(acolyte crew at St. Paul Wittenberg, WI)
"Pastor, I have seen our acolytes doing processionals for communion services. Wow they do a really good job with this! But where does this tradition from?"
It is appropriate when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated to provide a processional. Processionals recall how the crowds follow or welcome Jesus on His travels, especially Jesus’ processional on Palm Sunday. Processionals exist through the whole Bible and have been around for thousands of years as well as the time of the Lutheran Reformation. Hear the words of King David himself “Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:24).
In worship the opening procession is led by the cross, which symbolizes that the Christian church follows the Lord. The cross is followed by torch bearers (or ‘lucifers, meaning ‘one who bears light’). These torches carried by our acolytes recall the words of Christ Himself when he says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The opening processional shows how Christ enters in among us to teach us and serve us His living-giving gifts!
What is a Gospel processional? Since the first centuries of the church and through the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, the Gospel processional has been used to emphasize the reality that Christ taught in the midst of his gathered guests. Indeed Jesus comes among us to teach. Reading the Gospel from the center of the church represents the incarnate Christ walking among His people, surrounded by disciples, calling to mind the Sermon on the Mount.
At the end of the service we have a ‘recessional’ where we follow Christ out into the world, "If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We leave as forgiven people washed in His blood. We pick up our cross and follow Him in our daily callings. We depart remembering His words "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
Want to learn more about the tradition of processionals in worship? See the following books!
A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, Concordia Publishing House, 2003.
Lutheran Altar Book, Concordia Publishing House (this is the book on our altar!)
The Acolyte: A Handbook for Pastors and Acolytes in Lutheran Churches, CPH, 1977.
The Lutheran Liturgy, Fortress Press, 1947