We Catholics just love processions. I think they are in our DNA! Every Sunday for Mass, there are three: entrance, offertory and communion.
On two recent Sundays, I had the privilege of having a fourth. At St. Joseph Church in Butchertown, there was the procession in honor of our Lord of the Miracles (“Señor de los Milagros”), a devotion dear to Catholics of Peruvian descent in which they entrust themselves to Christ, just as their ancestors did since the 17th century.
The following weekend I traveled to St. John Vianney Church to confirm 33 youth, and the Holy Eucharist was preceded by a beautiful procession in honor of our Lady of La Vang and the 117 Vietnamese martyrs of the 19th century, canonized in 1988.
(Incidentally, there were fireworks to accompany the latter procession and an amazing dancing horse to conclude the former. See the video of the horse at this link: https://www.archlou.org/our-lord-of-miracles-celebration.)
This week we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Imagine these great feasts and traditions as part of a great procession. In the Book of Revelation, we hear of a “vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9), and the author of Hebrews speaks of being “…surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). The Church from her earliest days has honored this “cloud of witnesses” and often captures the scene with – you guessed it – a procession! This symbolizes that this world in which we live is not our final destiny, nor are we to see our lives as “going around in circles.” Rather, in Jesus Christ, our common destiny is revealed, and we are processing toward it, seeking to live faithful lives through His grace.
All Saints Day has us seek the intercession of those already in heaven, a great multitude urging us on. All Souls’ Day gives us the deep privilege to pray for the dead. In the Book of Maccabees, such prayers were called “holy and pious” (2 Mc 12:45). We pray that our beloved dead, when purified, may join the saints in heaven. Meanwhile, we on earth wish to join that procession of witnesses to Christ and His saving love.
There is one other reference to a procession. This is the theological concept found in the Greek word, “perichoresis.” It means a procession or literally a dance. Referring to the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – this procession or dance has been used, especially in Eastern Church theology, to describe the inner life of the Holy Trinity. This concept helps us as we seek to understand by faith the words of Jesus, Who spoke of all being one “just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (Jn. 17:21) as well as when He describes one of the three persons of the Trinity: “when the Advocate come whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father…” (Jn 15:26). A dance, like a procession, is one action with many members, and so is an image of the Trinity: three divine Persons in one God. Thus, the image of a procession also provides us with a theological reflection on and insight into the active, intimate life of God Himself as Trinity.
We Catholics just love processions. These processions allow every one of our senses to enter into a reality that is ours: in Christ, our life is more than “going around in circles.” We move toward our salvation in heaven together as a Church. The holy feasts of All Saints and All Souls provide a strong reminder of this. Thus, the procession every Sunday at Mass and on other festive occasions point to this deep reality as we seek to remain faithful and join that “cloud of witnesses.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz