The old stone church on Rosensteel Street in Silver Spring is a Polish parish, and most of its members have someone in Poland--mother, father, brother, cousin, friend. It was difficult to worship joyously on this Christmas Day, when their homeland remained under the rule of soldiers.
One of the sweetest voices at Our Lady Queen of Poland has always belonged to Kaya Ploss, a passionate Silesian-born writer of plays and novels, who treasures the old Polish Christmas hymns.
"I felt very sad," she said after mass yesterday. "I sang my heart out, but I cried the whole time. I can't help it."
In sorrowful times, Ploss said, her countrymen find solace only in the church, and yesterday they filled the 16 pine-green wooden pews. It was cold inside the small church, and the 300 Polish Americans worshipped in their hats and coats.
Some wore the usual rhinestone Christmas trees on their lapels, others wore Solidarity buttons, in support of the labor union that was suddenly suppressed on Dec. 13 after 16 months of growing freedom.
From the altar, where red and white poinsettias stood between two Christmas trees, the Rev. Edward Mroczynski spoke, in his homily, of reasons why: "Please look upon it that God is testing us, and God never gives us more than we can carry. We will come out of this victorious."
The church was bright this year with the lights of television, and as the parishioners stepped outside after mass, a reporter with a microphone asked them how they felt. Katarzyna Massie, a doctor from Warsaw who came to this country two years ago to marry an American, found herself in front of the cameras and began to cry.
"All my family is there -- my parents, my brother, my aunts, my uncles. Everyone," she explained. "The only reason I am here is that I have an American husband."
She said she has a cousin in Luxembourg who tries every day, without success, to place a telephone call to Poland. Massie said that the last she has heard from her family was a letter that arrived in mid-November thanking her for her Christmas presents.
"I sent food, soap, toothpaste, coffee, tea, gum, raisins," Massie said. "It was kind of extravagant."
Most of her family belonged to Solidarity, Massie said, adding: "They prefer to have some difficulties and to be free. It was worth the sacrifice."
She smiled as she recalled Christmas Eve at her house in Warsaw, a grand holiday with so much food, and such wonderful food, that no one can eat for days afterward: "When it is dark and we see the first star, we put the lights on the tree and sing carols and open our presents." Then the feasting begins and there are 24 different dishes, including fried carp, borscht, cabbage soup with mushrooms, noodles with poppy seeds, yeast cake, and poppy seed pastry.
After mass yesterday, the parishioners walked across the lawn to the 100-year-old, two-story stone rectory, where the dining room table was spread with a white linen cloth and laden with traditional Christmas sweets, baked by the women of the church.
There were honey cake and honey cookies and poppy seed cake and sugar-dusted twists of dough called chrust, which are made with eggs, flour and a little vodka.
The rectory was warm, and as it filled with people there was a pleasant fragrance of perfume and cigars and coffee and pastry. Kaya Ploss, the writer, whose novel won Poland's National Award for Literature in 1962, bustled here and there in her fur coat, her blue eyes bright as she spoke of her homeland.
"I am from Silesia, where the miners are," Ploss said. "We are regarded as one of the toughest people in Poland."
Her stepmother is still there, as are her cousins and aunts and uncles, who were all, she said proudly, deeply involved with Solidarity.
"I expected my cousin for Christmas," she said. "But she never arrived."
Ploss left Poland nearly 14 years ago, for the same reason as Katarzyna Massie. She had fallen in love with an American, a Princeton professor she met when she was studying 16th-century literature in London. Her husband now works for the State Department, as a senior Soviet analyst.
The party at the rectory ended by mid-afternoon. Ploss had a Christmas party of her own to host. She was going to serve turkey with lingonberries ("They grow wild in the forests in Poland, like cranberries") and a strawberry compote that her stepmother had sent from Silesia. She went into the rectory kitchen to find one of her guests, Janina Urbanska, who was doing the dishes with Maryann Evans, the parish organist.
"Let's sing 'Jesus' Lullaby,' " said Ploss. The kitchen sounded like a church as the three women sang the Polish words that translate: "Sleep, little Jesus, My pearl, My jewel. . . ." Ploss led the singing, her soprano strong and lovely.
When they finished the song and the dishes, they put on their coats, and Urbanska, who had been too busy with the food to talk much before, said in leaving: "Good will triumph over evil."