6 April 2009


Palm Sunday morning, I had my Syrian Orthodox here; during their Liturgy they made several processions round the outside of the church, throwing flowers and singinging Hosanna. It set me thinking.

In our austere Roman tradition, the essential purpose of processing is usually to get from a point A to a point B. There can be other reasons - praying for the crops at the Rogations; processing the Sacrament for adoration, or Relics, Statues and Ikons to articulate the mutual relationship between heavenly patrons and their earthly fellow-citizens. Still, my instinct is that these things are historically secondary, and not so much core 'Roman' as the utilitarian need to get from one spot to another.

But I suspect that other traditions see a naturalness in walking round and round a holy site simply for the sake of its holiness. They did it in pre-Tiger Ireland; round and round a spot made sacred by saintly presence, saying the while the prescribed exercises. I remember doing this year by year as we stopped at the shrine of St Gobnait near Ballyvourney in West Cork, on our way to the blest Kingdom of the West, Co Kerry.

I suspect analogues could be found in Oriental Christianity, in Islam, in other non-Christian religions. Probably somebody somewhere has thought a great deal more about this than I have, because it's only just occurred to me. But I don't feel like perusing that old heathen Fraser ... he'd probably say it was Sun-worship, or something daft like that.

I welcome enlightenment.

[Anticlockwise, if you're wondering].


Patruus said...

Anticlockwise procession around the Ka'ba is an integral component of the Islamic rites of pilgrimage.

In the course of Algazel's lengthy exposition (http://ghazali.org/books/hajj-text.htm), we read:
"Know that through circumambulation you resemble the angels who attained nearness to God and who surrounded the Throne, circumambulating it. Do not think that the purpose behind circumambulation lies in your bodily circumambulation of the House; the purpose is rather circumambulation of your heart through recollecting God the Lord of the House . . ."

Fr. John D. Alexander said...

What kind of Syrian Orthodox are these? I thought the EOs keep Palm Sunday on 19 April this year. At least, that's what the calendar of my local Antiochian Orthodox parish here in Rhode Island says: (http://stmarypawtucket.org/calendar.php)

Clavus said...

Sun-worship? Certainly not! But do make sure you go deosil and not widdershins (if you're Western Rite)


Fr John Hunwicke said...

The Syrians (actually, racially Southern Indians) of the Communion we used to call Monophysite or Jacobite.

Maurice said...

Hmmm ... Don't we process on Palm Sunday to somehow mysteriously share in the Triumphal Entry? Doesn't that make it more important than even waving palm branches? Isn't it one of the key 'symbols' of the day? Much more than merely moving form A to B, is it not?

Fr. John D. Alexander said...

Thanks for the clarification. Sorry I meant 12 April.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Maurice: Of course you're right. My point is that, to do this, we Westerners instinctively find it natural to meet at one place, then move to a different place. If the old rites for the day are anything to go by, originally we celebrated Mass at the first place before processing. Reminiscent of the Roman Stational liturgies.

123 said...

It's my understanding that some of the basic processions - e.g., the procession of the Gospel and the Gifts, at least in the Byzantine Rite - have this practical genesis. The Gospel needed to be brought into the altar to be read (from wherever it was), as did the Gifts from the table of oblation/preparation.

Other processions seem to be from the stational liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem. The fact that parish or cathedral churches do it today is less than practical. They are attempting to bring Jerusalem into the local setting, so there is a sort of anamnesis of the Holy Land and the life of Christ, the Apostles, etc.

Of course, there is also the memory of the bishop's procession from his home/church to the church that was serving Liturgy in the city that day. In the Byzantine Rite, this is found in the fact that the bishop does not enter the altar until just before the Readings as this is where the ancient Liturgy of the Word began. The three antiphons were sung along the way from one church to another and have been retained in the church today.

Of course, this holdovers than begin to take on their own meaning distinct from the original meanings each had - whether practical or memorial or stational - as the guidance of the Holy Spirit is seen in such 'accidental' relics being preserved.

Unknown said...

just a thought..

The Use of Sarum had a big procession before Mass on Sundays and Double Feasts. According to the manual edited by Prof Nick Sandon, (I haven't had time to check elsewhere) the procession on ordinary Sundays formed at the Quire-step, before leaving by the north quire door, and processing (Clockwise) around the cathedral, sprinkling each altar, before making a station outside the Rood. Besides sprinkling each altar (which is, I suppose) going from A to B, it could perhaps be seen to be, as you put it, "walking round a holy site simply for the sake of its holiness"... On (most) Doubles, the processional route was lengthier, and did not involve any sprinkling of altars, and so might be said to be even more about "walking round a holy site simply for the sake of its holiness"...

I'm also reminded of Southwell Minster in the early 1990s, which on the first Sunday in Lent, used to start 11 o'clock Mass with the Litany, in procession, (anticlockwise), with no station, so no "getting from A to B", as the procesion begun and ended at the Quire step.

Just a thought