Surprise! I went to the 9:00 a.m. mass instead of the 12:00 and found out our parish was having a Corpus Christi procession through the town. After fifty plus years as a Catholic convert this was a first for me, although I have participated in the Pax Christi Good Friday stations of the cross peace and justice walks down 42nd street.
Over the years I have also taken part in reform, women’s ordination and pro-life demonstrations out of doors. I’m a Consistent Ethic of Life advocate so since 2003 I’ve regularly stood in front of the local Stop and Shop on Saturdays with a small group protesting U.S. wars. As the killings proliferate, and the economic recession deepens, we are receiving less abuse and more honks of support from the busy Saturday traffic.
The recent Sunday morning Corpus Christi religious procession was by contrast much quieter but far more exotic. Just like in the movies we had the canopy on four poles carried by sturdy men following the priest arrayed in a gorgeous vestment and acolytes. Our pastor carried the Host aloft in a golden monstrance (right word?) As we walked along we chanted a refrain punctuated by Hail Marys. As on 42nd St. the plainsong chant was “Je-sus, remember me/ when you come into your Kingdom.” Our group of men, women and children of all ages and dress, walked and sang behind the pastor, with two stops for blessings the main street corners of the village.
I appreciate that we enjoyed a great civic blessing in having the help of our local police who cleared the way—just as in the New York City’s Good Friday processions. How good that we live in a democracy that ensures freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.
Religiously, I am still sorting out my responses to this novel experience. I’m not sure about what the appropriate theological analysis should be but I was certainly deeply uplifted by surging emotion. How rare a privilege to publicly express one’s faith with fellow pilgrims! In my circumspect intellectual and academic social circles, extreme religious reticence is the rule. The emotional power of this public community devotional provokes new thoughts and questions.
So was this an example of “folk Catholicism” in action? Or perhaps part of a turn to the conservative right? At least now those articles I’ve been reading about how highly expressive Hispanic practices can warm up the cool Anglo faithful make more sense. Walking, praying and singing together as a body in the open air can move heart and mind. I could imagine myself being one of those crowds of ordinary folk trying to get closer to Jesus up ahead.