In order to help understand our Palm Sunday procession, I want to re-print a summary of an article I wrote a few years ago for the voice of the Southwest.
Although there are several other examples, the processions in the New Testament of primary importance are Our Lord’s procession into the city of Jerusalem on palm Sunday, and his procession along the via dolorosa, carrying his cross up Mt. Calvary, which is commemorated as part of the Good Friday Liturgy.
Theological Understanding: The people of God on the Journey to the Kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem.
It is a teaching Scripture and so also the Church that everything that was said and done in the Old Testament Scriptures was a preparation for Christ and consequently has meaning for us now. The history of Salvation can be summed up in this, we have been freed from slavery to sin by passing through the waters of Baptism and our journey will conclude when we reach the promised Land of Heaven and enter into the presence of God. The journey of the Israelites is a type or a preview of the greater reality of Salvation in Christ and our eternal destiny. We are freed not just from slavery to Egypt, but to sin, entering not just the earthly Promised Land, but the Heavenly one, worshiping not only in the temple of the earthly Jerusalem, but in God’s temple (in Christ) in the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Weekly Liturgical Processions: Every time we celebrate Holy Mass we take part in several processions. Mass begins with the Entrance Procession by which the ministers enter the Sanctuary. This procession may be led by incense, candles, a processional crucifix and the book of the Gospels. It is to be accompanied by the proper introit chant, processional psalm and antiphon or at least a suitable hymn. For solemn Masses there is a procession before the proclamation of the Gospel, the Offertory procession of gifts, the procession of the faithful to receive Holy Communion, and finally the Recessional as the ministers depart the Sanctuary after the dismissal. Other Liturgical processions are included in Funerals, and in the conferral of the Sacraments at Baptisms and Weddings.
Annual Liturgical Processions: These include the Eucharistic Processions for Corpus Christi and the Palm Sunday procession with palm branches commemorating our Lords entry into Jerusalem. Corpus Christi processions are the most solemn of all since they involve an actual procession of Jesus Christ! This is not a re-enactment, Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist here and now, bodily moving through the streets of our towns. Devotional Processions take place in May for the crowning of images of Mary. These correspond to the ancient processions in an interesting way. The Ark of the covenant contained the written word of God, the 10 commandments. We call Mary the new Ark of the Covenant because she contained within her womb the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. The old Ark contained the manna from heaven, Mary’s body contained Jesus, the Living Bread which came down from Heaven. Our Marian processions carry the New Ark of the Covenant.
Fiestas or patronal Feasts happen throughout the year. One unique procession takes place in the middle of the night at San Rafael, NM from the Church to the wellspring with the image of St. Anthony to ask his intercession for the gift of water in the aseqia.
My favorite example in our diocese: I have experienced processions in very many different places in the Diocese of Gallup. One of my favorites is the Palm Sunday procession that takes place in San Mateo. There is of course the Liturgical procession with palms that takes place at the beginning of the Mass on Palm Sunday, recounting the Glorious entry of Our Lord into the Holy City, the week before His passion and death. What is unique not just in San Mateo but in other places where the Hermanos Penitentes are present, is the procession with an image of Jesus from the parish Church to La Morada , the private chapel of the Penitentes. The image used is that of our Lord before the Roman Tribunal. His hands are bound, the wounds of his scourging are visible, and of course the crown of thorns on his head. This image is carried through the streets of the village, all the while there is the poignant singing interrupted by the praying of the Rosary. Whenever the next decade of the Rosary is to be sung, the procession stops. The participants kneel wherever they are, on the asphalt, dirt, or gravel. The ten Ave’s are sung, and the procession continues. It is extraordinarily moving. When the procession finally reaches La Morada, a litany of prayers and songs are concluded and the Hermanos enter the dwelling where they will spend the Semana Santa praying and doing penance.
All of these examples of processions emphasize the basic reality that this world is not our home. We are participants in a solemn and sacred, victorious journey to the Kingdom of Heaven, a “triumphal procession in Christ” (2Cor. 2:14)