Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blessing Baskets

If you grew up in a Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, or Ukrainian home you know exactly what the title means.  If you didn't it may be difficult to explain.  Over the Easter Triduum one of my happy tasks, for the second time since I was ordained, was to bless the baskets of food brought to the school basement, where my twin brother and I attended grade school, for the blessing of the foods that were to be eaten at the swienconka, or holy breakfast, on Easter morning.  The basket generally contains kielbasa, colored hard-boiled eggs, bread, salt and other foods such as ham, horseradish, oranges, chocolate and butter that was sometimes pressed into the shape of a lamb.  I am delighted that the parish has kept the custom going.  The first year I blessed the food I was stunned to see approximately 250 people in the basement of the school.  It was like an oven down there.  There was a similar number on Saturday.

This year I changed things a bit.  The generic prayers for blessing food for the Easter table from the Book of Blessings left me cold.  A few days before driving up I e-mailed Jesuit Fr. Pawel Adamczyk who studied at Georgetown for a few years.  Delighted that we were continuing the custom he sent me the prayers as used in Poland.  What an improvement. 

I ran the Polish text through Google translate.  That resulted in some good laughs at mangled translation and syntax.  Apostles, for example, was translated as 'students.'  However, I had the gist of the prayers and rewrote them in reasonable English.  Except for the opening prayer which I gave in Polish. 

In the past every ethnic church, except the Irish, had lines of people streaming toward it to have the baskets blessed.  Many families and parishes have abandoned the custom.  That is a tragedy for both the family and the parish.  As groups abandon traditions they lose their pasts.  Tevye had it correct in the song Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof.  I feel sorry for the children and grandchildren who are deprived of these customs and the learning that goes along with it. 

After the opening prayer the blessing that Pawel sent included four separate blessings, one for each of four foods, that explained the symbolism.

Christ, The Living Bread,
you came down from heaven and
gave the gift of the Eucharist to the world.
Bless our bread + that recalls both the manna
with which the Father fed the Israelites
as they wandered in the desert,
and the bread with which you miraculously fed
those who followed you in the wilderness.

Lamb of God,
you who conquered death
and redeemed us from our sins,
bless + the meats, sausages, and all the foods
that we eat in memory of the Paschal Lamb,
who shared the Passover meal
with His Apostles at the last Supper.

Bless the salt + and,
as salt keeps food from spoiling,
protect us from the corruption of sin.

Christ, our life and our hope, 
bless + the eggs,
a symbol of new life,
that we will share with
family, friends and guests
and thus, share with them
the joy of your presence among us.
Invite us to your eternal feast,
the heavenly banquet,
where You live and reign forever and ever.

I would love to have to do this twice next year to accommodate overflowing crowds.  It was close this year. 

After the prayers of blessing a server and I went up and down between the tables sprinkling holy water on the food.  We closed with the Our Father and a blessing.  It was terrific. 

I went to my Aunt Irene's house after the 11 AM Mass for the swienconka.  It was delicious.  After a quick visit to friends I returned to the rectory at about 4:30 PM almost unable to move.  The Boston Marathon may be easier than celebrating and concelebrating all those liturgies. 

The enclosed photos, except for one that is self-explanatory, are from St. Mary's, the church in which I grew up.  As a result of the Agnes flood in '72, a wretched 'remodeling' some years later and the conjoining of three parishes with a much better job of remodeling and melding, parts of it do not look as they did when I was a kid.  But, it is a lovely church.  The ceiling, except for being cleaned, hasn't changed.  
The door to my office at Campion.  The bumper sticker created quite a stir particularly as most of these New Englanders had no idea what Nittany Lion meant.  They know now. 
The ambo at St. Mary's was surrounded by flowers.  These photos were taken around 5:30 PM as the sun was setting prior to the 8:00 PM Mass. 
The choir lost was open affording this view.  Unfortunately I didn't have the lens with the wider angle with me. 
The organ stops fascinated me as child up there and continue to do so.  I played organ for several years but never this one.  Wouldn't even try today. 
The last two are the same photo, one in color and the other changed to black and white.  It is the view through Scott's mirror (the organ faces away from the altar).  The mirror is the same one that was there over 50 years ago.  I think I prefer the black and white but the other has its charms as well. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


  1. Thank you father for translating and rewriting the Easter Blessings of the baskets. I have copied your prayers to give to a hispanic priest at our church for he may me doing the blessing this year. I am sure he will appreciate your efforts.

  2. You are welcome. I don't have a copy of the opening prayer in English handy (I am living in Slovenia where the baskets will be blessed tomorrow) but it is the sort of introductory prayer that all priests learn to create. It focuses on the meaning of the Triduum. Thank you for your note. You definitely helped start today a little more brightly.

  3. Fr. Jack, thank you for the Prayers! It is very helpful to me since I bless my parishioners' food basket on Holy Saturday. A blessed Easter to you!

    Your brother Priest...

    1. You are welcome. I just posted them on my facebook page. Tried to resist joining but it was necessary to keep in touch with the English Mass Community here in Ljubljana. Spread the word. Compare them with what is available in the Book of Blessings. As I noted on fb, I used those the first time (I grew up in a predominantly Eastern European town and am Polish though I don't speak it) and felt let down. When Pawel sent me these prayers they had meaning.

  4. Is that St. Mary's church in Plymouth, PA?

    1. Yes. The parish is called All Saints since St. Mary, Vincent, and Stephen were consolidated. However, the name of the church building cannot be changed once it is consecrated except under very rare circumstances. So yes, it is St. Mary's (formally named Nativity of the BVM). Went to the grade school across the street until sixth grade then went to Plymouth Jr. High.