Catholics in Poland Celebrate Corpus Christi Amid Coronavirus Restrictions

The faithful participate in various prayerful events to honor the Blessed Sacrament in the homeland of Pope St. John Paul II.

A Corpus Christi procession takes place in Poznań, Poland, June 3.
A Corpus Christi procession takes place in Poznań, Poland, June 3. (photo: Courtesy of Archdiocese of Poznań)

Catholics took part in Corpus Christi processions across Poland Thursday. 

People took to the streets June 3 wearing face coverings and following local coronavirus restrictions to celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, observed on the Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost.

Following Polish tradition, girls who had recently made their first Holy Communions scattered rose petals before the Blessed Sacrament, which was carried by a priest under a processional canopy.

Celebrating Corpus Christi in Poznań, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the Polish bishops’ conference president, said that “no Christian community can overcome loneliness and create community if it does not have its root and basis in the celebration of the Eucharist.”

Bishop Andrzej Przybylski, an auxiliary bishop of Częstochowa, celebrated an outdoor Mass at Jasna Góra, home to the revered icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.

“The greatest treasure of Jasna Góra Shrine is not this wonderful and beautiful icon of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, but it is the Blessed Sacrament, and the most important and most effective prayer is the Holy Mass. The Eucharist is the sun and the center of our faith,” Bishop Przybylski reflected.

And Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno commented that Corpus Christi “is about a living awareness that the Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s presence, and this essence could not and can never be replaced by virtual reality.”

The Polish bishops’ conference stated that “throughout the octave of Corpus Christi, Poles will participate in the processions, which are a part of the piety of the Polish and express love for the Eucharistic Jesus.”

Christi Christi is a national holiday in Poland. Taking part in a procession is not only a public profession of faith, but also, since Poland’s loss of statehood in the 18th century, a manifestation of national belonging.

Under communist rule after World War II, Corpus Christi processions were a sign of national unity and faith. The atheistic authorities tried to ban the processions on many occasions.

During a typical parish procession, Catholics visit four altars. At each one, they pray, the priest blesses everyone with the Blessed Sacrament, and the Gospel is read.

Poland, which has a population of almost 38 million, 93% of whom are Catholic, was initially relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared to other European countries. 

But a third wave of coronavirus in 2021 put pressure on the nation’s health system and prompted the government to tighten restrictions. 

Poland has recorded more than 2.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 74,075 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

This year, because of the pandemic, processions had a different character. Central processions in diocesan capitals with the participation of the bishop were limited, and routes were shortened. Catholics were encouraged to participate in local parish processions in the immediate vicinity of their churches.

Corpus Christi in Poland features a number of folk traditions in addition to the casting of petals, including music performed by orchestras and the wearing of folk costumes.

Another custom is the laying of flower carpets. In Spycimierz, a small parish in central Poland, this tradition has been observed for more than 200 years, and the floral carpets stretch for over a kilometer (more than half a mile).