Without using words, it said to observers, "These two parishes are here, we are active. Come follow us!"
Just over a year ago, the archdiocese was captivated by pictures and stories about the hundreds of people who walked from MIT to St. Paul Church, Cambridge in Eucharistic procession. The crowd filled St. Paul Church, spilling out the doors and onto the sidewalk. This impressive demonstration of faith was prompted by the threat of a Black Mass scheduled to take place nearby. The story and photographs went viral across the country, reported by national news media. In the face of an impending sacrilege, the Church reacted powerfully.
On Saturday, June 6, another Eucharistic procession, in another neighborhood, also carried Jesus through the streets. This procession was not a reaction to an affront. It was a celebration of love and witness. The bulletin notice in the parishes of St. Ann and St. Brendan (Phase II, Dorchester collaborative) invited people to participate: "This is a time when Catholics can show their love for Christ in the Real Presence by honoring Him in a very public way. It is also a wonderful way in which we can show our love for our neighbors by bringing Our Lord and Savior closer to them!" The date was intentional: Sunday, June 7, was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).
Following the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass at St. Ann Church, Father Tom Macdonald, parochial vicar, placed the consecrated Host into the monstrance and the procession began. The thurifer (the altar server carrying the thurible with incense) led the procession, after him came the cross bearer. Children of the parish, some in First Communion clothes, had baskets of rose petals which they strewed along the path. Four altar servers carried candles. Father Tom, walking under a canopy, held the monstrance, and four men of the parish supported the poles of the canopy. Approximately 50 people, all ages, sizes, and walks of life took part -- some even in strollers. The procession accomplished what the bulletin announcement promised: it brought Jesus into the neighborhood, on the sidewalks, past Victorian homes and neatly kept yards. Father Tom commented that the procession was, "a wonderful way of bringing the celebration of the Mass to the streets of Dorchester and bringing two parishes together in a concrete way -- we walked through the streets of both neighborhoods, uniting both." At one point along the way, a man coming in the opposite direction toward them, stopped, made the sign of the cross, and continued on his way. He stopped again, turned around and joined the group.
As they approached St. Brendan Church, their destination, some people were gathered on the church steps ready to join in the final paces into the church. Waiting inside were parishioners from the St. Brendan 4 p.m. Mass and members of the choir who led the assembly in singing the familiar "Tantum Ergo." Father Tom concluded the service with benediction. The words of the closing hymn, "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," described well what had just taken place in two churches, on the streets of Dorchester, and in people's hearts. The group adjourned to the lower church for an indoor picnic with good food and great conversation.
Looking back on the event, Father Tom expressed his hope that, "people were struck by this and curious, and wonder why we're taking such great care about this little white disk (Host) in this gold frame (monstrance)." He described it as, "a public act of devotion, neighborhood oriented." Without using words, it said to observers, "These two parishes are here, we are active. Come follow us!"
Other parishes have taken up this beautiful practice. In the newly inaugurated Phase III Dracut, Lowell, Tyngsborough collaborative, parochial vicar Father Chris Wallace organized the liturgy and Eucharistic Procession on the streets around St. Rita Church. Collaborative pastor Father Richard Clancy commented, "What beautiful, faithful people ...and what a powerful witness they gave to their love of God."
In his "Word on Fire" post for Corpus Christi, Father Robert Barron quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: "Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation."
Photographs of the processions are posted on the websites. Dorchester: www.saintannneponset.com; Lowell: www.stritalowell.org.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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