Sometimes we have processions at the Choral Service. What's that about?
In the Christian tradition, processions are ways of marking and celebrating special events.
The Christian life is often likened to a journey. This image is richly biblical. The journey of faith has its beginning and end in God. "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD'" (Psalm 122.1). Liturgical processions help us to locate the particular celebration of the day in that broader journey of life and faith, and our place in the great parade of those who have gone before and walked the way of Christ.
Some liturgical scholars maintain that the early Church in its processions followed Old Testament precedents, quoting such cases as the procession of the ark round the walls of Jericho, the procession of David with the ark, the processions of thanksgiving on the return from captivity.
Very early in Church history processions wereaccompanied by hymns and prayers. It is to such a procession that reference appears to be made in a letter of St Basil, which would thus be the first recorded mention of a public Christian procession. In times of calamity litanies were held, in which the people walked in robes of penitence, fasting, barefooted, and, in later times, frequently dressed in black (litaniae nigrae). The cross was carried at the head of the procession and often the gospel and the relics of the saint were carried.
Recent practice at Saint Johns includes various types of processions: (1) Entrance and Sending Processions at the beginning and ending of the liturgy; (2) the Gospel Procession; (3) the Litany in Procession; and (4), occasional Festal Processions. Entrance and Sending processions locate the liturgy in the journey of faith, as the choir and sacred ministers enter the church, symbolically enacting the entrance of the entire assembly into the liturgy and service of God.
The Gospel Procession is a feature of most of our Eucharistic celebrations. At most services it is understated, as the Gospeller simply comes to the middle of the assembly, or to the pulpit to read, as the assembly stands in honour of the reading of the Gospel. At the Choral Service, the Gospeller is routinely accompanied by a crucifer and attendant, and sometimes by torchbearers. As some celebrations incense may also be offered.
The Litany of Procession is usually offered at the Choral Service on both the First Sunday of Advent and the First Sunday of Lent. As the Church enters the penetential seasons of Advent and Lent, the assembly prays a special prayer litany, the Great Litany, at the beginning of the service.
Finally, Festal Processions are offered at the Choral Service on major festivals and holy days. These processions include hymns and prayers as the choir and sacred ministers process around the church. These processions add an element of special celebration to these very special days and remind us of the special place these days have in the great journey of faith that occupies the people of God.