There are several processions that take place during a typical service, all of which involve coordinating multiple individuals in various ministries, from clergy to choir to lay eucharistic ministers and others. When well-executed, a procession helps set the tone for the service (as with the entering procession) or for a specific part of the liturgy (as with the gospel procession). Moreover, unlike other aspects of serving where the work of lay servers is intended to be unobtrusive, processions are one part of the liturgy where the attention of the congregation is specifically focused on those who serve. For these reasons, it is important that processions be neat and orderly and properly convey the gravitas of the moment.
General Notes on Processing
Those in procession should keep an equal and consistent distance between themselves and the person or persons in front of them. For a typical procession, this distance is two pew widths. This distance allows the procession to move in an orderly manner and avoids having the procession “bunch up” as the crucifer and acolytes may slow to mount the steps into the quire.
The pace for processions is generally set by the verger or the crucifer. It should be stately and not fast, but neither should it be laboriously slow. Individual processors should match this pace, using the distance rule discussed above at their guide. All those in procession, whether processing singly or in pairs, must maintain a consistent rhythm, even when ascending or descending steps.
Turns should be crisp, with a level of precision between a rounded corner and a military pivot. Turns should look intentional, but should not be stiff and abrupt as with a military pivot. When processing in pairs, particularly for figure eight or grand processions, the inner partner should pivot slightly (rather than continuing to walk forward), allowing the outer partner to maintain his or her rhythm without rushing or taking giant steps. The same principle applies to acolytes and the crucifer in procession, except that the crucifer must coordinate his/her action with the outer acolyte to maintain linear alignment.
When processing in pairs, processors should take care to align with their procession partner. Additionally, pairs processing down the center aisle of the nave should align themselves to the sides of the pews, giving about 6 inches of space between themselves and the pew. This helps create a more orderly procession by lining everyone up against the same stationary reference point. Those processing singly should process in the center of the aisle, lining up with the crucifer and/or the cross on the altar.
There are three principal processions in a typical Eucharistic service. Note that these may vary from time to time for special occasions, festival days, or other needs. Servers will be notified in advance of any change to the typical procession.
The entering procession occurs at the start of the service and proceeds from the rear of the nave to the altar. The procession commences at the sound of the bell, and is led by the verger (if present) or the crucifer.
The order of procession is as follows. Those denoted in parentheses may not be present for a given service.
Acolyte Crucifer Acolyte
Minister of Ceremonies
Upon reaching the altar rail, each processor should make proper reverence before proceeding to their appointed places in either the ambit of the altar or the quire. See the specific section on your appointed role in this document for notes on your responsibilities in the entering procession.
The retiring procession brings the service to a close and occurs after the Blessing and during the final hymn, just prior to the dismissal. The retiring procession is led by the crucifer. The retiring procession maintains the same order as the entering procession, except that neither the verger nor the thurifer participates in the procession.
The verger or crucifer should look to the minister of ceremonies for the cue to begin the retiring procession, forming up outside of the altar rail.
Please refer to the notes on the retiring procession in the specific section of this document that applies to your role for additional information on movement.
The gospel procession occurs before and after the reading of the gospel in a typical Eucharistic service. The gospel procession leads the gospel party into the center aisle so that the gospel can be read in the midst of the people.
The gospel procession begins during the gradual hymn at the cue from the minister of ceremonies. Though the gospel procession can form up, the party should not move until the deacon has retrieved the gospel book from the credence and is ready to depart the ambit of the altar.
The order of the gospel procession is as follows:
Acolyte Crucifer Acolyte
During the procession in the nave, the deacon carries the gospel book, holding it in view of the people.
The procession moves to a point roughly one-third back from the crossing. Upon reaching this point, the crucifer turns to face the altar, resting the butt of the cross on the floor but holding it up straight. The acolytes turn inward to face one another, flanking the subdeacon. The thurifer moves to the right side of the deacon, while the subdeacon turns to face the altar and accepts the gospel book from the deacon. Once the gospel book has been handed off to the subdeacon, the thurifer hands the thurible to the deacon, who censes the gospel book and hands the thurible back to the thurifer. The deacon completes the gospel reading.
For the returning gospel procession, the subdeacon carries the gospel book and walks ahead of the deacon. The deacon and subdeacon both move to the sides of the pews facing inward while the crucifer and acolytes form up and move toward the altar. The thurifer falls in behind them, followed by the subdeacon and then the deacon.
Please see the specific section on your role in the service for additional information on movement during the gospel procession.