|I once went to
the yearly Italian festival at my parish -- a big affair with lots of
food and music. Most beautiful of all, though, is the procession of
the statue of the Blessed Virgin. I was standing on the steps of the
church, watching as Our Lady was carried down the street, set on a
wooden platform hoisted by the men of the church. Next to me was a
complete stranger, but when the Virgin came by us, the stranger and I
looked at each other and burst into tears. It was such a beautiful
thing to see Christ's Mother -- our Mother -- being honored so
publicly, in broad daylight, while hundreds watched or participated.
Such a procession is good on so many levels: the honoring of a Saint or
the Blessed Sacrament is right and good in itself; being a part of such
an event is good subjectively, psychologically; and, on a sociological
level, it evangelizes, and it binds the faithful together, allowing for
a shared ritual that goes to group cohesiveness. That woman and I, a
never seen before or since, shared a profound moment together, and I
will never forget it.
Processions are ancient. Our spiritual ancestor, King David, processed
with the Ark of the Covenant, with "all Israel" in attendance:
II Kings 6:1-5
(II Samuel:61-5): And David again gathered together all the chosen men
of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went, with all the
people that were with him of the men of Juda to fetch the ark of God,
upon which the name of the Lord of hosts is invoked, who sitteth over
it upon the cherubims. And they laid the ark of God upon a new cart:
and took it out of the house of Abinadab.... [T]he sons of
Abinadab, drove the new cart.... Ahio having care of the ark of God
went before the ark. But David and all Israel played before the Lord on
all manner of instruments made of wood, on harps and lutes and timbrels
and cornets and cymbals.
Next in Scripture is Our Lord's procession into Jerusalem, riding on a
lowly donkey as the people who'd soon betray him waved palms before the
man they misstook as a mere earthly king.
The Church has made use of processions since Her earliest days, and
processions come in many forms. Though not typically perceived as
"processions," the sprinkling of holy water on parishioners before Mass
and the carrying of the Cross and candles and such are a sort of
procession. There's also the procession of the bride on her seemingly
endless walk down the aisle on her wedding day. And there are funeral
processions -- from the solemn, to the boisterous as seen in New
Orleans, complete with jazz bands.
More formally, there is the procession of the Blessed
Sacrament, a form of Eucharistic adoration which always take place
on the Feast of Corpus
Christi, but which can also take place on other days, at a priest's
or bishop's discretion.
Liturgically, there are the procession with candles at Candlemas, the procession
with palms on Palm Sunday, and the
"beating of the bounds" on Rogation
Days. Sometimes these processions take place inside the church
building, sometimes outside of it.
Outside of the liturgy, there are processions in honor of various
Saints on their special feasts or for the cause of making a specific
request of them -- i.e., a procession in honor of St. Januarius to
request his prayers in protection against Mt. Vesuvius's anger, as is
being done in this painting.
The Roman Ritual has procession prayers to ask for rain, ask for fine
weather, and drive away storms; to protect against famine, plague, war,
and calamity; to give thanks; and for the "translation" (the moving) of
important relics. On these occasions, the Litany
of Saints is prayed.
There are are also processions such as the one I described earlier --
done at a parish or diocese's pleasure. These sorts of processions can
involve carrying a statue or icon of the Saint, the Saint's relics,
etc. Often, when a part of the procession, men who belong to Catholic
fraternal organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, will wear
their ceremonial outfits, young girls will wear their first Communion dresses, etc.
Below are a collection of paintings depicting processions of various