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Feasts, Processions & Festivals

Feasts, processions and festivals play larger and smaller roles in particular countries, but certainly in comparison to Protestant traditions, each can be said to distinguish Catholic practice. 

Like many topics, this one overlaps with other sections of the site, such as Mary and the Saints. Here however, temporal, collective performative, and spatial characteristics distinguish the subject.

Feasts introduce an inherently temporal element to religious practice. They mark out times of the year as sacred, and often celebrate them in much more palpable, emotionally immediate and experiential, rather than than rational, ways. They can lift up particular saints and aspects of Jesus’ life into contemporary time and space in vibrant ways. Major feast seasons such as the Nativity or Holy Week are accorded their own space on this site, but often the calendar year includes other feasts that mark out humans’ own seasons and cycles of life with collective celebrations, that sanctify a day or a time of year in honor of a particular saint or a devotion to the Virgin or the Eucharist.

When celebrated as festivals, feasts often blur boundaries between sacred and secular, and at times, as has often been said of Catholic countries’ Carnival festivals, legitimate the ritual overturning of social conventions for a short period of time.

Processions, similarly, have the function of marking out physical space outside of the church itself as sacred, of bringing practice outside of the parish and making it mobile, at least temporarily consecrating space that might otherwise be thought of as profane. Pilgrimage may take the faithful away from their normal space to find God, but processions, particularly those designed for believers in their own neighborhood or town, literally bring the participants forward in movement, to a deliberate end.