Thursday, August 26, 2010

Feast Day: Our Lady of Czestochowa

Our Lady of Czestochowa ... the patron of Poland and a favorite pilgrimage shrine for the man born in a small village nearby, a man who was born in an area of Poland where my Dad's family originated, a man who would become Pope John Paul the Great. 

Our Lady of Czestochowa is another reminder that God is in charge and prayers are amazingly, miraculously answered by our loving God.
Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us all!

When BamBam was just a few months old, I was blessed to be able to go on a peace pilgrimage with college students ... about 40 of us (including 3-month-old) piled on a bus for the overnight journey from Austria into southern Poland ... a trip I will never forget. 

Here is an article I wrote back five years ago about our visit to Jasna Gora:

It’s her eyes you notice first. Her eyes invite you to contemplate, to meditate, to pray. Her eyes are mysterious and yet open, sorrowful yet loving. These are the eyes of the icon known as “Our Lady of Czestochowa”.

John Paul II understood the power of this icon. As a boy growing up in Wadowice, the parish church had a life-sized version of the icon – a picture the young Karol prayer to after attending Mass. He had at least two copies of the Black Madonna in his private Papal apartments some 70 years later: one full-size version in his private chapel where he said his morning prayers and a smaller version near his desk in his private office. John Paul II arranged to stop at Jasna Gora and celebrate Mass on almost all of his six trips back to his homeland, ; his inability to visit imposed by the Communist regime who, as George Weigel explains in Witness to Hope, “didn’t want him working the crowd”.

Because of this icon, Jasna Gora is Poland's most important and revered Marian shrine among the numerous sites dedicated to Marian devotion throughout the country. In a country where Catholicism has been able to beat the Tartars and the Swedes, the Nazis and the Communists, this shrine is the focal point.

The shrine is part of the Monastery of Jasna Gora – Bright Hill. It shelters the miraculous icon of Our Lady, which is also known throughout the world as the “Black Madonna”. Housing a Basilica, museums, and the precious icon (in the Our Lady’s Chapel), Jasna Gora is a site of pilgrimage for millions of visitors each year.

Every night at 9:00 p.m., the final prayer is prayed and the icon is covered for the night. Poles at the Shrine are joined in prayer by Poles around the world in what has become known as the “Jasna Gora Appeal”. This Appeal was first prayed in 1954 for Poland and the freedom of the Primate, Stephan Wyszynski, who was imprisoned under the Stalinist regime.

The Appeal begins with the singing of the Polish Marian hymn, “Bogrodzica”. This hymn was the national anthem for many years. All then sing the appeal three times: “Mary, Queen of Poland, I stand before you, I am watching, I am on guard!” More prayers and intercessions follow and a final hymn is sung. During the final hymn, a silver plate is rolled down over the 4 x 2-1/2 foot image – this cover is over 300 years old – and the Sanctuary is closed for the evening.

As Polish people around the world join in this prayer it was a special blessing for me to be able to stand before “Our Lady of Czestochowa” on what would have been my father’s 75th birthday. I was able to pray for my father of Polish descent in front of the Queen of Poland. To pray in front of an icon my father had talked about when I was little.

The “Black Madonna” is steeped in mystery and miracles. Traditionally, the painting has been attributed to St. Luke, who painted the Madonna’s portrait on a table that Jesus had built. Art critics dismiss this, saying the icon is 5th or 6th century. Whoever painted the icon, and whenever it was done, doesn’t really matter. The fact remains that the venerated icon is many centuries old and has been protecting the Polish nation since it was brought to Czestochowa by Prince Vladislaus of Opole in 1382. Prince Vladislaus asked the Pauline Monks to build a monsatery and chapel to house the already revered icon.

This icon is more than just an ancient, mysterious painting. Many miracles, and the religious and patriotic spirit of Poland, are centered around this icon. The veneration of this icon, and the trust in the intercessions of “Our Lady of Czestochowa”, continues to bring the pilgrims – on foot, by car, by bus – from Poland and all the world. All come to venerate this lovely lady.

“Our Lady of Czestochowa” looks out at the viewer and her eyes mesmerize. She holds Jesus in her left arm and her right arm is raised, inviting us to meet and love her son. Jesus is also facing the viewer, but his eyes are turned elsewhere. He holds his right hand up in magisterial benediction while holding a book in his left hand. Both faces have a serious (almost sorrowful) but loving look. The icon invites you to prayer and contemplation, belonging to the group of Hodigitria icons, "she who indicates and guides along the road".

There is something which makes this icon even more dramatic. On Our Lady's right cheek are two slashes and a third horizontal cut. The neck of the image is marred by six additional scratches and there is another cut over her right eye. These are marks that were left when the image was stolen by a group of robbers on Easter Sunday, 1430. A gang of Bohemians, Moravians and Silesians, stole the painting, tearing-off the valuable votive offerings and slashing the image that looked back in sorrow as they desecrated the holy image. When the Pauline monks found the discarded image, they brought it to Krakow and had it repainted, leaving the slash marks as a reminder of the barbaric act of near-destruction.  On every rendition of this Black Madonna, these "war wounds" are always a noticeable feature.

Because of this desecration, and subsequent attacks by warring factions, the monks built a fortress around their monastery. A fortress that repelled invaders for centuries and protected the art works and precious objects given by the faithful for prayers answered. The walls of the Our Lady Chapel, where the icon is enthrnoned above the altar, are covered with amber and coral beads – thanksgivings from the faithful. Other walls of this side chapel are covered with crutches, canes and silver votives. The Pauline Monks keep these items in trust as they are thanksgiving offerings given to Our Lady.

A beautiful museum houses many of these offerings, as well as some being incorporated into the “dresses” that the icon wears. Our Lady has seven dresses made from precious jewels, velvet and silver and gold donations. In addition, the altar that surrounds the icon is made of silver and black marble – built through donations of the faithful. A gold rose is permanently displayed on Our Lady’s altar – a gift of Pope John Paul II during his first papal visit to Czestochowa in 1979. Additionally, a golden heart, emblazoned with the words “Totus Tuus”, is another gift of the Polish Pope to the Queen of Poland after the unsuccessful attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square in 1981.

“Our Lady of Czestochowa” was enthroned as “Queen of Poland” in 1716 by Clement XI. From 1795 till 1915, a period of 120 years, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe – it was consumed by Austria, Prussia and Russia. During this unhappy period, Jasna Gora became the rallying point of the Polish nation and the icon became a pledge for a free Poland.

Poland and her people have turned to “Our Lady of Czestochowa” for help from invaders – such as the “miracle of Vistula”. In 1920, the Russians stood on the banks of the Vistula River, ready to conquer Warsaw. The entire Polish nation prayed to the “Black Madonna” for deliverance, while thousands traveled to the Shrine to beg her for victory. On September 15, 1920, the Feast of the Assumption (in the old calendar), the outnumbered Poles reigned victorious, pushing the Russians back to their homeland.

The irrepresible Polish Catholic culture has meant that Jasna Gora as a rallying point continued through the history of Poland. When Poland was occupied by Germany during World War II, the Poles turned to Jasna Gora. When Poland was occupied by the Communists during the post-War era, the Poles turned to Jasna Gora. When a Polish Pope was elected, the Poles turned to Jasna Gora to thank Our Lady. When the Communist-led government fell in 1989, the Poles came to Jasna Gora by the hordes to again thank their Queen for her intercessory prayers.

Today, this monastery is still operated by the Pauline monks who are entrusted with the care of this symbol of Poland’s Catholicism. Sitting high above the city of Czestochowa, this monastery is a beacon for the faithful, for the pilgrims who come to pray and attend the various services held within the shrine. This is the center of Poland’s catholicism. This is Jasna Gora!

No comments:

Post a Comment