The Processional in Anglican Worship

By |2018-08-13T15:45:05+00:00July 7th, 2016|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , |3 Comments

We are used to community parades, graduation processions, and wedding processions. Not everyone is used to a procession in worship at church.

However, even though many modern churches or traditions don’t process anymore, it is an ancient and important Christian practice.  In many Anglican churches, as the worship is starting, the ministers process to the front of the church, following the cross. After worship, they “recess” out. There are other forms of procession, but let’s talk about this one for now.

Ancient Tradition

Processing behind the cross is an ancient Christian practice. Egeria was a nun who traveled to Jerusalem in the 3rd or 4th century, journaling her experiences. She was specifically interested in what the Christians there were doing in worship, and how it compared to her home practices. She describes a procession of all the people, behind the cross, and with the Gospel book.

Long before that, though, the People of God were marching in procession. The People of Israel processed up to the temple, chanting Psalms as they went.

Gathered and Sent Out

The idea of the procession is simple. We are gathering for worship from outside, from our daily lives and community. We are approaching God, through Christ, therefore the cross goes before us. As we leave, we are being sent back out into the world, with the cross leading the way.

It used to be that everyone gathered outside of the worship space, laity and clergy, and then followed the cross in and then out. Because of the need for seating, time, etc, not everyone processes today. But the symbolism remains. We are under the cross of Christ, and we follow the cross of Christ into the presence of God, and into the world.

Victory March

There are other aspects to procession. One is the idea of a victory march. Paul wrote about this in his second letter to the Corinthians, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…” We march into the church in victory, victory over sin and death through Christ, and we march out in victory, taking the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ with us. If we use incense in our worship, we literally take the sweet smelling fragrance with us!


There are other processions. On Palm Sunday, we hold a Procession of the Palms. There are eucharistic processions and a solemn burial procession. All are under the cross.

Pageantry’s Purpose

Processions are not simply pageantry for the sake of pageantry. There is nothing wrong with pageantry, unless it is empty and done for its own sake. Processions are pageantry for a reason, the reason being Christ.

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.


  1. Art Pederson July 7, 2016 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    I am a Lay Reader at St. Alban’s Cathedral, Diocese of Saskatchewan, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. For the year, I have been studying Orthodoxy mainly through the resources available through the Ancient Faith Radio App. I can’t help noting that you frequently (as in this blog) refer us back to the Ancient Church reaching further back than Anglican Tradition.

    • Greg Goebel July 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading Art! Yes we see the Anglican tradition as going all the way back, rather than just beginning at the Reformation period. It was reformed but did not cease to be Catholic. So all the riches of the ancient church are a part of our tradition and available to us. Of course not all Anglicans have that approach and so I hope that this website demonstrates how we can go back to the ancient ways. Thanks again.

  2. […] Processional, though not mandated in the 1979BCP, begins the enactment of the journey: following Christ, […]

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