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The Processions of the Ordo Missae: Liturgical Structure and Theological Meaning John Mary Burns, O.Carm. Introduction The goal of Christian life is the vision of God and a participation in his trinitarian life. We do not attain this goal as individuals but as members of the Body of Christ. Hence there arises within Christianity two deeply felt aspirations of the heart: the desire for transcendence and the desire for communion. Christian theology, art, and liturgy have at times accentuated one or the other of these aspirations, yet both are needed. Transcendence should not be sacrificed for the sake of communion, or communion for the sake of transcendence; our theology, art, and liturgy inevitably suffer whenever one is emphasized to the detriment of the other. It is not difficult to say that Christian liturgy must make transcendence and communion possible. More difficult is the task of producing the ideal conditions by which the hearts and minds of the faithful may be prepared for transcendence and communion. Roman Catholic liturgy prior to Vatican II disposed the faithful for an experience of transcendence, yet it did not adequately foster communion among the members of Christ’s Body. Roman Catholic liturgy after Vatican II has recovered a sense of the communion of the faithful, gathered in corporate worship. In the process, however, we have lost the ethos of mystery that prepared for transcendence. A recovery of this ethos, without the loss of communion, would assist in the resolution of many liturgical conflicts within the Latin Church. It is my belief that a better understanding and use of procession within the liturgy can assist in the recovery of transcendence without the loss of communion. To explain how this is possible, it will be helpful to   Presented as a paper delivered at the Society for Catholic Liturgy 2009 General Conference, “Missale Romanum,” held at St Cecelia Cathedral and Cultural Center in Omaha, Nebraska, 28 January to 1 February 2009. Antiphon 13.2 (2009): 159-174 160 John Mary Burns, O.Carm. take notice of the important role played by procession in the early Roman liturgy. Importance of Procession in the Early Roman Liturgy Thomas Mathews has argued persuasively for the importance of procession in early Christian liturgy. He believes that it was partly responsible for the adoption of the Roman basilica style of architecture by early Christians. Mathews notes, however, that the civic basilicas of Rome normally had their entrances on the longer, lateral sides of the building, whereas early Christians modified this plan in order to create a processional way. The Christian solution was to adapt the Roman civic basilica by turning it ninety degrees on its axis. Thus, what had been a broad, colonnaded interior mall stretching right and left of the entering visitor became a long processional tunnel of space leading the visitor compellingly from the entrance to the holy of holies, the altar space at the opposite end of the nave. … Formally, an interior with such a compelling directional sense required a dramatic stop; the nave had to end with something that could contain and conclude the movement, and this was provided in the apse, a deep, curving niche set in an arch that spanned the whole width of the nave. The insistent motion of the nave, with its uniform columns marching in file toward the east, came to rest in the curves of the concave apse. The decoration of the apse therefore provided a climax, and works of art located elsewhere in the building deferred to the longitudinal focus on the apse. Apart from churches dedicated to the Virgin, most early Christian apse mosaics portray Christ in solemn majesty surrounded by saints or angels. Mathews believes that the symmetry and centering of these compositions reflect a directional sense of life in an ordered universe, under the control of the Son of God. Furthermore, in analyzing the composition of early Christian art, Mathews discovered that procession is the most common motif. Converging processions – that is, a concourse of figures from either side, worshipfully approaching the axis at which is Christ – provide the principal organizing device.   Thomas Mathews, The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (Princeton NJ: Princeton University...


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pp. 159-174
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