Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission begins a series of articles looking at some areas of our Eucharistic celebration.
Movement and gesture are part of worship e.g. sign of the Cross, kneeling, standing, sign of peace. Processions have been part of our Jewish-Christian tradition e.g. we hear the psalmist urging, ‘Go forward in procession to the altar’, (Psalm 118:27); Egeria, a Spanish nun of the 4th century, describes the Holy Week processions in Jerusalem.
In worship today there are processions which can be classified as:
Functional: those that are part of most Masses, particularly on Sundays e.g. entrance and recessional, with the gifts of bread and wine, communion. Basically, they are there to get from one place to the other.
Ordinary: those that are part of the liturgy not every Sunday but at certain times in the Liturgical year, e.g. Palm Sunday, Corpus Christi.
Extraordinary: those that may exist in certain parishes or dioceses, e.g. La Divina Pastora, processions of Our Lady in May.
The Entrance Procession, as mentioned, is functional but that is not to say without meaning.
Yes, there is the practical side—to get from one place to the other—but there is also a spiritual side. We are a pilgrim people, a people on the way to the fullness of the Kingdom, to Heaven.
The procession reminds us of this journey and our identity as a pilgrim people.
On this journey we are following Christ, symbolised for us by the processional cross which leads the procession. Sometimes the Book of Gospels is carried in procession, another reminder for us of Christ with us on the journey.
We might even be reminded that processions can be triumphal, e.g. the joyful procession with the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6), the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
In the secular world conquering kings and emperors might enter their city in triumph bringing the spoils of victory with them. And what people has a greater reason for joy and triumph than the people whose God has rescued them from death through the cross and resurrection. So, let us joyfully go forward in procession to the altar.
All of this, of course, has implications for the grace and reverence of the ministers taking part in the procession, their wear, the choice of accompanying song—but that is the content of another article.