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Order in Liturgical Processions

Date: April 9, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Question: What is the place of the choir in a procession, especially for Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday? Do they follow immediately the bishop before the faithful? Also, what is the place of religious and military orders such as the Order of the Holy Sepulcher? -- C.V., Jerusalem

Answer: The processions of Palm Sunday and the transfer of the Holy Eucharist to the altar of repose each have specific characteristics that are regulated by the Ceremonial of Bishops. The indications for Palm Sunday are: 

“270 To begin the procession the bishop or a deacon may address the people in the words Let us go forth in peace, given in The Roman Missal, or in similar words. The procession to the church where Mass will be celebrated then begins. The censerbearer goes first, carrying a censer with burning incense, followed by the crossbearer (the cross may be suitably decorated with palm branches in accordance with local custom). The crossbearer is flanked by two other acolytes holding lighted candles. The rest of the procession follows in this order: clergy; a deacon who carries the Book of the Gospels; other deacons, if there are any, carrying books for the singing of the passion; concelebrants; a minister carrying the bishop's pastoral staff; then the bishop, wearing the miter and carrying a branch; next, a little behind the bishop, the two deacons assisting him; the ministers who assist with the book and the miter; finally the faithful. All, whether ministers or faithful, carry branches.”

Although not mentioned in the above text, if the choir or cantors accompany the procession, they would usually follow immediately behind the cross and candles and in front of the clergy in choir dress.

For Holy Thursday the Ceremonial indicates the following:

“307. […] The procession is led by a crossbearer, accompanied by acolytes holding lighted candles; after them come clergy; deacons; concelebrants; a minister holding the bishop's pastoral staff; two censerbearers carrying censers with burning incense; then the bishop, carrying the blessed sacrament; a little behind the bishop, the two deacons assisting him; and finally the ministers who assist with the book and the miter. All in the procession carry lighted candles, and around the blessed sacrament torches are carried.”

In this case, the choir or cantors would follow the cross and candles, but only if wearing choir robes. Otherwise, they follow behind the principal celebrant. On both days the choir may also be at one place and assist the community in singing through a sound system. 

The liturgical books are silent regarding the proper place for the different orders of papal knights. However, these can participate in a formal way if vested in their full proper regalia and according to a certain order of precedence.

In his book The Church Visible, The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, James-Charles Noonan Jr. explains these orders in some detail and the protocol involved.

For ecclesiastical processions, he recommends putting the various military orders side by side on a relatively equal footing so as to avoid obscure questions of historical precedence. He offers an order of protocol for when different knights participate as honor guards in such processions.

The Knights of Columbus are not numbered among these papal knights, but, in the United States, they often participate in honor guards ahead of the thurifer.

The position of the military and papal knights however, would generally be between the concelebrants and the principal celebrant.

The knights would follow the following order in the procession.

Concelebrants

Knight of the Holy Sepulcher – Knight of Malta

Knight of Malta – Knight of the Holy Sepulcher

Knight of St. Sylvester – Knight of St. Gregory

Commander of St. Gregory – Commander of St. Sylvester

Knight of the Pian Order – Commander of the Pian Order

Prelates in choir

Principal celebrant

Ordinary’s attendants

Of course, on a day such as Holy Thursday, when it is common that only a representation of the faithful participates in the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament, reasonable adjustments can be made to the customary protocols.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city, and your state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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