Sanctus Procession

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q As a Canadian, I intended to follow Pope Francis’ “pilgrimage of penance”. The question I have is about the procession that occurred in front of the altar after the singing of the Sanctus. I expect it is a throwback to a pre-Vatican II liturgy, but having no memory of those liturgies (I was born late in 1959) I really have no idea.

I’m sending a video link. Would you be able to explain this procession to me? Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide.

Peace of Christ.


A: I watched the link you sent. What looks like a procession of nine vested young men is an amplification of the movement of a single thurifer into place for the incensation of the soon-to-be consecrated bread and wine during Eucharistic Prayer.

The consecration is one of the times of the Mass when incense may be used. Because the priest and deacon are otherwise occupied, the duty often falls to a server. Often that server picks up the thurible, walks into position during the Sanctus, kneels when the assembly does, and then swings the thurible when the priest shows the consecrated host and chalice to the people.

The rubrics make no provision for eight more servers to join this action. Although it is commonly seen, the rubrics do not mention six candles to accompany this procession, nor for a server to hold the incense boat, nor for a master of ceremonies to lead the servers into position. But that is what you saw.

At this part of the Mass, several actions take place that demonstrate our belief in the real presence of Christ at this moment: The people and the deacon are kneeling, the priest shows the host to the people for their reverence, incense may be swung, a bell may be rung, the priest genuflects, and the people sing an acclamation to Christ, whom they believe is now present under the forms of bread and wine. 

In my view, the addition of candles attempts to join these other actions signifying reverence. In Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, if exposition of the Blessed Sacrament takes place in a monstrance, then four or six candles are to be lighted. However, that is not happening here. There are candles on the altar. There is no call for extra ones, and their use distracts from the other signs or reverence that are in place.

I remember reading some years ago a Vatican document (that I have since misplaced) permitting the use of six candles to accompany the thrift at this time in circumstances where the gathering is so large—an outdoor venue teeming with tens of thousands, for example—that the candles help draw people’s attention to the location of the priest, who might otherwise be lost in the crowd.

In general, I advise against adding things to the liturgy and using with intention the symbols we have.