In a few days, the Church will begin celebrating the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25. Those of Polish descent may be interested to read how the history of Poland influenced the choice of this year’s theme and materials for prayer and reflection, which have been compiled by a committee of Poles. The suggested prayer service for this year even includes a well-known Polish custom at the Sign of Peace:
The focus for the prayers of intercession are unity and transformation of different situations. These prayers are followed by the “sign of peace”….Poland has a particular custom of sharing a special wafer, the “opłatek” (plural: “opłatki”), in people’s homes before the Christmas Eve meal, and also over Christmas in meetings in churches, and even at work. This custom is so precious to Poles, living at home and abroad, that it is practiced not only by people of different confessions, but also by non-believers. Each person is given a wafer. People then share this wafer by breaking off a piece of another person’s wafer and eating it. In doing so they convey their best wishes to each other. This sharing of the wafer expresses unity, love, and forgiveness between people to whom the Saviour came. Although it is not the Eucharist, nevertheless resembles it and symbolizes the presence of Him who was born in a House of Bread (Bethlehem) and who himself became the bread of life – Jesus Christ.
Even if we can’t attend a daily ecumenical prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, perhaps incorporating the proposed Scripture readings, Commentary, and Questions for Reflection into our personal or family prayer time would enable us to participate ‘in spirit’ in this valuable exercise.