IT seems strange for a religious parade once the preserve of men but as the 93rd Annual Eucharistic Procession leaves the North Cathedral on Sunday, the sole voice that can be heard clearly is that of a woman.
A Presentation Sister leads the marchers and gathered spectators in a decade of the Rosary as they turn left on exiting the cathedral gates and start making their way toward the altar on Daunt Square.
In a tradition that dates back to 1926, Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross, this year joined by Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns, carries the Eucharist from the cathedral for a public celebration on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
The woman’s voice is not the only sign of the changed times. Where once the prayer and response would have relied on the human ear and the voices of the worshippers, now the prayer is broadcast by speakers on a Volkswagen Transporter, the better to be heard by all in the vicinity. And where once thousands would have packed the streets, now spectators gather in small groups, chatting and shielding babies from the heat.
At 3.15pm, half an hour before the celebrations begins, there is little to be seen outside the North Cathedral, other than a group of uniformed students being shown how to carry the canopy that will cover the bishops and the Eucharist, and a mixed group of young people lounging on the steps. Inside around 50 people, the majority over 60, listen to the Rosary.
But minute by minute, people arrive, greetings are made, banners unfurled and the parade participants begin to arrange themselves in preparation for setting out.
The group on the steps are there with SHARE, the young people’s charity dedicated to care of the elderly in Cork. Laura Harrington and Ellen O’Brien, both from Douglas, say they have been looking forward to the annual event.
“Every year the executive from SHARE for this academic year take part in the Procession,” Laura says.
“It is our last occasion together.”
For Bishop Buckley, this is a large part of the importance of the annual event, an opportunity for the people of the city to give public witness to their faith and their charitable work.
A bowed head is not enough for 88-year-old Jeremiah O’Hara, who goes slowly down on one knee as the Eucharist passes where he waits, with a treasured tapestry hung on the railings alongside him. He grew up nearby and is now a beneficiary of the work of the young people in the Procession, living in SHARE’s sheltered housing.
The Procession waits for a moment on the bridge before moving onto Patrick Street. As the Garda Traffic Unit starts to roll forward the lone bagpiper begins a haunting rendition of Ave Maria and the convoy moves on to the final stretch.
This changes again as the groups reach Daunt Square. There the other celebrants, the Choir of the Church of the Incarnation and guest soloist Jessica O’Connell, have performed hymns as parishes from around the city gathered to await the Procession. The street closer to Daunt Square is full and many of the older spectators drop to their knees as the bishops approach.
The girls of the Cathedral parish in their Holy Communion dresses, who solemnly scattered petals in the Procession an hour earlier, now smile and giggle with each other and their parents, as the faithful worshippers slowly merge back into the everyday crowds on the streets of the city.