From now till the end of the month, we will have a Procession at every High Mass in St Clement’s. And there will be six of them.
Processions can serve three different functions. The first is just to get somewhere in an orderly fashion. The second is to make a statement to the world outside the Church. And the third is for the enjoyment and edification of the people in the church. In this month of May, we will have processions of all three kinds.
Our first procession is on Sunday, May 5, Rogation Sunday. This is the day when traditionally a procession was made from the parish church to the countryside around it so that the priest might bless the fields while they were being sown with seed or planted with crops. In a city parish like St Clement’s our Rogation procession is a much scaled down version of this. We will go round the outside of the church, singing the Litany of the Saints, and pausing in the garden, where I will sing three Collects, the first asking God’s blessing on the farmers, the second on the fishermen, and the third on all workers and labourers in the industries of our land. This year, the garden is full of lovely flowers which have all come out at once, lilacs, azaleas, red, pink and white, and the pinkest of pink dogwoods, so our station will be in the midst of a generous helping of God’s bounty.
The following Thursday is Ascension Day when we have an evening Mass followed by a torchlight reception in the above-mentioned lovely garden. The procession that evening will be the internal kind, carrying Cross, candles, incense and banners just to express our own joy in the Ascension of Our Lord.
The next Sunday is our special May devotion, when the procession will stop at the statue of Our Lady of Clemency, in this her fiftieth year of devotion in St Clement’s, and one of the servers will climb the tall ladder to crown the statue with a circlet of rosebuds. My favorite hymn that day is “The happy birds Te Deum sing, ‘Tis Mary’s month of May” to the tune of the Lincolnshire Poacher!
Then comes Whitsunday, or Pentecost, the Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit, when the procession will be a blaze of red vestments.
Then on Trinity Sunday, the Choir will sing the Athanasian Creed in procession round the church, an ancient custom on this feast because of its resounding insistence on the threeness and the oneness of God. I’m sure believers and non-believers alike in the choir smile when they sing out “Not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible”.
And then our final procession for a while (till August 15, in fact) is on Thursday, May 30, the Feast of Corpus Christi. That evening will see a procession of the Blessed Sacrament when we will carry the Host in a monstrance round the outside of the church, stopping in the garden to give Benediction, and then back into the church for a final devotion to the Lord in his sacramental Presence among us. And then another generous reception in the garden, which may have produced the scarlet crepe-myrtles by then as well as roses.
It will be a bit of a relief to carry on after this with normal processionless Sundays. But I wouldn’t miss the “Processing Season” for anything. Come and walk with us on one of these days if you can.