Friday, February 25, 2011

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession

from Scott Robert Knitter, East Lansing Liturgist

The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession is a unique East Lansing tradition that dates back to the late 19th century, when Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) was growing, causing the settlement of faculty, staff, and students in the new town of Collegeville, adjacent to the north end of the university grounds.  The procession is now based at All Saints Episcopal Church in the historic Bailey neighborhood seven blocks north of the student union.

Following the Shrove Tuesday Solemn Evensong, the solemn procession forms at the head of the aisle, and the sacred ministers are supplied with their birettas. The celebrant also receives a large platter of steaming-hot buttermilk pancakes; the deacon and subdeacon take up large pitchers of Michigan maple syrup. Acolytes with large forks and spatulas attend the sacred ministers. Following the deacon's versicle and the people's response, the thurifer leads the procession through the nave and narthex and down the steps to the undercroft, where a station is made at the kitchen. The choirs accompany the procession with appropriate antiphons, responsories, and plainsong hymns, such as the Corpus Christi introit, Cibavit eos: "He fed them also with the finest wheat flour, and with honey from the rock." Naturally, in the early days of the procession's history, these words were taken quite literally, and the pancakes were made of whole wheat and served with pure Michigan honey. Tastes these days being what they are, adjustments have been made, but the symbolism still obtains.

After the station at the kitchen door, the procession moves back upstairs to the Grove Street entrance and turns left, encircling the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, next door, as a gesture of hospitality and ecumenism. Traditionally, the UU minister joins the procession dressed in a simple cassock-alb and bearing a large bowl of flower petals gathered by UU parishioners; these are added to the pancake plates as a lovely garnish and a reminder of the oneness of creation with Creator. (A secondary but salutary effect of the procession in the early years was the reconciliation of the neighboring Episcopal and UU churches following the previous year's Trinity Sunday outdoor solemn procession, which had encircled the UU church three times to the increasing outrage of the UU minister and congregation. The Trinity procession route was subsequently changed to encircle the historic Beaumont Tower on the university campus, during which the university carillonneur traditionally performs Anglican hymns in 3/8 or 3/4 meter, ending with three sets of three tolls on the three largest bells.

The procession moves south from the UU church down Grove Street past the rectory, where a station is made and the antiphon Sacerdotes Domini chanted, and then past the first block of fraternity houses, where students have been lining the streets to depths of four and five persons since before noon. By now the pancake plates and syrup pitchers have been replenished by the vergers from supplies driven ahead of the procession by the sextons. The students wear no particular traditional garb when they are served the pancakes, except that shirts and shoes are required in addition to the usual shorts or jeans. Hats are expected to be removed while the pancake platter is in one's block of residence.

The procession then makes a one-block turn to the west and then heads south on Abbott Road, the main street into the university and the location of City Hall and further blocks of fraternities and sororities. The culmination of the procession is the arrival at the West Circle Halls of Residence, a lovely group of three-story Tudor-style halls, each with a large dining-room. On this night alone out of all the nights of the year, the dining-rooms are closed in observance of the solemn pancake procession. The waiting students are served efficiently as the procession reaches the university test kitchen at Williams Hall, where nutritionists receive samples of the pancakes for chemical analysis and testing and the eventual assignment of a rating for that year's batch. Finally, having given up the pancake-serving utensils, the sacred ministers, vergers, acolytes, and servers proceed to the Alumni Memorial Chapel not on foot, but on the Sigma Chi homecoming float flatbed, its permanently installed Liberty Bell replica ringing all the way, and all enter the chapel for the Solemn Te Deum and Benediction.

Gregory has helpfully reposted the ceremonial for a solemn pancake procession passing a pancake restaurant. Sadly, due to changes in restaurants in recent years, the ceremonial had to be simplified somewhat and is used only in front of the Evergreen Grill, which serves pancakes only on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This used to be a major station with full ceremonial when this restaurant was the Pan Tree, a 24-hour establishment specializing in pancakes, deep-friend French toast, and enormous hot-fudge sundaes. The building also happens to have been the original East Lansing post office, which may be of interest to some but is of no liturgical import.

As cantor, I look forward every year to intoning the various antiphons and hymns along the way. I feel as though I am part of something utterly unique and steeped in history, mystery, and civic goodwill. The event has contributed greatly to the growth of our parish and that of the Episcopal Ministry at MSU, and I am proud to have had a part in carrying on this tradition.

A blessed Shrove Tuesday to all, and do make it a point to process with us here in East Lansing at least once in your lives. It is well worth a visit, and you will be warmly welcomed.

In response to Mark Kessinger's question about what happens during a solemn pancake procession when it passes by an International House of Pancakes (IHOP):

I spent a little more time in researching this than I should have, but I ended up consulting my copy of Ritual Notes, Interim Edition, which is an unpublished edition that was compiled for specific London parishes' use during the Second World War. While RN/IE doesn't specifically mention the IHOP, it does treat of the subject in general terms:

PANCAKE PROCESSIONS: Encountering a Pancake Restaurant:

In certain neighborhoods, the solemn pancake procession will of necessity pass by a restaurant whose speciality is pancakes, flapjacks, or crepes. Extraordinary means are not to be taken to avoid this situation, unless a detour would add dignity and not unreasonable length to the route. Traditional ceremonies are to be observed while passing before such an establishment.

When the restaurant is sighted by the verger, he shall signal to the acolyte, who shall ring the bell thrice. The procession shall continue, but the serving of pancakes shall cease until the restaurant has been passed by. On hearing the bell, the clergy and lay ministers in procession shall turn their heads so as to face the establishment directly whilst they continue forward. Upon a single stroke of the bell, all shall stop and turn to face the restaurant. The sacred ministers shall remove their birettas, taking care not to drop the syrup pitcher as they do so. The lay ministers shall take the birettas and pitcher. The sacred ministers shall then double-genuflect, first bringing the right knee to the ground and then the left knee to join the right one on the ground. All others shall bow low. The celebrant shall chant the collect for Shrove Tuesday. This completed, all shall rise, and the celebrant shall cover the pitcher. A single stroke of the bell shall signal the resumption of the procession.

--RITUAL NOTES, Interim Edition, Morehouse-Barlow 1941:

Two futher questions does come to mind. Are there particular rites to be observed (or modifications of the existing rites) in areas of Orthodox influence, to wit, in places where the cake might be called a blini or blintz? We have many here in Erie of Eastern European extractions and want not to be offensive to their liturgical

It's funny you should raise this point, because for the first time this year, a similar procession will take place simultaneously on the east side of East Lansing. MSU being a very large campus (5,500 acres), St Andrew's Orthodox Catholic Church (basically Russian Orthodox) decided to observe the occasion (despite the calendar differences) by processing to the East Campus halls of residence at the same time as our procession to the main campus.

To avoid confusion, the ceremonial is largely the same, and would be familiar to many Orthodox of the Antiochian rites, some of which are basically Anglican Missal. The main difference is in the title: rather than "Pancake Procession," the term used is "Procession on the Eve of the Occidental Equivalent of Great Lent." (Long titles such as this one express great dignity in Russian Orthodox tradition).

It's actually quite ecumenical, especially realizing that our cross-town Orthodox brothers and sisters have voluntarily latched onto something that is quite outside their own liturgical observance and out of whack with their calendar. We very much welcome and rejoice in their participation.

Secondly, if one runs out of consecrated pancakes, must one reconsecrate the new batter, or does a little reserved batter from that already consecrated make holy the whole batch?

Would you believe we've never had this problem? There is, however, as you might expect, a provision for this in our customary. Never is all of the batter cooked into pancakes. Routinely, one cup of batter is drawn off and preserved in a small refrigerator set aside for its preservation, and this cup is poured into any supplementary batter, which is prepared in the accompanying supply van that drives ahead of the procession itself. A similar cup is preserved from the supplementary batter. It's similar to the sourdough principle, or to that about a little leaven leavening a whole loaf.