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On Processions

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 13


“Have you ever noticed,” asked the Liturgiologist, “how the good Sisters who arrange such ceremonies as May Processions, Corpus Christi Processions, Forty Hours Processions and the like, always get the cart before the horse, and exalt details into essentials, letting the essentials take care of themselves or not, as the case may be?”


“Anyone who did not know how really devoted you are to the good nuns, Pere, would think that you regarded them with a deep and deadly hostility,” mildly replied the Antiquary. “After all, if it weren’t for them we’d have no processions at all, for ‘tis they who drill the children, while we emerge from the sacristy, take our insignificant part in the proceedings, processional or otherwise, and disappear to the comfort of the smoking room or the back porch, and never stop to think of all the work and worry that went before and follows after the brief pageant in which we have participated.”


“Be that as it may, dear Father,” said the Liturgiologist, with suspicious mildness, “we are, after all, the ones responsible for the liturgical errors of the Sisters, and so of the whole muddled mess of quasi-liturgical functions which have, in this country, and more especially in recent years, degenerated into mere shows, like the ‘Children’s Day’ performances of our separated brethren. If we would tell the Sisters how these special services must be done, they would be done as we direct. But we leave the whole thing to the nuns, and they can’t be expected to have the ‘liturgical sense’ when so many Priests lack it. What they aim after is a pretty display of their little charges, a modicum of devotion, plenty of flowers (which disappear into their chapel afterwards) and a generally grand and festive pageant. If the results are often absurd and nearly always un-liturgical, we have only ourselves to blame. How many of us have read the remarks of the Rituale Romanum[1] on the subject?”


“I didn’t know there were any,” broke Fr. Maduro. “Thought the only really liturgical processions were those indicated in the missal.”


“There are others,” observed the Liturgiologist, “besides the six required by the missal. But Titulus IX of the Rituale gives detailed directions even for them. We are not left entirely to our own devices (or rather to the machinations of the good Sisters), when we have a procession in church. Indeed, the responsibility for these ecclesiastical functions is laid directly upon us by the rubrics, and the dignity, edificatory force, good conduct and proper ordering of the processions is a serious charge upon us.”


“Well,” said Fr. Maduro, “we’ve never had either a Candlemas or a Palm Sunday Procession in my parish, but the Sisters are great for May Processions, and Corpus Christi and Forty Hours are their busy days!”


“Just what I’ve always contended,” burst out the Liturgiologist. “The Church requires certain processions as integral parts of her sacred ceremonies; and we don’t have them. But we’re strong for a lot of extra-liturgical parades, all very pious and edifying in themselves, but not ordered by the Church. Cart before the horse, as usual.”


“I suppose the musical notation of the Antiphons and so forth, which one finds in the Rituale, scares us a bit,” said the Antiquary. “Candlemas and Palm Sunday fill seven pages of the new Ratisbon edition of the Rituale. Corpus Christi is easier—”


“Yes,” remarked Fr. Maduro, who had possessed himself a copy of the Rituale, and, after some searching, found the chapters under discussion. “But what’s all this Sacris sollemniis, Verbum supernum, Salutis humanae Sator and Aeterne Rex altissime?[2] Never heard ‘em sing anything but Pange lingua in a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament in all my life, except sometimes an English hymn or litany, which our friend here says is ex lex.”[3]


“There you are again, Father,” cried the Liturgiologist, in his best lecture-room manner. “The Church provides us with certain things to sing during a procession, and we don’t sing them. She forbids us to sing certain things, and we sing ‘em.”[4]


“Reminds me of the Crowning of the statue of Mary at which I preached this spring,” said the Antiquary. “They had a wonderful pageant, with a young lady dressed as a bride climbing a 40-foot ladder up to the statue, and hundreds of children getting mixed up in a threefold procession, and neither the Reverend Pastor nor any of his three Assistants knew there was a Ritus Servandus[5] set forth by Rome for such occasions. They know it now, for I told ‘em, but I’ll bet you six cents they will send for a copy, of if they do, they won’t use it if they don’t happen to like it!”


“Don’t bet, Pere, it’s sinful,” laughed Fr. Maduro. “But what’s all this about Rogation Processions,[6] and ad petendam pluviam,[7] and, let me see, one, two, seven others I never heard of before, and certainly never saw in a Catholic Church?”[8]


“Certainly not Protestant Processions in the Rituale Romanum, Pere,” said the Liturgiologist. “Of course I’m not saying that we must have all the Processions in the Rituale, and may not have any others. Those in the missal are sufficient, and I think the thesis could be maintained that we should have those in preference to others. Fr. Maduro, to make the matter personal, ought to have the Candlemas and Palm Sunday Processions, since they are ordered in the missal, in preference to the May Processions, which are not. Now, Father, don’t interrupt. You’re trying to tell me that you can’t have those required processions, but you manage to have the unrequired ones, and you ‘put them on’ quite gorgeously, if I’m not mistaken—”


“But the people aren’t used to them—” began Fr. Maduro.


“Whose fault is that?” countered the Liturgiologist, the light of battle in his eye. “If we Priests insisted on carrying out the liturgical processions required by the missal, the good Sisters would jump at the chance of taking care of the details for us. And if we told them how processions ought to be done,[9] they’d be glad to conform. It would save them a lot of work. But we’ve just left the whole matter to them, and they’ve produced a state of affairs that’s going from bad to worse, liturgically and artistically. ‘Tis time we—”


“Time we had supper, Pere,” interrupted the Antiquary. “Fr. Maduro has to be home before dark lest his flivver miss her way.”


“Is that so?” thus Fr. Maduro.


“Imagine going on a trip with a man like that,” whispered the Liturgiologist. “He hasn’t even a snappy come back!”


“Always ready for a row,” laughed Fr. Maduro, “whereas you two have been known to agree occasionally.”


“WHEN?” cried both the old Priests together. And the echo answered “WHEN?”



1 Angelus Press has available two editions of the Rituale Romanum: a Latin-only Vatican typical edition (1944) and Fr. Philip Weller’s 3-volume English-Latin The Roman Ritual (featuring also excellent catechetical commentary)—Vol. 1: Sacraments and Processions (1950).


2 The names of various Latin hymns, which unfortunately even today, are rarely heard sung during a Eucharistic procession.


3 Latin for “against the law”.


4 As an example, see the "Black List" excerpt from the 1947 edition of the St. Gregory Society’s "White List", an organization formed in the United States (with the hierarchy’s approval) for implementing the principles and rules of St. Pius X’s motu proprio on sacred music.


5 A chapter from the Missale Romanum that described the “Rite of carrying out the ceremony”, meaning actually the Mass, but here being used tongue-in-cheek for the rubrics of holding a procession and crowning for veneration a saint.


6 Referring to the Major Rogation Day (Greater Litanies) of St. Mark and the Minor Rogation Day (Lesser Litanies) before Ascension Thursday. These processions are made to beseech God for forgiveness, to prevent calamities and to seek a fruitful harvest and thus often include the blessing of fields or gardens. There are also proper Masses that accompany these processions.


7 Latin “for the petitioning of rain”.


8 There are actually eight other processions described in the 1944 edition of the Vatican’s typical edition of the Rituale Romanum: 1) For imploring fair weather; 2) For adverting tempest; 3) In time of famine; 4) In time of epidemic and plague; 5) In time of war; 6) In time of whatsoever tribulation; 7) Of thanksgiving; 8) For transferring sacred relics.


9 See for example this article about Eucharistic Processions.

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