The Polish National Catholic Church is the only Church in the United States with which the Episcopal Church is in communion. Not only may Episcopalians receive Communion at its altars, but they should do so if this Church is available to them and their own is not.
But apart from such unusual circumstances, Episcopalians will naturally want to acquaint themselves with the members and the worship of a Church with which they enjoy intercommunion and to make its members feel at home when they attend services of the Episcopal Church. It is toward the furtherance of such mutual fellowship that a special issue of The Living Church will carry a complete list of Polish National Catholic parishes in America, with their street addresses and the names of their pastors.
The second Sunday in March is kept in the Polish National Catholic Church as “Polish National Catholic Sunday,” for it was on March 14, 1897 that this part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was organized. An informative and interesting account of the history, doctrine, worship, and life of the Polish National Catholic Church was published last year in England and this year made available in America. (The Polish National Catholic Church in America and Poland, by Theodore Andrews, Macmillan. Pp. ix, 117, $2.50)
The Polish National Catholic Church is in communion with the European Old Catholics of the see of Utrecht; and it is the only body in America claiming the classification of Old Catholic that is in communion with Utrecht—from which, as a matter of fact, it received its episcopal succession. The Anglican Communion throughout the world is in communion with the see of Utrecht, but intercommunion between the Episcopal Church and the Polish National Catholic Church was not completed until 1946, although relations had been friendly.
In round numbers, the Polish National Catholic Church has an estimated 250,000 communicants in North America, mostly in the United States but including a few places in Canada. It has – or did have – about the same communicant strength in Poland, where it started a mission some years ago. But its members in that country, presumably now without a bishop, are at present cut off from communication with their American brethren.
The communicant strength of the PNC Church is therefore roughly that of the Episcopal Church in 1870, but of course it has not been a going concern nearly as long as Anglicanism in America had been by 1870. It does not have as many parishes or clergy as the Episcopal Church had in 1870: on the other hand, the average communicant strength of PNC parishes is considerably larger than that of the Episcopal Church today.
The Polish National Catholic Church is organized into four dioceses in America—the Eastern or New England Diocese, the Central Diocese, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese, and the Western Diocese. Elsewhere in the U.S. the P.N.C. Church is not yet at work.
Unlike dioceses of the Episcopal Church, these are not strictly defined geographical areas, but are rather groupings of parishes under one bishop. The parishes in Florida, for example, come under the Western Diocese simply because they were started by it. Similarly, the Western and Buffalo-Pittsburgh dioceses contain Canadian congregations.
PNC churches look very much like Roman churches. Services are in Polish and English, except for a few affiliated congregations of other national backgrounds, which have been allowed to retain the languages to which they were accustomed. Preaching is sometimes in English, sometimes in Polish; sometimes there is a sermon in both languages at the same service.
Holy Communion, in Polish National Catholic churches, is given on the tongue in the form of the bread only. It is received after fasting, and only after a form of general confession, including absolution, similar to that of the Book of Common Prayer (“Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins,” etc.) But in the Polish National Catholic Church the general confession comes just before the Mass and includes a silent period for mental recollection and acknowledgment of one’s sins to God. It is used as a matter of course on certain Sundays (like the first in the month), but is available on request of intending communicants at any Mass.
Thus the Episcopalian who wishes to make his communion in a Polish National Catholic Church should notify the priest, either the day before or a half hour or so before mass, so that he may join in the PNC form of general confession. This general confession is to be distinguished from sacramental confession (with the naming of one’s sins to the priest), which is also provided for in the PNC Church, though it is compulsory only for children. The general confession, required by the PNC Church of all intending communicants, would seem simply to point up the implications of the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer.
Unpaginated pamphlet. Milwaukee: The Living Church, 1954.