Moving from one place to another: Christians do this. We do it not only to get to where we need to go, but also as a sign of the pilgrimage of faith. Perhaps it is a representation of movement from doubt to faith, from sin to grace, from one thing to something better, something with Christ.
We have a lengthy section that suggests processions are of one type out of a possible three: a recollection of the life of Jesus, an option for a particular event, or something designated by the liturgy itself.
245. Processions are cultic expressions of a universal character and have multiple social and religious significance. In them, the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety is especially important. Inspired by biblical examples (cf. Es 14,8-31; 2 Sam 6, 12-19; 1 Cor 15, 25-16,3), the Church has instituted a number of liturgical processions which have differing emphases:
• some recall salvific events in the life of Christ, among them: the procession on 2 February commemorating the Lord’s presentation in the Temple (cf Lk 2,22-38); Palm Sunday, in evocation of the Lord’s messianic entry into Jerusalem (cf. Mt 21, 1-10; Mk 11, 1-11; Lk 19, 28-38; John 12, 12-16); the procession at the Easter Vigil commemorating the Lord’s passage from the darkness of the tomb to the glory of the Resurrection, synthesising and surpassing everything that had happened in the Old Testament, and standing as a necessary prelude to the sacramental “passages” accomplished in the disciples of Christ, especially in the celebration of Baptism and in the rite of exequies;
• others are votive processions, such as the Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi: the Blessed Sacrament passing through the streets arouses sentiments of gratitude and thanksgiving in the minds and hearts of the faithful, it arouses in them faith-adoration and is a source of grace and blessing (Acts 10, 38)(Cf. HCWEOM 101; canon law 944, note 162); the rogation processions, whose dates are to be established by the respective Conferences of Bishops, are both public implorations of God’s blessing on the fields and on (human) work, and penitential in character; the procession to the cemeteries on 2 November are commemorations of the faithful departed;
• others again are required by certain liturgical actions, such as: the stational processions during Lent, at which the worshipping community leaves from the established gathering point (collectio) for the church of the statio; the procession for the reception at the parish churches of the Holy Oils blessed on Holy Thursday; the procession for the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; the procession of the baptized at the Vespers of Easter Sunday, during which psalms and canticles are sung on the way to the baptistery (GILH 213); the processions associated with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, such as the entrance of the Sacred Ministers, the proclamation of the Gospel, the presentation of the gifts, the communion with the Body of Christ; the procession carrying the Viaticum to the sick, where still practiced; funeral corteges accompanying the bodies of the faithful departed from their homes to the church, and from the church to the cemetery; the procession for the translation of relics.
See anything familiar in these lists? Anything you enjoy participating in? Other comments? The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.
Don’t know if they have them much any more, but one of my favorite memories of grade school days was the May Procession. A plus for me was that we got out of class to practice; I usually had a bad case of spring fever by that point. They were a rather formal affair, held in the evening. The girls wore their Easter dresses and wreaths of flowers in their hair. We walked from the school to the church, with the servers carrying processional torches. We sang Bring Flowers of the Fairest, On This Day, ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother, etc. You don’t hear them much now.
Catholic processional culture in the US (which was never very vibrant among dominant Irish-American Catholics because Irish Catholicism spent many generations underground, and therefore roughly limited to Italian-American and central European-American Catholic urban ghettoes), died when Catholicism became largely suburban. The big exception now would be processions for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
That is, of course, omitting things residual things like Mardi Gras and St Patrick’s Day parades as “processions”.
I think I’ve quoted this passage here once before, from Maria von Trapp’s “Around The Year With The Trapp Family” but it’s a wonderful narrative of the kinds of processions that have been, historically, familiar to openly Catholic regions (in Europe, Central America and South America):
“On the Thursday after the octave of Pentecost falls the feast of Corpus
Christi–the feast of the Holy Eucharist. The actual anniversary of the
institution of the Blessed Sacrament is celebrated on Holy Thursday, but
on this day the Church cannot summon the proper festive mood, because of
all the other happenings following the Last Supper, which she also has to
commemorate. For this reason she has instituted a special feast day for
this event. In the old country this used to be the great feast day at
summer’s beginning, with its distinctive feature the solemn procession,
after the High Mass, in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried through
the streets and over the fields and meadows. Such a Corpus Christi Day
belongs among our most beautiful memories.
The day before, the big boys of the village cut young trees in the woods,
usually birch, and plant them on either side of the road along which the
priest will carry the Blessed Sacrament. From the village inn you hear
the brass band having a last rehearsal, while mothers pin-curl the hair
of their little girls. Everybody is preparing his finery for the great
day. The Association of Voluntary Firemen come in their best uniforms and
brass helmets. The war veterans will also be in uniform with big plumed
hats. The big girls are making garlands by the yards which will span the
street. All windows will be decorated, houses and families vying with
each other the best carpets, flanked by candles and flowers, are hung out
the windows and statues and holy paintings are exhibited on them. Early
in the morning freshly cut grass is strewn thickly on the road. Four
times the procession will come to a halt, the priest will sing solemnly
the beginning of one of the four Gospels and each time there will be
Solemn Benediction. At those four spots altars are erected and decorated
with trees and greenery and a profusion of flowers and candles. A great
deal of love and care and time goes into these preparations.
Then comes the great day. The church choir gives its best at the Solemn
High Mass and all the people attend from the mayor to the smallest child,
for everybody wants to accompany Our Lord on His triumphal way. The
procession is headed by an altar boy carrying a crucifix, followed by all
the school children–the girls in white, their veils held in place by
wreaths of flowers, looking for all the world like so many little brides;
the boys wearing a wreath of flowers on their left upper arm over their
Sunday-best, just like “best men.” Then come the different
confraternities with their banners and costumes. In the towns the
convents would send every member they could spare. There would be the
blue Vincentian Sisters with their coronets, looking like a group of
doves, the white Dominican nuns, the brown Carmelites of the Third Order,
the black Benedictines followed by the brown Franciscans, then the
Mission Fathers and the bearded Capuchins followed by the secular clergy
in their liturgical vestments. They are all like the heralds of the great
King Who is following now under the richly embroidered baldachin carried
by the four most important men of the community. The pastor carries the
monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. Two little girls are throwing
flower petals out of baskets directly at the feet of Our Lord. Little
altar boys alternate in ringing silver bells and swinging the censer from
which rise billowing clouds, enveloping the Sanctissimum. On the right
and on the left are marching soldiers carrying guns as if on parade.
Behind the Blessed Sacrament follows the church choir, then a detachment
of firemen, the war veterans in uniforms, and the rest of the community.
At the very end of the procession comes the brass band playing hymns
while everybody joins in the singing. The highlights for everybody, young
and old, are the moments of benediction with the priest raising the
monstrance for all to see and the soldiers lifting their guns and
shooting their salute, while from the outskirts cannons resound with a
thundering echo. I cannot remember a single occasion when it rained on
Corpus Christi Day. From a cloudless blue sky a hot June sun would shine.
At the end of such a triumphal procession everyone from the oldest
grandfather in a plumed hat to the smallest flower girl would be in a
truly festive mood.”