Few words were spoken by Our Lady to St. Bernadette Soubirous over the course of the 18 Apparitions at Lourdes, 1858. One of the things Our Lady told her was: “I wish them to come in procession,” by which was meant the religious procession so much a part of Catholic worship.
Visitors to Lourdes to this day can experience the fulfillment of Our Lady’s request. Each evening there is a candle-light Rosary Procession at the Shrine. For many, the participation in this Procession is one of the most moving experiences of their time at Lourdes. It is to share in the expression of religious faith as a corporate thing, a ritual enactment by the members of the Mystical Body of Christ: they are following in the train of the Risen Lord Jesus who is the Body’s Head. They are not atomized, isolated individual subjects in a free-floating, hit-or-miss quest for spirituality.
The Eucharistic liturgy of the Mass is, of course, the most perfect expression of the Christian collectivity, but the religious Procession can nevertheless subjectively intensify the objective reality of being part of the larger Church for us.
Throughout the Catholic year there are several significant processions which are called for. On February 2nd, Candlemas Day, the last feast-day of the Christmas Cycle, there is the Procession of blessed candles, signifying Christ as the Light of the World and our incorporation into Him by the light of our Baptismal grace. On Palm Sunday, there is the Procession of Palms as Holy Week begins. Holy Thursday night has the solemn Procession of the Eucharist to the Altar of Repose. There is the “Greater Litanies” Rogation Procession on St. Mark’s Day, April 25th, by which we implore God’s mercy for a fruitful land to sustain us and special divine protection from all the calamities (drought, storms, disease, war, the hidden attacks of the devil, etc.) which hang over our earthly existence.
May Devotions have a particularly beloved place in Catholic life. The association of the parish children’s First Holy Communion with the May Procession in Honor of Our Lady is well-known.
The Eucharistic Procession of the Blessed Sacrament on Corpus Christi is the most jubilant of all the religious Processions of the year. Here we see most clearly the unity of the Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Christ is there at the head of the Procession in His Real Presence, and we all of us, the members of His Body, follow behind.
An outdoor, public religious procession is a beautiful thing to participate in and a blessing for the place in which it happens. May we experience this grace during our parish May Devotions for 2012.