a few times a year. The schedule involves various priests, among the others, the national priest of the Apostolate of the Ill is invited, as well as bishops and priests, on various occasions, for example, on the papal Sunday, missionary Sunday, support of the Church in the East, during an inauguration of the academic year, a day of consecration day, full anniversaries.

The ill themselves

The Primate Stefan Wyszyński , discussing rules of broadcasting with the governmental party, excluded celebrating the Holy Mass, for example, in a radio studio, on which the authorities had insisted. The purpose was that the Holy Mass was to be ordinary and for those who cannot participate in it in the church for various reasons, that is, for the ill, working people, prisoners, etc. So, it happened so.

But there were more listeners than the ill, working people, prisoners, etc. from the beginning. – This Holy Mass is mainly for them, but Poles from various parts of the world listen to us – says Fr. Zygmunt Berdychowski. – This is an enormous group of people who would not have any other possibility of listening to the God’s Word or the Holy Mass in Polish at this time. We receive thanks, greetings from people who listen to us online in different parts of the world. There are also those who listen to our Holy Mass, and then they go to church.

During the martial law there was a longer break in transmission of the Holy Mass. The radio got silent, and the silence lasted till the mid of January 1982. – Materials were prepared earlier as usually, and were announced in the church but listeners did not hear them – says Fr. Władysław Kądziela, a member of the radio program for 35 years. – Later there were not any breaks, unless there was a papal pilgrimage when the radio was broadcasting papal Holy Masses.

An evangelical truth

Holy Masses were under censorship on the radio in the 80s. The control comprised sermons and all kinds of non-liturgical texts, for example, believers’ prayers or priestly announcements. Long before the Holy Mass, texts were sent to censorship and when they returned, they were not recognized. Whereas, censors did not recognize deletions or corrections made by them.

- When a preacher diverged from a censored text, there was interference in the Episcopate. But we did not give in. Each of us used to say that he spoke in the way which his heart prompted him to, although we were aware that we had to speak carefully, but we also had to tell the evangelical truth.

We were aware of being listened to and due to it, we felt a lot of responsibility for the word – says Fr. Kądziela. Surely only once – it happened in January 1981 that deceased Fr. Jan Szurlej, an editor of the ‘Apostolate of the Ill’ from Katowice, completely rejected a text of a homily prepared and approved earlier and made an improvised speech in which he attacked the authorities.

Fr. Kądziela is responsible for musical setting for the liturgy. In the beginning, the first fiddles were played by a cleric choir under his directorship. – We had problems with songs because a censor used to ask about them. And we used to sing quite significant ones – says the priest. – When people – and censors – heard ‘Jesus, listen to your begging people/, Listen, do a miracle to us’, or ‘From this poor land’, they knew what they meant. These were the first songs which were broadcast during the Holy Mass.

Witnesses of history

Why did the primate Wyszyński choose just this not another church? For a few reasons. It has got a good acoustics, good organ and is situated in the centre of Warsaw, and, besides, the Holy Masses were broadcast in it soon after the war, till the time of strengthening a policy against the Church. What was important, were the historic rank and the past of this place, filled with souvenirs of great Poles (here there are, among the others, hearts of Chopin and Reymont).

The church witnessed the history of Poland. In March 1861 a big patriotic manifestation took place there after killing the so-called Five Defeated by the Russians. During the January Uprising, an unsuccessful assassination on Berg, a Russian governor took place, and setting Chopin’s piano on fire by the Russians. Missionary priests, administering the parish church, kept an uprising archive, which resulted in dissolution of the Order.

During the Polish-Bolshevik war, here there were constant prayers for a victory, which were participated in by, among the others, nuncio Achille Ratti, the later Pius XI. Moreover, there were one of the most aggressive fights of the Warsaw Uprising here, and the church was passed over from hands to hands. Finally, in 1968, it witnessed the so-called March events. It was also a witness of funerals of Prominent Poles, among the others, Stanisław Moniuszko, Edward Odyniec, Franciszek Żwirka and Stanisław Wigura, Józef Piłsudski, Maria Rodziewiczówna, Jan Kiepura, Karol Szymanowski, Paweł Jasienica, Stefan Kisielewski and Ignacy Paderewski.

The biggest parish

Fr. Zygmunt Berdychowski is not astonished to be called a parish priest of the biggest parish. – There is something in it, because people participate in our Holy Masses all over the world – he says. – They may not be real parishioners, most of them listen to sermons on the radio or via Internet, but all of them belong to our community.

The community of listeners is called a community of Świętokrzyski province, as well as are sermons preached in the church of the Holy Cross every Sunday and on feasts, broadcast on the radio and also regularly published in the form of a book for years. ‘Świętokrzyskie radio sermons’ (called so to distinguish them from the ones of the Middle Ages, and written on parchment and kept in the National Library), and there have already been twenty-seven volumes of them.

There are not so many of them, as the number of radio Holy Masses shows, because it was necessary to include sermons from a few years in the first volume. – in the beginning no one knew how long these Holy Masses would last, everyone was happy that they were and nobody was thinking ahead about the future that they would be forever or was thinking of publishing those sermons. Therefore, the first volume comprises a few years. Now they are published on a constant basis, every year.


„Niedziela” 37/2015

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