Friday, June 12, 2020

Thoughts on processions. . .

I once thought of an entrance procession as something special, saved for the festival Sundays.  On those big days, the Church went all out to distinguish this special day from ordinary services.  Many years ago I changed my mind.  I began to think of the entrance procession as a profound and ordinary way in which we begin the Divine Service.  In our nave the baptismal font is near the door.  You must pass by it on your way to the altar.  It has its own crucifix and candles as well as the paschal candle.  This draws your eye right away to the door or entrance into our life with God, our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ.  From there you walk down the main aisle on your way to the altar.  Along the way many bow toward the processional crucifix as it leads in acolytes, deacon, and presiding minister.  The entrance procession is, in reality, highly symbolic, reminding us of the pilgrimage that is our life with God, beginning here on earth with baptismal rebirth and leading at last to the fullness of glory that awaits us in Heaven.

Whether it is a grand procession including Gospel Book, banners, and many assisting ministers or simple processional crucifix/cross and pastor, it is most fitting to begin the Divine Service with a procession.  Though some might see it as a practical thing -- moving people from one spot (vestry) to another (chancel) with a little traveling music along the way, it has a rather profound spiritual character and witness to it.  In early Christianity these processions took place outside the building and not just from one point to another inside the structure.  We will do this on Palm Sunday when, weather permitting, we gather outside the doors for the blessing of palms, the Palm Sunday Gospel, and a loud procession of Hosannas and Blesseds on our way into the nave and the singing of the traditional All Glory, Laud, and Honor.  

The Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria are, in reality, part of the fuller entrance rite that finally deposits the celebrant at the altar for the Collect.  These became more elaborate and longer as the larger church buildings and more numerous clergy required more time to get from the entrance of the building to the chancel.  There were also penitential processions in history as, in solemn times, the Church went outside to draw the procession of the penitents to the place where forgiveness was offered in the name of Christ.  For the faithful, this simple physical movement gave form to the spiritual movement away from the world and into the presence of God with the clothing of forgiveness to enable them to stand before the Lord and serve Him. Since the altar is always liturgical East, this was a natural way to point to the ultimate end of the liturgy in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end -- that to which this Eucharist now in time points. This is also part of the reason for the steps that generally raise the altar above the floor of the nave and even within the chancel itself.

So watch the procession the next time you are in Church and remember that this in some small way symbolizes our entrance into the presence of God, first here in time and there in eternity.  It is not merely a way for people to get where they need to go but gives pointed view to our own pilgrimage by the grace of God from the font where our lives were born anew to the heavenly sanctuary where we live out the life we were destined for according to God's merciful gift of salvation.

1 comment:

William Tighe said...

"In our nave the baptismal font is near the door. You must pass by it on your way to the altar. It has its own crucifix and candles as well as the paschal candle. This draws your eye right away to the door or entrance into our life with God, our baptism."

This is great, but how common is this arrangement in Lutheran churches in America? Most of those that I've seen have their fonts within the altar rails, basing this on something about "the unity of the two sacraments." Of course, all Lutheran churches that I've seen in Scandinavia have the "traditional" arrangement, as does your church.