How-To for Organizing a Eucharistic Procession
The Knights of Columbus share practical tips.
The Catholic Church marks the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as Corpus Christi, on Sunday, June 19. This day is traditionally a day for Eucharistic processions, and dozens are set to take place this weekend across the country.
There’s a chance you’ve never participated in a Eucharistic procession before. (In fact, you may not have even heard of such a thing.) So what does it take to put on a successful procession?
As part of the upcoming Eucharistic Revival initiative spearheaded by the U.S. bishops, the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization the Knights of Columbus has released a how-to video and document detailing the process of planning and holding a Eucharistic procession.
The organization’s president, Patrick Kelly, has frequently referred to the group as the “Knights of the Eucharist” and has made efforts to make promotion of the Eucharist a focal point for the Knights’ charitable and evangelistic efforts.
Damien O’Connor, who serves as vice president of evangelization and faith formation for the Knights and who oversaw the creation of the video, also spoke with CNA about the importance of Eucharistic processions, why doing the procession “right” matters, and how to make the procession a successful event that evangelizes.
Click here to watch the video from the Knights and to get the full how-to explanation, or read on for some selected tips and comments from O’Connor.
1. Plan ahead.
The not-so-good news (if you were hoping to arrange a Eucharistic procession in time for this Sunday) is that planning a Eucharistic procession can take some time, maybe as long as several months. It should only be done in consultation with your local pastor and, in some cases, with your bishop.
The priest will carry the monstrance containing the Eucharist, and traditionally at least three altar servers — one carrying a cross, flanked by two others holding candles — will lead the way. Traditionally, the monstrance containing the Eucharist will be carried under a small canopy. The canopy serves as a reminder of the "tent of the presence" in which the Israelites of the Old Testament transported the bread of the presence (the prefigurement of the Eucharist) and also serves as a focal point for the procession.
It’s important that everyone involved in the procession rehearse their roles, especially the altar servers. If necessary, you may need to coordinate with police or local authorities.
In terms of a route, the simplest possible one is a procession around the church building itself, but better is a route that goes from one church to another — or at least a public route that returns you to your own church. Care should be taken that the route be accessible, if possible, to those with disabilities or to parents with strollers, for example. Altars can be set up along the route (again, consult the priest for guidelines on how to do this properly), and the faithful can even decorate the route, if possible.
2. Follow the guidelines.
Once you’ve gotten your pastor on board, he’ll be able to tell you how to get everything ready to hold the procession. The Church has guidelines (detailed here) aimed at ensuring "consistent, unified efforts" to make sure processions are done in a correct way worldwide, O’Connor said.
The procession should be done respectfully because we are "processing with Our Lord," O’Connor noted. Catholics should take it seriously, he said, because it's not just for entertainment; it's an act of worship of the Creator of the universe.
3. Have Mass or adoration first.
The procession should begin after a public Mass or a period of adoration, and the Hosts for the procession should be consecrated at that Mass.
4. The procession can reflect the cultural and spiritual needs of your community.
While there are certain aspects of the procession that cannot change, fret not! The rubrics for a Eucharistic procession do allow for significant flexibility in certain areas. For example, the rubrics do not state exactly how the faithful need to arrange themselves in the procession, so there’s some room to get creative — for example, children who have recently taken their first Communion could be encouraged to walk at the front of the faithful in order to be given a place of honor in the procession.
5. Make it evangelistic.
Part of the purpose of a Eucharistic procession is to profess for the world a belief in Jesus’ presence in the sacrament. A community that undertakes a procession has made a decision to "publicly proclaim its belief in Jesus' True Presence in the Eucharist," and processions are a way of bringing Christ "out, to the world … literally walking into the world, with Jesus,” O’Connor said.
Parishioners should be encouraged to invite people to the procession beforehand, the video urges, whether or not they are Catholic. During the procession itself, participants should be prepared to talk to inquisitive passersby and to actively invite those who are interested to join the procession. The parish even could assemble a group of “street evangelists” to walk on the outer part of the procession and be ready to answer any questions about what is going on and its significance.
To help prepare parishioners to do this, priests could consider offering teachings about the Eucharist in the days or weeks before the procession. In the weeks leading up to the procession, homilies could focus on the Eucharist and inserts could be put in the bulletin to help people understand the Church’s teaching on the subject.
Above all, a Eucharistic procession is about “bringing Christ to people,” literally, O’Connor said. He said he has seen people who were Catholic be drawn back to the Mass and the Eucharist as a result of encountering a procession, and he said he has even seen people who have no faith be moved by processions to consider Catholicism.
“Any parish or diocese that puts a greater emphasis on the Eucharist or Eucharistic processions has only had positive results. Numbers go up; parishioners joining the parishes increase,” he said.
It profoundly impacts people when “we're very intentional about Eucharistic processions, the beauty of the Mass” and other aspects of the faith involving beauty, he said, noting that “people appreciate beauty and often encounter God through that.”
Beyond that, a procession serves as a special way to honor God.
O’Connor said, “Every attempt should be made to do a procession the right way because Our Lord deserves it. … It's actually not enough, but we do our very very best."