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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Święcone - blessing of Easter food

Święcone


The blessing of meat, eggs and bread at the end of Lent is a Catholic tradition that has been preserved by the Polish people.

A Polish family in my parish asked to bless their baskets of food (containing these items) on Holy Saturday so I arranged to do so at 11am, letting others know also. Above you can see a basket (Święcone) that was prepared as a gift for me.

When I was asked to do this blessing by another Polish family a couple of years ago, I was intrigued to find that in my 1860 copy of the Roman Ritual (above), there is, precisely, a blessing of lamb, eggs and bread for Holy Saturday.

This convinced me that the devotion kept by the Poles must have been something more widely practised in past centuries. The immediate explanation might be that this is the blessing of food at the end of the Lenten fast. It must be more than that. People would have abstained from meat, and from lacticinia (including eggs) but not from bread. Perhaps there is a more specifically eucharistic reference. The modern Polish custom is to have a model of a lamb, or a lamb made out of sugar, but also to include other meats (including delicious Polish sausage.)

Liturgical observers will also note that the blessing is expected on Holy Saturday, late in the morning. This will seem odd to priests who have only known the evening Easter Vigil: Holy Saturday is nowadays observed as a day of mourning at the tomb of Jesus; although the altar of repose is not supposed to be a focus of devotion. We are simply meant to observe a void. I remember many years ago in Rome that a parish priest put up a liturgically correct notice at the altar of repose where there was a fine statue of the dead Christ. It admonished the faithful that this was not the tomba di Cristo. A fellow student suggested putting up an alternative notice saying "Si, é la tomba di Cristo e si deve piangere un pó" ("Yes, it is the tomb of Christ and you should weep a bit.") Not something to cling to in doctrinal terms but certainly a recognition of something that was eradicated from the sentiments of the faithful.

Until 1951 the Easter Vigil was in the morning: a ceremony lasting perhaps four hours or so. At the end of that, people would have a slap-up lunch to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the end of the Lenten fast. Hence the blessing of the food before the meal. There may also be an element of prayer for restoration of health after a debilitating fast.

Now there seems to be a haze of mixed memories. One young (i.e. well after the 1950s) family I spoke to, said that in Poland there were always Masses on Holy Saturday morning. A Polish priest firmly assured me that the blessing was always done on Easter Sunday morning. The wholesale disruption of the Triduum services in 1955 served to confuse many long-standing popular customs and devotions that were centred upon the Liturgy. Naturally this was done with the scholars with little pastoral experience who felt that their bureaucratically tidy reforms would help people participate in the Liturgy.

Next year, I think I will try and encourage this devotion among all the families of the parish. The Easter baskets were fascinating for the children who were present this year, and I think it would be a good way to get families to come along to Church for a little prayer and catechesis on Holy Saturday.

Here is a link with more information on the current observance of the Święconka

For those who want a copy of the Latin text of the traditional blessings, here is a link to a pdf of the Rituale Romanum. The blessings of lamb, eggs and bread are on page 198. Here is an English translation taken from the very helpful Sancta Missa site:
THE EASTER BLESSINGS OF FOOD

Blessing of Lamb
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit

Let us pray.
O God, who by your servant Moses commanded your people in their deliverance from Egypt to kill a lamb as a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, and prescribed that its blood be used to sign the two door-posts of their homes; may it please you to bless and sanctify this creature-flesh which we, your servants, desire to eat in praise of you. We ask this in virtue of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.
All: Amen.

It is sprinkled with holy water.

Blessing of Eggs
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit.

Let us pray.
Lord, let the grace of your blessing come upon these eggs, that they be healthful food for your faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.
All: Amen.

They are sprinkled with holy water.

Blessing of Bread
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, bread of angels, true bread of everlasting life, be pleased to bless this bread, as you once blessed the five loaves in the wilderness, so that all who eat of it may derive health in body and soul. We ask this of you who live and reign forever and ever.
All: Amen.

It is sprinkled with holy water.
I was told that there should also be a blessing of salt, since this is traditionally included in the Święcone. My guess is that it would be an exorcism of salt.
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