Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Leaving the liturgy with grace
by Father Jan Larson
(From the July 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
The Church’s official liturgical books speak of four processions during the celebration of the Eucharist; when the priest with the deacon and ministers go to the altar; when the deacon carries the Book of the Gospels to the pulpit before the proclamation of the Gospel; when people present the gifts, and when they come forward to receive Communion.
What seems to be missing from this list is the procession of priest and ministers out of the church at the end of the liturgy. However, this procession is not really recognized in the liturgical books as anything more than a way for the ministers of the liturgy to exit the church in an orderly way. About the only instructions offered for this exit procession is that the ministers make the customary reverences and leave in the same order as they entered.
In medieval times the liturgical books would often contain various texts to accompany the recession of the priest. These texts never became an integral part of the rite, but were regarded more as private devotions of the departing ministers. Eventually these devotional texts were included in the missal as prayers for the priest’s private thanksgiving after Mass.
A song for the exit procession or recessional has never been an official part of the rite, but today a recessional song sung by all is rather common. Another option is now used in many parishes. After Communion, all sit in silence for a while, then all stand and sing a hymn of thanksgiving. Then following the closing prayer, announcements, blessing and dismissal, the priest and ministers leave, accompanied only by instrumental or choral music. During Lent, or at other times that might call for more reserve, the priest and ministers might leave in silence and perhaps by a shorter route than usual.
What liturgical planners might want to consider is that this is not meant to be an official liturgical procession, comparable to the entrance procession. Therefore it should not be an exact replication of what happens at the beginning of the liturgy. In fact, the newest liturgical books clarify this a bit by reminding us that the Book of the Gospels is not to be carried out in the procession, but is to be left in its appropriate place (the Lectionary is never carried in any procession). This might seem to imply that neither would the processional cross or candles be used for the exit.
Regardless, the procession has no symbolic significance, as do the entrance procession, the Gospel procession, the procession with gifts and the Communion procession. The procession out of the church serves only a functional purpose: to get the priest and ministers out of the worship space in a formal and dignified manner. In a sense, one could say it is not really a part of the liturgical ritual, since the liturgy formally ended when the deacon or priest announced “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)