Great National Vows
Fr Jan Pach, OSPPE
In the Polish Church the present year, which the Church experiences as great prayer and effort to bring hope for the poor, will also be the time of reflection on the historical vows, taken in order to restore Poland, to make the situation of the poorest better and to save the Catholic face of the Polish land. We are thinking of the Royal Vows of King Jan Kazimierz, taken in the Lvov cathedral on 1 April 1656, the vows that have never been fully fulfilled. The Jasna Gora Vows, taken on 26 August 1956, have a special meaning for us. They are still an opened book to be written by the efforts of all people of good will, living in the Polish home. Let us not forget about other vows in the history, in particular the Vows of Polish Women on 3 May 1926 and the Academic Vows on 24 May 1936. 'In the spirit of the long national tradition', the Polish bishop wrote, 'on 8 September 1946 the Episcopate performed the Act of Dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Jasna Gora, which referred to the papal dedication on 31 October 1942, and first of all to the Vows of Jan Kazimierz and the choice of Mary as the Queen of Poland anew'. The 40th anniversary of the Act of Dedication to Mary, performed on 3 May 1966, falls this year. All the above mentioned acts referred to Jasna Gora and were our call to Heaven, in the spirit of faith, that we can live in security on our Polish land only with the help of God and his Mother. We experienced the last year as the time of thanksgiving for God's intervention during the Swedish invasion. The defence of the Jasna Gora monastery began our victory over the Swedes and the time of moral renewal, although only temporary, of the Polish nation. And all of that was thanks to Fr Kordecki, whose faith in miraculous intervention of Mary was the source of strength for the Pauline Fathers and all defenders. Furthermore, it caused that Jan Kazimierz proclaimed the Mother of God Queen of Poland. The difficult history, sometimes almost helpless, which our Fatherland experienced, made the Polish nation take vows and acts of dedication to the Mother of God. They expressed the Marian way of the Church in Poland, the Church that 'becomes part of the Heart of Mary with its new and new acts', Cardinal Karol Wojtyla said at Jasna Gora on 26 August 1973. These acts sealed the awareness that 'Jasna Gora Shrine has grown to some Reality in Poland without which we cannot imagine Poland's history', Krakow Metropolitan Karol Wotyla spoke on 2 August 1969. The Pope in his last message to Jasna Gora, written the day before his death, said, 'Before the Icon of the Queen of Jasna Gora I am praying that my Nation, through faith in her sure help and defence, will gain victory over all what endangers human dignity and good of our Homeland. I entrust the Church on the Polish land to her motherly care so that the Church, through testimony of sanctity and humility, continuously strengthens hope for better world in the hearts of all believers. I ask for courage for all those who are responsible for Poland's future so that they look at the figure of Fr Kordecki and defend every good that serves the Republic of Poland'. On 29 December 2005, the Polish Parliament referred to Fr Kordecki, who had served Poland well, and passed the following resolution, 'On the 350th anniversary of the end of the Jasna Gora defence against the Swedish troops, the Parliament of the Republic of Poland pays tribute to the heroic defenders of our national Shrine. Bowing down before the invincible faith and heroism of the small crew of the fortress, managed by the Prior of the Pauline Order Fr Augustyn Kordecki, we hope that these events that did inspire Poles to fight for independence so many times, will remain an essential source of patriotic attitudes of the young generation'.
The 350th anniversary of the miraculous defence of our national Shrine was celebrated in the hope that Fr Kordecki's ideas would remain vivid and would not be only a remembrance but inspiration for greatness. The defence of Jasna Gora was actually the only inspiration for King Jan Kazimierz, and first of all for his environment, headed by Primate Andrzej Leszczynski, to take vows and proclaim Mary Queen of Poland. Then the papal legate Piotr Vidoni said the Litany of Loretto and added a triple appeal: Regina Regni Poloniae, ora pro nobis (Queen of Polish Crown, pray for us). After the vows of Jan Kazimierz, taken at Mass in the Lvov cathedral before the picture of the Gracious Mary, Mother of God, all went to the service in the Jesuit church to proclaim Mary Queen of Poland. The Church realised that Fr Kordecki, defending Jasna Gora, defended the presence of Christ and the Catholic Church in Poland and the contemporary Europe. The victory of Jasna Gora foiled the plans to create a Protestant empire. Therefore, the king and Polish bishops, gathered at Jasna Gora on 2 July 1656 (3 months after the vows), decided to call Jasna Gora the Mount of Victory. Although the King took the vows in Lvov, before the picture of the Gracious Mary, Mother of God, it was our Lady of Jasna Gora that became the Queen of the Nation for Poles. All later vows were connected with the Shrine of Jasna Gora. The constitution of the Parliament, in the year 1764, stated that the Polish Kingdom 'is dedicated to its Most Blessed Queen, famous in her Czestochowa picture, and enjoys her protection in needs'. The spirit of the royal vows was vivid in the nation, aroused its conscience, especially when its political-social-moral balance was disturbed and our national being was in danger. The four-year Seym and the Constitution of 3 May (1791) aimed at fulfilling the national vows by means of legislative ways. But the partitions made it impossible. However, the vows lasted and lived in the hearts of the Polish people in the private form. All vows in the 20th century were an attempt to keep them.
The year 2006 will be the time to recollect the past Vows, which have never been fully fulfilled, but which have been vivid in the hearts of Poles and in the awareness of the Church. We must celebrate the vows so that they will be rooted more deeply in our hearts and conscience, so that they become 'the bread for the nation', according to the words of the Servant of God Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, which he uttered just after the solemn ceremony of the vows at Jasna Gora.