Popular Piety: Processions
In the Catholic Church processions are part of the liturgy and they have a religious character. They are public acts of homage to God, to give honour to Him, or to the Mother of God or to the saints. The word ‘procession’ comes from the Latin word ‘procedere’ which means to go forth or to proceed. In this case it emphasizes the dynamic character of the liturgy which in turn reflects the dynamic nature of our faith. Processions express the physical and spiritual condition of human beings who are pilgrims on this earth and who are always on the way.
Liturgical processions have some important Biblical precedents. For example, 1 Chronicles 15 and 2 Samuel 6 describe the procession with the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, carried by the people with music, dancing and shouts of joy. The Psalmist sings of a procession to the Sanctuary of the Altar with the singers, the musicians and the congregation. Not all Biblical processions were joyful. We also find references to funeral processions, for example Luke 7. All four Gospels describe a procession forming as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
There are two Biblical processions that have a particularly deep significance. The first was when Israel went out from Egypt and God led them to the promised land for forty years. The second is the Way of Cross when Jesus went to the place where he was crucified.
Processions are also part of the Eucharist. There is a procession at the beginning of the Mass, with the Book of the Gospels, and another when people bring the gifts before the offertory. During the liturgical year there are a few processions. The best known is the procession on the solemnity of Corpus Christi. There are also processions on Palm Sunday and after the Easter Vigil to announce the Resurrection of Christ. There may also be processions ordered on special occasions, for example the feast of the dedication of a church, processions with relics because of the feasts of saints, as well as thanksgiving or penitential processions.