Why Do We Process?

The liturgical and devotional life of Catholic Christians is marked on all sides by the practice of processions.

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered…They have seen your solemn procession, O God, the procession of my God, my King into the sanctuary. The singers in the forefront, the musicians coming last, between them the maidens playing their cymbals. Praise God in the assembly, give thanks, and gratefully praise him.”

Psalm 67

The liturgical and devotional life of Catholic Christians is marked on all sides by the practice of processions. Architecture, chants, the cycle of feasts and celebration of the sacraments, all of these point to a process, a procession of going out and coming in, of a beginning and arriving in the context of heavenly realities which is all-pervasive.

There is a deep reason for this processional logic of our religion. Indeed, we use the word “procession” to describe the deepest realities. In the inner life of the Godhead, in the Most Holy Trinity, we speak of processions by way of intellect and will, of the generation of the Word and the breathing forth of the Spirit. The Son proceeds from the Father by way of being begotten before all ages, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son by way of a common spiration. The Son and the Spirit are sent from the Father proceeding in their divine missions to creatures “outside” of the divinity. All creation itself proceeds from all three Divine Persons, and then returns to God by the movement of the Eternal Son and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.

The Divine Persons within themselves go out and return, and all things whatsoever imitate this mysterious going in and going back, what theology and philosophy call the exitus, going out, and reditus, the returning.

We human beings, made in the Image and Likeness of God reflect this processional ground of our created being in our practice of the true religion. This is the sense of our liturgical life of common worship, culminating in the Blessed Sacrament, the altar of the supreme worship which is the source and the goal of all our acts of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition.

A procession tells of a whole people journeying from God and back to God. It is ordered and focused, and it draws our lives with it in the power of the symbolic acts whereby we express that we come from God and return to him.

This kind of procession is not mere traffic, a blind mass movement, it is not an evolution, even less a revolution, rather it is perfect from start to finish because it is the bestowal and laying hold of things which are divine.

From the procession to the font of baptism at the Vigil of Easter, and at every baptism, to the approach to the altar at Holy Mass, its solemnly proclaimed Gospel, and its Communion, to our bringing out in procession of the Holy Mysteries in the processions of Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi, to our penitential Lenten processions, to those of Holy Week, of Palm Sunday and Good Friday, to the processions for the blessing of the fields in the Spring, the much beloved Marian processions, of Candlemas, and pilgrimage at the various shrines of Our Lady and the Saints, Wedding processions, and of course Burial processions in the hope of the final resurrection, we do more than act out symbolic gestures. What we actually are doing is applying the power of the mysteries of salvation to our own lives in a real and effective manner. The movement of our bodies, our gestures and hymns of praise, are actual graces which draw us in to the life of God revealed to us in the work of the Savior and his holy ones.

In a world not only forgetful of God, but aggressively hostile to him, the body of the faithful can give a deep and courageous witness to him, to his primacy and sovereignty over human society, by walking in procession, a witness which has no use but the fulfillment of our deepest longings in the solid works of God.

Thus all of us should love these holy opportunities and ask our pastors for a generous use of them, for the salvation of the world. The Evil One hates processions and has sought to suppress them. The Ruler of This World seeks chaos, confusion, discouragement, and greatly fears the ranks of the faithful doing orderly, peaceful battle along with our Divine Master who goes before us as he did in Jerusalem of old. After all, we are looking forward to the day when God’s enemies will be scattered and we will be gathered in lining up at the gates of heaven ready to share the triumph of our Ascended Lord and King in the eternal procession of the worship on high!

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