Each day is a procession to the object of our love
On Palm Sunday, we are reminded of the infamous procession of Our Lord into Jerusalem, when he rides on a donkey and palm fronds are waved as he advances. I say “infamous” because although it is a moment of triumph as the crowds shout Hosanna, it is also the path by which Our Lord makes his way to his death. It is a procession that is only made complete with his crucifixion. This is its goal and destination.
Processions are interesting to think about, and there are a lot of them in the Scriptures. There is the procession of the Israelites through the Sinai desert, following a pillar of cloud. There is the procession of the Israelites around Jericho before its walls fall. In the Temple worship, there are processions during celebrations and feast days. These processions have been maintained in the Church, as we process on certain days like Corpus Christi or Palm Sunday. In rural villages in generations past, there were processions in the fields on Rogation Days when the priest would bless the crops. If we have a full complement of altar servers at Mass, there is a procession that imitates the march of the Israelites through the desert, as the incense leads the way like the pillar of smoke, candles are reminiscent of the pillar of fire, and the crucifix is like the snake that was placed on the Cross as a sign of healing.
These processions aren’t simply meaningless tradition. We know that everything in life, no matter how insignificant, is an avenue of God’s grace. Every natural thing is created by Him and called good, everything is blessed by the presence of God within and upholding its existence. For a Catholic, the world is enchanted, and processions, not least amongst all of creation, are a natural means by which grace is poured out.
Here is the spiritual link; the Psalmist writes, “They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.” When we process, we do so in imitation of God, who processes not only within his very own nature as the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit in turn processes as a pure act of love, but God also processes from heaven to earth and then back again. Here is what St. Paul says when he quotes this very ancient Christian hymn in our reading today, “[Our Lord] emptied himself…coming in human likeness.” Jesus makes his way down from heaven, and his movement is marked by humility. He goes from the higher to the lower, and he is motivated, as most processions are, by love. He marches towards the object of his affection. For the Israelites it was to the promised land. On Palm Sunday it was towards the redemption of the Cross, but even before that there is the procession of the Incarnation, when Our Lord removes himself from Heaven and arrives in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. There are more. After his death, Our Lord marches in triumph to the waiting place, gathers all of the faithful who had died, and led them straight to the gates of heaven which he threw wide open for them. And there is one, final procession, as Our Lord ascends to the right hand of the Father. This again, is a movement towards the object of his love. He goes to his Father, and he also assumes a place in Heaven where he can be closer to all of us.
When we process, or even simply consider a procession such as that of Palm Sunday or as you watch the priest approach the altar before Mass, it isn’t wasted time. We are reminded of the spiritual meaning of our entire lives, for what is life if it isn’t a pilgrimage? We are on a journey. The question is, what is it that motivates us, what causes us to put one foot in front of the other, what is it that we love?
A procession reminds us that this world is not our permanent home. Through the streets of earth we make our way to the streets of heaven, and as we make our way through the life that God has planned for us we are changed, because we draw closer and closer to the source of our truth and the object of our love.