Sunday, 7 May 2006

Our May Procession

Today we had our annual May Procession in honour of Our Lady - now in its 104th year. It's one of the highlights of the parish year. We process from the church through the local streets praying the Rosary and blessing the Catholic homes we pass (parishioners are encouraged to set up shrines in their windows). Then, about 40 minutes later, we reach the local convent school where we stop for a sermon. Then it's back to the church for exposition, blessing of the sick (a la Lourdes) and Benediction.

Liturgically speaking, our procession is always chaotic and, in a sense, far from the ideal. The processional order is disjointed; the Rosary and hymns get mixed up; things get forgotten and go wrong. But that's not the point. Public processions are a rarity in this country and yet they are surprisingly easy to arrange (and the police seem only too willing to grant permission). It's wonderful to walk through the streets of suburban London on a Sunday afternoon bearing witness to our Faith and asserting Our Blessed Lady's maternal presence.

Some people sneer at popular religion but this is a great pity. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (#50) states that popular piety is 'an ecclesial reality prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit,' which has produced 'many fruits of grace and sanctity. ' Those who downplay these devotions often reflect 'a quest for an illusory "pure Liturgy," which, while not considering the subjective criteria used to determine purity, belongs more to the realm of ideal aspiration than to historical reality.' In an age in which many liturgies have become so banal because of their intended meaningfulness (i.e. too many words), popular piety is an accessible way of nurturing people's faith. In my parish, a discussion group only attracts a handful of people, while a Holy Hour or Procession is much more popular. Processions, according to the Directory, are 'a manifestation of the faith of the people...and are capable of re-awakening the religious sense of the people' (#246).

By the way, here's a picture of our venerable preacher - Fr Augustine Hoey, Ob. OSB, a distinguished convert from Anglicanism currently living in busy retirement. His sermon, drawing from the Gospel for the Wedding Feast of Cana, could be summarised as 'What does Mary teach us? To listen to Jesus and do what He tells you.'



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