From the earliest days of Christianity, believers began their ceremonial gatherings with processions. Like many traditions in Church, they were adopted from Roman civic and military custom and “sanctified” to the glory of God and the use in Church worship. For example, modern Church banner bearers harken back to the Roman standard bearers (bearing the “standard” of a particular official, unit, or military leader). Patrick Malloy, author of Celebrating The Eucharist: A Practical Ceremonial Guide for Clergy and Other Liturgical Ministers writes that “the procession is an enacted symbol. Its allusions are many: the pilgrimage of the Christian life, movement from distraction to mindfulness, the journey to the kingdom, and other images that will naturally arise in worship.” It reminds us that we come out from the world to worship and go back out into the world to proclaim Christ! Further, opening and closing processions are book ends of the service (instead of having 10 minutes of trickle end time of music). If your congregation does not do processions, I encourage you to try it …even if it is without vestments and ancient hymns. Adding this ancient custom as a physical act of worship brings in more of the people into liturgical leadership roles, brings focus off just the preacher and musicians, and could be an amazing and transformative element to your services!
Malloy recommends that processions be more than just a priest and a cross, as that would “hardly be capable of drawing the entire assembly into the sort of imaginative participation a procession is meant to elicit.” Therefore he recommends, as do I, that processions be as full and participatory as possible, of course keeping proportional to the congregation (you wouldn’t want more people on the altar than in the congregation). Further, just as Malloy says, a procession should be graceful and organized as to not distract from its purpose. Most churches will not have a congregation large enough to have full processions as depicted below. Nor will all congregations have or want certain elements (i.e. sub deacons and thurifers). The below diagrams are mostly examples of my church growing up, a cathedral church with a huge altar party every Sunday. The last segment, the Bishop’s procession, existed only when he was present…mostly on Christmas and Easter. In general, the order of procession is pretty standard throughout Anglicanism, regardless of size. I am showing you an example of a large procession, so you can pair down according to your congregation.
Watch an example (albeit a shaky camera one) of a Christmas Eve procession at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando below (including examples of vergers and wind kites in processions…if you have never seen them).
NOTE: Some would argue that the cross should be first, not a verger or thurifer. However, many view these two as “preparing the way” for the procession and not actually part of the procession itself. A verger traditionally cleared the way through the people (using a verge if needed) to make way for the others and the thurifer sensed the path of the procession. Besides, a typical verge has a cross on top of it.
The following are a couple of methods more festive procession for special days (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost,etc.). The last “Extended Choir” method was used by my church on most Sundays in order to keep the choir in the nave to continue singing instead of remaining in the narthex after processing out and leaving the last (and usually best) verse without the voices (and beautiful descants) of the choir.
(Cover Photo: National Cathedral Acolyte Festival)