Black habits with only holes for the eyes. This is how members of the Brotherhood of the Passion of the Lord dress, which was founded in Lublin and is trying to join the Krakow archbrotherhood, which has existed for over 400 years. The brothers meet for services in the catacombs of the church and are preparing for a procession at the cemetery, during which they will carry candles and sing All Souls’ songs.
It all started in 1595, when the canon of the cathedral chapter in Krakow, later bishop of Krakow, Fr. Marcin Szyszkowski founded the Brotherhood of the Passion of the Lord.
– It didn’t come from nothing. Already in the 15th century, secular religious associations were established in Krakow that cultivated the cult of the Passion of the Lord. In 1597, the brotherhood was officially accepted by the Pope, and in 1605 – also with the Pope’s consent – it became an archconfraternity to which other brotherhoods were subordinated. This form of piety has become very popular in the Crown. Associations began to form in various cities. There were several of them operating in Lublin until the partitions. Ours was established in September last year. We refer to this, perhaps somewhat forgotten, tradition – explains Michał Kargul, a member of the brotherhood.
Together with nine people, he is a member of the Brotherhood of the Passion of the Lord, established in Lublin, which is trying to become a branch of the above-mentioned Krakow archbrotherhood.
– We would be the only branch in Poland. I know that this type of associations operate in two other cities, but so far they have not expressed the same willingness as us. During this year’s Lent, we visited the Archbrothers from Krakow. They still operate at the Franciscan basilica. There are 15 of them. They were pleasantly surprised that there is a group in Lublin that does what they do – emphasizes Kargul.
They meet in the catacombs of the church
The brothers meet every Friday in the catacombs of a church in Lublin. They always go there after mass, which starts at 19. Their service begins at 20-20.15.
– Although only men can be members of the brotherhood, of course anyone can come to the service – says our interlocutor.
The brothers are wearing (just like centuries ago and currently the archbrothers from Krakow) black habits with hoods in which only holes for the eyes are cut out. They try not to turn on the electricity during the service. Candles are burning. There is a cross for adoration on a special pillow.
– We remember the suffering of Jesus, adore the cross, and say “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”. We also pray for the Pope and the clergy. Everything in Latin. Only the sermon is in Polish. If a priest participates in the service, he preaches it, if the priest is not present – we read the sermon from one of the devotional books – Kargul describes.
Once a month, during the requiem for the souls of the dead, they also attend mass in the church. Sometimes they are dressed in habits and assist the priest. They also participate in the Good Friday service. They enter the church – then wearing habits – carrying candles and a processional cross. They repeat the Latin saying “memento homo mori”, which means “remember death, man”.
They will go in procession around the cemetery
On the weekend after All Saints’ Day, they plan to go in a procession around the cemetery. They will sing All Souls’ songs while walking dressed in habits and carrying candles and a processional cross.
– Habits symbolize the fact that everyone is equal before death – explains Kargul.
Centuries ago, brotherhoods were also involved in charitable activities. They cared for the sick and the poor or paid for the funerals of those who could not afford it.
– Over time, the term Brotherhood of the Good Death stuck to the brotherhood. In the 17th or 18th century, it was not always the case that the priest – after celebrating the service in the church – participated in the burial of the deceased at the cemetery. The priest attended the funerals of the nobility and wealthier townspeople, but poor peasants were buried without a priest. Mourners prayed for their souls. Hooded brothers tried to preside over such funerals and, as it were, they replaced the clergy, which over time became part of folk piety. They said prayers, talked about the deceased, and so on. Hence, people started calling the Confraternities of the Passion of the Lord the Confraternities of the Good Death – says Kargul.
Kings hidden under habits and a privilege for the archbrotherhood
He adds that in the First Polish Republic the brotherhoods were so popular that kings Sigismund III Vasa, Władysław IV, John Casimir and John III Sobieski also took part in Lent rituals – dressed in habits and hidden under hoods.
– Władysław IV granted the Krakow archbrotherhood a privilege thanks to which every year on Maundy Thursday it could redeem any number of debtors from prison and save one convict from death. The latter was then under the protection of the brotherhood and, if he wanted, he could join its ranks. He then walked in a special procession with a skull in his hand and a lit candle, our interlocutor reports.
The Krakow archbrotherhood lost this privilege when Poland lost its independence.
– Later, especially in the Russian and Prussian partitions, brotherhoods were liquidated. The invaders believed that they could be a source of rebellion. In the Austrian partition, Emperor Franz Joseph I – although he was a Catholic – also viewed this type of activity negatively, but fortunately the Krakow archconfraternity was not dissolved and continues to operate to this day. It even survived the times of the Polish People’s Republic. And this despite the fact that in 1949 the authorities banned the activities of religious associations, Kargul points out.
They meet with some reserve
When we ask how the faithful – for example during the Good Friday service – react to members of the brotherhood dressed in habits, he admits that a certain reserve can be felt.
– We have even heard opinions that our costumes are associated with the Ku Klux Klan, with which we obviously have nothing in common. Yes, robes can be intimidating. But only to make a person who remembers that he will die one day reconsider his life. Some people ask why we sing – and malicious people say that we “howl” – All Souls’ songs. Others say they respect us, but this type of piety does not appeal to them, says our interlocutor.
Main photo source: Brotherhood of the Passion of the Lord in Lublin