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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | Theology of processions

The Feast of Corpus Christi is June 3, when many parishes process with the Blessed Sacrament.

Church processions are serious business. I learned this right about the time I felt like my kneecaps were going to fall off from kneeling and I was going to collapse into a puddle of perspiration under the pitiless June sun. As a Protestant, I’d been used to worship spaces with cushy chairs with cup holders for my coffee. For Catholics, though, prayer is physical.

Having absorbed this lesson, I noticed several devout older ladies kneeling and praying with no hint of physical distress. We were adoring Christ at an outdoor altar on the feast of Corpus Christi after leaving the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and processing down the normally busy city street. Curious and along for the duration of the festivities, I was totally unprepared for how magnificent, how prayerful and, yes, uncomfortable a procession can be.

There’s something about physically walking the streets together as the Church. It’s a journey that circles back to where it started and isn’t meant to arrive anywhere specific. It’s a way of claiming the neighborhood for Christ and a chance to become friends with our surroundings by expanding the prayers of the Church to the wider parish. It’s also a bodily form of prayer. With the challenges of heat, kneeling and walking it can be fairly demanding. It’s much easier to contain our prayers to the inside of the Church building, but where’s the fun in that?

After my run-in with a Church procession, I researched the history of liturgical walking. In Jerusalem during the time of Christ, there were frequent temple processions on feast days. Even before that, the Israelites marched in procession through the desert on their way to the promised land. The Israelites also processed around Jericho before its walls fell. Go all the way back beyond the beginning of time and note that the Holy Spirit processes from the bosom of the Trinity and into our hearts, and how Our Lord took on flesh and processed down to earth, to the cross, to hell, and back again into heavenly glory.

In rural communities, there may be a procession around the parish boundaries on a rogation day to bless the fields. There are often processions in honor of various saints throughout the year. Inside the church, the priest and sacred ministers process behind the cross every time we gather to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. What I’m trying to say is, Catholics walk a lot.

There are a great number of challenges to having a body: sickness, old age, clumsiness and all sorts of gaps between what we desire to be physically and what we actually are. Body and soul need to be reconciled. This is precisely what Our Lord accomplishes with His death and resurrection. He rises with a new body and places us on a sacred pilgrimage, so keep walking and praying as much as you can. With Our Lord leading the way, each step is a victory march.

Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have five children.

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