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1. Processions are a solemn religious ceremony, during which prayers are recited in common by those who take part in them.
Processions were customary under the Old Dispensation. We read of the Ark of the Covenant being carried round about the city of Jericho (Josue vi.); of the ark being brought in solemn procession to Mount Sion by King David (2 Kings vi.), and thence transferred to the Temple built by Solomon (3 Kings viii.); Our Lord also made a solemn entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matt. xxi.).
The ceremonial observed in our Christian processions is intended to portray the truth that we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one to come (Heb. xiii. 14).
The procession issues (proceeds, hence the name procession) from the church and returns thither, to show that we must enter the Church on earth if we would reach the Church in heaven. The cross is carried first, because in this life we can never be wholly free from crosses and sufferings, if we follow the maxims of Our Lord. The banners are to remind us that we are warriors, because here below we have constantly to contend against the malignant foe and our own evil proclivities. Those who walk in the procession go two and two, to signify the twofold precept of charity, especially that of charity to our neighbor. The children take the lead, because their greater innocence renders them more pleasing to God; the adults follow, first the men, with the priest in their midst, and finally the women. Processions, if possible, are held in the open air. The prayers recited vary according to the object of the procession; on Rogation days the Litany of the Saints is sung. By rights the men ought to walk bareheaded, but not so the clergy and persons in official dress; this is to show the respect due to authorities both ecclesiastical and civil. In the procession of Corpus Christi all heads are uncovered, by reason of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
2. The Church holds processions either for the purpose of setting before us more forcibly certain events in the life of Christ, certain doctrines of the faith, or in order to obtain speedy help from God; on these occasions an opportunity is afforded us of testifying in a public manner our faith and our loyalty to the Church.
The object the Church proposes in setting before us more vividly certain events in Our Lord’s life, or certain doctrines of the faith, is to confirm our beliefs. Processions are a means of obtaining more speedy assistance from on high, because God inclines His ear more readily to petitions offered in common; and experience proves that processions are most efficacious modes of supplication. The processions on Candlemas Day and on Palm Sunday are in remembrance of events in Our Lord’s life; those on Holy Saturday and on the feast of Corpus Christi are illustrative of doctrines of the faith; the processions of St. Mark and of the Rogation days are for the purpose of entreating the divine help.
3. The following processions form part of the ritual of the Church everywhere:
The procession on the feast of the Purification.
At this lighted tapers are carried round the church, because on that day the aged Simeon declared the Child Jesus to be “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles” (Luke ii. 32).
The wax tapers are emblematic of Christ, the Light of the world. The wax betokens His manhood, the flame His Godhead; as the light shines forth from the taper, so the divinity of Christ shines forth from His sacred humanity by His teaching and His miracles; and as the taper is consumed, while illuminating all around, so the human nature of Our Lord was sacrificed for the sake of enlighten ing mankind. Christ is in very truth the Light of the world, since by His teaching He dispels the darkness of ignorance and error.
The procession on Palm Sunday.
When blessed palms are carried round the church, in memory of the day of Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The palm branches borne by the Jews were symbols of victory the victory that Christ was to gain by His death over the devil, the prince of this world. Our procession is significant of the Christian’s triumphal entry into heaven. The priest knocks three times at the door of the church with the processional cross, then it is opened, to show that only through trials and tribulation can we enter the gate of heaven, and be admitted to the realms of bliss.
The procession on Holy Saturday.
When the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly taken from the place where it was deposited, and borne by the priest, attended by the clergy, back to the high altar.
This procession is significant of our future resurrection. The ceremony ought by rights to take place at daybreak on Easter Day, but as few could then be present, it is anticipated on the eve of the feast.
The procession on the feast of Corpus Christi.
When the Blessed Sacrament is carried to one or more altars of repose, to testify publicly our faith in the presence of Our Lord in the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.
The festival of Corpus Christi (the body of Christ) is on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, consequently in the second week after Pentecost, because soon after the descent of the Holy Ghost the apostles began to dispense holy communion to the faithful. This festival was instituted some six centuries ago. It was first celebrated in Belgium, by order of the Bishop of Liege, in consequence of a revelation made to a nun, Blessed Juliana (1250), and shortly after Pope Urban IV. decreed that it should be kept throughout the whole Church. In this procession the sacred Host is carried in a monstrance beneath a canopy, flowers are strewn on the way, and censers swung; the altars of repose are beautifully decorated with lights and flowers in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. In some places four altars are erected, and a pause is made at each, and one of the accounts of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament given by the four Evangelists is read. The four altars signify the four quarters of the world. After the reading of the Gospel, a prayer is added for protection against lightning and tempest, and for a good harvest. This solemn ceremony, which is generally terminated by the Te Deum in the church, cannot fail to impress every beholder, and lead the non-Catholic to inquire what it is towards which such profound reverence and veneration is displayed.
The procession on St. Mark’s Day.
When, in Catholic countries, the priest goes out to bless the fields, and prays God to grant the fruits of the earth in due season.
St. Mark is commemorated on the twenty-fifth of April. The procession on this day owes its origin to Pope St. Gregory the Great about the year 600. At the time when the plague raged in Rome, St. Gregory ordered the procession to be held for the purpose of imploring the mercy of God; and immediately after the pestilence was stayed.
The procession on the three Rogation days.
The object of which is to ask of God the blessing of an abundant harvest.
The Rogation days are the three days preceding the ascension of Our Lord. The processions were first introduced by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in France, about the year 470, at a season when a failure of crops and the damage occasioned by earthquakes had brought about great scarcity and destitution.
In addition to the processions above named, there are local processions held yearly in honor of the patron saint of the place, or to some shrine in the vicinity. Sometimes processions are ordered by the Pope or the bishop of the diocese, as for instance, on occasion of a jubilee, or in seasons of great calamity.
When the bishop visits a church, the clergy go in procession to meet and receive him; processions are also formed at funerals. Prayer is the soul of processions; he who does not go to join in the supplication had better remain at home.
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