Catholic Ceremonies – Processions

Corpus Christi processionImage of Life

Processions are a figure of our life here below. We but pass over the earth, “for we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

Now is not this religious march a figure of our poor life?

Each procession repeats to those who will hear the language of the liturgy: Life is a passage: it flows away as rapidly as the brook in the valley: it flies like the cloud In the heavens; it vanishes like the breath of a flower, fades like the smile of a child.

In its course the procession advances by roads sometimes stony, sometimes smooth; here the sun’s burning rays beat down, a little further great trees throw upon us their refreshing shade.

These are truly like the changes of life; pain is succeeded by joy; joy again by sorrow; both are fleeting, for here everything passes away.

The processions do not return by the same road: does man see again the years that are gone? They have disappeared, the days of childhood, those of youth, and in their turn follows old age, and eternity.

We all have issued forth from the bosom of God, as die brook from its source, the ray from the sun. God is our beginning; He is also our end. Created for Him, our vocation is to go to Him; come forth from His bosom, after our pilgrimage we should re-enter there. The church from which we go out and to which we return will remind us of our divine origin and our divine destiny.

The recollection of our grandeur should not alone present itself to us. Humanity, in the person of Adam and Eve, was driven from the earthly paradise and condemned to exile in this vale of tears; and we ourselves have many Mmes, like other prodigals, left our Father’s house. In leaving the church we will be reminded of the punishment of our first parents, and perhaps reproach ourselves for our ingratitude toward God.

The Position of the Cross

Who will be the guide of humanity in the darkness and dangers of its pilgrimage? Jesus Christ, Whose glorious standard is carried at the head of the procession.

We must follow after it if we would come to His kingdom. He who has always before him Jesus Christ crucified soon feels that in the shadow of the cross pains lose their bitterness and pleasures their seduction. The crucifix precedes us because Jesus Christ Himself has preceded us in the way of trial; His feet have been torn by the stones and the thorns, and He has left His blood on the sharp sides of the stones, on the piercing darts of the thorns; it is a divine balm which will heal all our wounds. What does it matter by what road the Lord wills us to march? Jesus has sanctified its pains in taking them upon Himself. He, the man of all sorrows, has preceded us in all suffering.

Order of the Procession

Among the virtues there are two above all others recommended to us: humility and charity.

The Church recalls their practice by the order followed in her processions. The most worthy come last, and the least worthy are at the head of the procession, according to the counsel of the Saviour: “And he that will be the first among you, let him be your servant.” (Matthew 20:27) This is the procession’s lesson of humility.

The faithful who march two by two by this symbolic number figure the double charity recommended by Our Lord when He sent His disciples two by two to preach the Gospel. (Saint Gregory, Homily 17)

The Church invites us to practise this virtue at the moment when the procession is leaving the sanctuary. “Do not forget,” she says, “to walk in peace and harmony” (“Procedamus in pace”).

How maternal, too, is the care of the Church. She puts her little children close to the cross, by the side of Him Who always kept His tenderest blessings, His sweetest caresses, for them.

The Sound of Bells

During the procession the ringing of bells repels the assaults of the evil spirits. The bell is the sacred trumpet of the Church militant; its peals remind us that life is the time of combat, and that “the powers of the air” are our chief enemies. But what arms shall we use? Prayer. This is why during the course of the procession the sacred chants arise; we must oppose perpetual resistance to an enemy that never sleeps. “Watch, then, and pray,” says the Church with Jesus Christ. “We ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1)

Efficacy of Processions

The common cause of our falls is forgetfulness of our destiny; strangers and travellers here below, we make of this earth a permanent dwelling-place. And when the Church wishes to call down upon her guilty children the pardon of heaven she commands processions, and God allows Himself to be disarmed. Saint Anthony cites a memorable example of this. In the fourteenth century Europe, disturbed by the scourge of war, was miraculously restored to peace after solemn processions. The same saint tells us that the blessed Mother of God appeared to a peasant and told him that her Son was very angry with the world because of its crimes. In her merciful compassion for sinners she revealed to him this means as the best man- ner of appeasing the wrath of God.

If we desire that processions may be efficacious with God, let us bring to them the dispositions of which we have spoken. Let us regard ourselves as strangers here below; nothing is ours, all belongs to God. As travellers, we are but passing over tlie earth; as pilgrims, the end of our journey is heaven. And when, overcome by the heat and fatigue at the end of the procession, we find again the holy place of rest and refreshment, let us think how swpet it will be after the labors of this life are over to rest in eternal peace beneath the shadow of God.

– text taken from Catholic Ceremonies and Explanation of the Ecclesiastical Year, by Father Alfred Durand, published by Benziger Brothers, 1910; it has the Imprimatur of +Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, New York, 23 July 1896