Monday, October 4, 2010

Oplatki: Rediscovering Old Tradition

The Original Catholic Encyclopedia from 1913 has this to say about Catholics of Polish derivation:

The Poles in America cling tenaciously to their quaint customs, which are in nearly every instance quite as much religious as national in character. Poland was but little affected by the religious rebellion of the sixteenth century and hence the Catholic medieval spirit is still that of the Poles. The Christmas and Easter carols heard in the Polish churches are exact counterparts of those sung by the peasants of pre-Reformation England, and are the expression of the childlike faith of the people. The most beautiful custom and the one that bids to out-live all others among the American Poles is that of the oplatki (wafers). Shortly before Christmas the parish organist distributes wafers resembling those used for Holy Mass, and at this distribution each parishioner makes a slight offering to the organist or altar-boys who bring the wafers. These are sent to friends and relatives in Europe, and the latter do not forget those in America. On Christmas Eve the family gathers to partake first of all of the wafer in token of continued love, mended friendship, and good-will to all men.
Living in the Diocese of Buffalo has many blessings, one of those being the rich traditions brought to the area by Polish immigrants beginning in the late 18th century.  Catholics living in the city of Buffalo and surrounding suburbs can still experience a Mass celebrated in Polish, visit a 121 year-old market full of  seasonal Polish baked goods including holiday goodies with names that twist many tongues.  Prior to Lent, we pick up a dozen paczki to share with friends and family, during Lent, we are treated to homemade pierogies, at Easter we find little lambs molded from butter with a small red ribbon adorning the neck and at Christmas, we find oplateki in envelopes with an image of the the Nativity printed on the front.  These items are in our grocery stores and many of us buy them not knowing the history behind the goods, yet we enjoy them tremendously.  Just as all of us can be Irish on St. Patrick's Day, we can all be Polish by partaking of such beautiful traditions our Pole brothers and sisters share with us. 

This year, discover a new family tradition or revive one that you may have long since forgotten about.  Make it a tradition which can bring family together and can strengthen the bond of your Domestic Church.  One such tradition enjoyed not only by Poles but by Slovakian and Lithuanian families for generations can now be yours, too -- oplatki.  While breaking the wafer, you can each offer prayers for loved ones who are near and far, ask for forgiveness of slights, or omissions in the past year and remember that Christmas is not about the latest electronic gadget and eating until you can no longer move.  Plan now to make Christmas about the Bread of Angels, God with us: Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.  You can even send some to loved ones who live far away and plan to break the bread at the same time so that no matter where you are, you can share the tradition with them.   

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