Catholics in Community: Witnessing as the Body of Christ in Public Processions

COMMENTARY: Our love for our faith should well over into our practice and expression of it in our community.

The Spencer family enjoys participating in Marian Rosary processions with local Catholic families.
The Spencer family enjoys participating in Marian Rosary processions with local Catholic families. (photo: Courtesy of Susanna Spencer)

“Is there a hole in the bottom of your statue?” our friend asked as he gazed steadily at our family heirloom of Our Lady of Fatima.

Upon examination, we found that there was indeed a hole — one that could be used to mount the statue to a platform. He continued, “Would you be open to us making a bier for it and using the statue in the Our Lady of the Rosary procession we do this year?”

So that summer, two of our friends and my husband spent several evenings crafting a beautiful wooden bier to fit our statue.

This same friend and his family have hosted a Marian Rosary procession every Oct. 7 in their neighborhood. Catholic families from home-school circles and local parishes — basically all the Catholics that they know — are invited. We all come in the evening and process behind the statue on the bier with rosaries and candles in a 1-mile loop, singing and praying along the way. After the procession, we hang out in our friends’ front yard, warming up in the chilly Minnesota evening with hot chocolate while surrounded by playing children. Sometimes a priest or deacon comes to the event and gives a blessing. Other times, we have a reading of G.K. Chesterton’s poem Lepanto, about the naval battle that the Pope asked to be covered in the prayers of the Rosary, which led to the institution of the feast day of Our Lady of Victory, which the new liturgical calendar calls Our Lady of the Rosary.

As we process around the neighborhood in the dark, rosaries dangling from our hands, there is a beautiful vulnerability to our Catholicism and our desire to restore a sense of Catholic culture. Most of the time, we practice our devotions in the sanctuary of our homes. But a public procession through the streets of our neighborhoods reveals our Catholicism to our community in a different way.

There are the men who bear the Blessed Mother on their shoulders into the community. There are the men and women following behind while keeping children out of the street. The straining of our ears to hear the leader of that decade of the Rosary feels in some ways much like our day-to-day struggle to live the faith in our culture, for misunderstanding and hostility come from every side, especially as we honor the Mother of God. And the statue seems so fragile carried even on strong shoulders through the streets.

But the portrayal of Mother Mary is anchored securely and lovingly placed, surrounded by flowers. And her love surrounds us as we walk in our lives, devoted to her maternal love through which she distributes to us an abundance of God’s grace. It is good for us to witness to our devotion to her and our faith in this way. And it is good for us to do this together, to build each other up in our faith in our community.

Many parishes have opportunities to participate in processions on various feast days throughout the year, such as Palm Sunday or Corpus Christi, and these are important for the practice of our faith.

Processions are a part of our tradition. But it is also beautiful to have processions that are “grassroots,” which come from the deep love of laypeople for their faith. This same love is seen in the faithful, including many families with small children, who attend a crowded noon Mass on a Monday for the Solemnity of the Assumption when it is not a holy day of obligation, and the priest who beams as he comments, “When obligation does not bind us to come to Mass, it is beautiful to see that love does.”

Our love for our faith should well over into our practice and expression of it in our community.

If we are going to grow in our faith and bring Catholicism back into the world, we need to witness with the way we live but also with public displays of love. So, throughout the liturgical year, especially when we are in this season of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, we can build up our witness of the faith and the Body of Christ by seeking out opportunities to have public devotions in our communities.

Our group of friends who do the neighborhood Rosary procession on Oct. 7 hosted a second-annual May Crowning this year in a county park where we processed behind the same statue and bier from a trailhead near the Mississippi River up a ravine to a park pavilion. We concluded the prayer with the Litany of Loreto and the crowning. The prayer was followed by a massive potluck.

Other ways to live out our faith liturgically and publicly during Ordinary Time include hosting a Sacred Heart “Meat Friday” cookout in the backyard, a bonfire on the eve of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 23), grilling on the feast of St. Lawrence (Aug. 10), a Rosary procession for the Immaculate Heart, the Assumption (Aug. 15) or the Nativity of Our Lady (Sept. 8), or a Michaelmas party for the feast of the Archangels (Sept. 29).

While an event of this type may at first seem overwhelming, our community of Catholic friends has found that when we invite people to a potluck, they are happy to contribute, and a simple thing such as hot cocoa after a 7pm procession is more than enough to entertain a large crowd.

One does not even need the statue and the bier for the Rosary procession. Yet, chances are, someone does have a statue, someone else knows how to build a bier, and another person has the skills to create floral arrangements. Even the organizing of such an event brings out the beauty of the Body of Christ.

What are you going to do to build up your Catholic community this year?

‘Rowing Team’

The Commonly Misunderstood Common Good

“By common good is to be understood ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’” (CCC 1906)