It’s important our bishops connect to the greater Catholic Church

In mid-November I represented the Diocese of Rapid City at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore, Md. It was another interesting experience in this journey as the diocesan administrator.

I visited with each of our former bishops and Bishop Steven Biegler and witnessed again the clarity of their teachings and guidance. We have been so blessed by the bishops who have called western South Dakota home. As the administrator, I was accorded the full rights and privileges of all the bishops. That was humbling.

I want to thank you for making this trip possible. Each year during the Annual Appeal we talk about the expenses for the Bishop’s Office. This is such an expense. It is important that our bishop connects to the greater work of the Catholic Church in America and the world. The meetings and the meals, the prayer and the casual conversations allow the bishops to connect with one another, to understand the experience of the Catholic Church in the United States. You make this encounter possible with your support of the annual appeal. I am deeply grateful.

The meetings began on Sunday with various committees of the USCCB convening to do the individual work each focuses on. The general sessions began on Monday and concluded on Thursday morning. The days were full, with two general sessions each day and a meeting of the bishops from each region (our region is Minnesota and the Dakotas) during the week. Mass was concelebrated each day and Morning and Midday Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours started the general sessions. On Thursday there was a two-hour period of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for confessions.

During lunch times and in the evenings, groups, agencies and organizations that support the Catholic faithful hosted receptions to share about the ministry they offer to continue the mission of the church. The days started early and ended late and, although there were the inevitable moments of boredom that come from hours of intense listening through the general sessions, still the whole experience was uplifting and exciting.

The bishops of our country are, in my estimation a dedicated and faithful group of men. They love the church and they want to lead their people into an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ that calls them to continue his mission in our country. They are ordinary men who are, nonetheless, called to extraordinary service. They serve willingly, if not always perfectly. Praying with them, listening to them, sharing stories, laughing and reflecting, gave me a deeper respect for them and the burden they carry. They deserve our prayers and our support.

The topics at this conference would not be unfamiliar to any of us. Life issues were very present in the committee reports and action items that were discussed. They were attentive to the scourge of abortion and it is clear that they see it as the first issue among many that threaten the dignity of the human person. The immigration crisis was also notable on the agenda. Bishops who live along the southern border see firsthand the devastation that impacts the dignity of the real human persons caught in this legal battle. The magnitude of this crisis and the excellent work being done through the Catholic Church was documented for us. Whatever our political leanings, we cannot look at the face of Jesus Christ and not be moved to action on behalf of those who are suffering in this situation. I was impressed with the amount of lobbying that the USCCB does in Washington, D.C., on this and many other issues of concern to us all.

Another topic that was very prominent in the agenda was the sexual abuse crisis. There was a call to continue to be present to and listen to the victims of abuse, to see in them the suffering Christ. Building on the efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults that have been implemented in the past, the bishops continued in this session to develop a system for holding themselves accountable. In the new calendar year, a third-party system for reporting alleged sexual misconduct of bishops as well as their deliberate mismanagement of abuse cases will be available. As damaging as this whole experience has been and continues to be for so many, the bishops are striving to bring justice and healing to victims of abuse and our whole Catholic Church.

The conference also voted on some documents that they have been working on. These included a discussion of the pope’s apostolic exhortation following the Synod on Youth and Young Adults, an additional letter calling all Catholics to exercise their right to participate in the political process of our country, the acceptance of a new translation of the Latin text that outlines the RCIA process, and a new priestly formation program document to guide the formation of seminarians in our country. Some of these documents were not finalized and will continue to be developed.

This is just a smattering of my experiences at the bishops’ conference in Baltimore. It was eye opening, inspiring and challenging and reminded me again that we are so blessed to be a part of this great Catholic Church.

Curia Corner — Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, Pray for Us

A look inside the shrine to Nicholas Black Elk that Red Cloud students created. It is on a little patch of land outside of the school in Pine Ridge. (Photo courtesy Red Cloud Indian School)


Preserving a Catholic Community by Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist

Diocesan update on canonization cause

“We are basically waiting for the thumbs-up from the Holy Father, Pope Francis!” says Fr. Joe Daoust, SJ. “I am hopeful that Nicholas Black Elk is declared Venerable soon!” 

Now that the final reporting from our diocese was sent to Rome in June of this year, in hopes of continuing the canonization cause, the Black Elk working group has begun the task of promoting and furthering the cause of sainthood.

Members of that group are Fr. Luis Escalante, procurator for the cause; Fr. Michel Mulloy, diocesan administrator; Vice -Postulators Fr. Joe Daoust, SJ, Bill White, Veronica Valandra and myself; Mark Thiel, Marquette University; Fr. Andre Benso, Italy; Joyce Tibbits; and Black Elk family descendants Myron Pourier, Penny Wolters, and Mitch Desera. We all are dedicated to promoting this cause, awaiting miracles to flow forth, and to see Black Elk become the first male Native American canonized saint in the U.S.

Many people are still learning the levels of deep respect that Native Americans have for family values.

Black Elk’s headstone reads, Chief Black Elk 1858-1950. At one of our group meetings, it was

explained that the word chief has other meanings to the Lakota. Although never technically a chief — someone who is a leader in the military, designated by rank, etc. — Ben Black Elk, Nicholas’ son, and his family bestowed the honor of chief to Nicholas because he was a humble Lakota and because of people’s devotion to him.

Black Elk is alive and well across the country, in South Dakota, at Red Cloud Indian School, and on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We must continue to bring that education and excitement to the world around us. The children at Red Cloud have built a shrine/grotto to Black Elk on a little patch of land outside of the school in Pine Ridge. They also have several school activities planned. Bill White is developing a talk for school children. 

John Corry, a layperson from St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Beaver Damn, Wis., promotes Nicholas Black Elk at every Mass he can. “I have a spiritual affinity, for some reason to Nicholas Black Elk,” he says. “I believe in the communion of saints, so I always add Nicholas and ask him to pray for me.” He goes on to say that he prays for Black Elk intentions for several others who are having health challenges. “Miracles happen everywhere, why not here in Wisconsin?” he said.

How can you help further the cause for Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk?

1) Pray. Through your prayers for the successful carrying out of this canonization process and by praying to him for his help in any distress so that all can walk the good red road toward God.

2) Evangelize. Spread the devotion to him as an exemplar of Native American

holiness, bringing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in indigenous spirituality forward in the church. 

3) Donate. You can help the Nicholas Black Elk Fund in the diocese of Rapid City which was established to help cover the costs of carrying this process forward at under the “Make a Gift” tab. Please designate your gift to Nicholas Black Elk.

“Nicholas — pray for us as we open our hearts to recognize the risen Christ in other cultures and peoples, to your glory and honor” (from prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk).

What does a Vice-Postulator do?

Once Nicholas Black Elk is declared venerable the vice-postulators will represent the Postulator, Father Luis Escalante, in carrying out any investigation and anything necessary to further the cause of Nicholas Black Elk. This includes talking a closer look at miracles and items attributed to Black Elk. Vice-postulators can include people from the diocese and other interested parties from across the U.S.


Sacred Heart, White River, celebrates 100 years of history

Masses in White River began as  early as 1885 and were offered in private homes and mission churches by missionary priests from surrounding states and the Jesuit priests based out of St. Francis Mission. St. Ignatius Catholic Church, described as “up on the hill west of town,” in the Sacred Heart Centennial Booklet, was where many Catholics in White River attended Mass until 1920.

“For twenty years the Lakota people celebrated their faith before Sacred Heart even existed, and for decades after the small town of White River would boast two Catholic Churches,” Father Jacob Boddicker, SJ, said during his homily at the centennial celebration, November 3. “The Diocese of Lead canonically established the parish of Sacred Heart with the purpose of serving the Catholic ranchfolk in the area, as well as the growing Catholic community within the limits of White River itself.”

Construction on the new church began in 1919 with several Catholic men from the parish digging the basement. Catholic Extension provided a $1,792 grant.

The first baptism in the church was held November 23, 1919 even through the building was not complete. The first marriage was April 16, 1920, and the first Communion class received the sacrament April 23, 1922. Six priests served the parish and its missions at Wood, Cody and Berkeley at different times until 1938 when the church was attended by the priests of St. Francis Mission.

In 1949, the building was completely renovated. Eight stained glass windows were installed and a new group of statues purchased through the donations of parishioners.

In 1950, a shrine in honor of the Sacred Heart was built on the church property using petrified wood and rock from the Black Hills.

In 1957, a new crucifix was added and a new altar and organ were installed. The parish underwent another renovation in 1976.

The parish hall was orignally a tent used by the Altar Society who served meals for the bazaars, celebrations, and the annual Frontier Days beginning in the 1920s. These meals were served from the tent until 1936 when the group was able to purchase an old building that would serve as a parish hall for 33 years. Water was drawn from a cistern with a pail and rope for all the cooking and cleaning needs and thrown out the back door once it was used. The ladies also cooked on an old wood range with a reservoir of the side for heating water. Later a kerosene stove was purchased and a hand pump installed. In 1969 the building was razed by members of the parish to make way for a new hall that was built on the original site, and still servers as the hall today.

In December of 1966, the new priest decided, with consultation, to close Sacred Heart and have everyone worship at St. Ignatius. After further discussion with the bishop, it was decided it would be unwise to close the parish.

In 2005, the “Faith Formation Initiative’ committee was established to discuss the witness of the faith in White River. Due to declining attendance at St. Ignatius Church, an alternating Mass schedule between the two parishes was developed.

The two parishes, along with Our Lady Of Good Counsel, Wood, became known as the “White River Catholic Faith Community.” The Faith Initiative Committee was reactivated to serve both parishes, to replace the dissolved parish councils. Both parishes retained a finance council.  The last scheduled Mass at  St. Ignatius Parish was in May 2011.

“Praise God that Jesus, in his great mercy, came here a century ago … and praise God for our Lakota brothers and sisters,” Father Boddicker said,  “who cleared the path for Jesus in this land, and all the others: they planted the seeds of faith in the ground beneath our feet, in the hearts and souls of their children, grandchildren, and beyond that have lasted a hundred years. The next hundred years, brothers and sisters, are in your hands, and in your hearts; let us carefully and joyfully pass on this inheritance for generations to come!”

(History adapted from “Sacred Heart Centennial” booklet and diocesan archives.)



St. Francis Mission; celebrate the Centennial Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, White River, November 3. Father Brian Paulson, SJ, the provincial of the Upper Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus; Father Jacob Boddicker, Associate Pastor; and Father James Kubicki, SJ, president of the St. Francis Mission; celebrate the Centennial Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, White River. (Courtesy photos)

Church Music — After the parish was built, a small organ was purchased in the 1920s and a small four person choir was assembled. As time went on, a Boy’s Choir consisting of 16 boys under the age of 12 was started, in addition to a Young People’s Choir. A new organ was installed in 1957. In 1981, a folk hymnal was purchased for a folk choir that predominately featured guitar accompaniment. (Above) The Boy’s Choir from 1938.

Diocesan Youth Rally — You were put on earth so people can know God through you

By Becky Berreth

“You can have everything you ever want but you still have a gaping hole in your heart if you don’t have God,” speaker Jackie Francois said to a group of 110 middle school students and parents. “It doesn’t matter what your circumstance is. If you don’t have God in your life as the foundation of your life, you’re always going to be missing something. Always.”

Francois was one of the speakers at the Diocesan Youth Rally held in October at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center. Francois and Chris Mueller teamed up to address more than 200 middle and high school aged students from across the diocese. The day included Mass, adoration, games, and witness testimonies from seminarians and fellow students. Francois spoke to the middle school session about love and being open to putting God at the center of your life.

“God wants more than one hour a week. He wants all of you,” she continued. “The most powerful words you can say are ‘I need you.’ If you wake up every morning and say, ‘God I need you because I can’t do this on my own.’ God will say, ‘Okay I will be with you always. I will never forget you.’” 

At the end of her session, Francois pointed to an image of the crucifix and

reminded the middle school students that his death was a wedding proposal to all of mankind.

“You have two options — you can either say, ‘I’m going to live for you and die for you’ or you can say, ‘no thanks.’ There is no maybe.

“Love is not just about feeling good. Love is a sacrifice. Real love is saying I want what’s best for you and as a Christian, what’s best for you is heaven,” she said.

During the men’s session, Mueller addressed strength and encouraged both middle school and high school students to be a defender and stand against hell.

“As men we’ve been given strength. We were not made to sit ideally by and be quiet. We were meant to stand tall and bring our strength,” he said. “Does that mean we dominate and we bully? No. We were meant to be protectors. We were meant to be like God.

“As men, we were given anger. We tend to think that’s terrible, but no your anger was given to you for a purpose,” he continued. “Jesus shows us who we are supposed to be.”

Using Adam and Eve, he explained how the devil took a small truth and made it seem extreme by convincing Eve that it was only one tree and it wouldn’t matter if you ate from that one tree.

“When Adam took the apple from Eve, he chose her over the Lord. The devil made man submissive,” Mueller explained. “What Adam should have done is grabbed the snake and choked the life out of him.”

The session concluded with a group discussion that focused on thinking about where they can help each other stand up to the devil and mirror God. 

“Where are you holding back your strength? How can I bring my strength to it? What are you allowing to happen that you know you shouldn’t? You were not put on the earth to be passive,” Mueller asked.

“Don’t be like Adam and watch Eve eat the apple,” he said.


Eighth graders Zak Juelfs, Piedmont, and Weston Rathbun, Rapid City, face off during a game of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Cups.” (WRC photo)

Msgr. O’Connell: ‘Strike while the spirit is hot”

This past summer, I had a number of grace-filled moments in which my eyes and heart were opened a little bit more to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I prayed with some of our middle and high school youth at Totus Tuus, our weeklong summer vocational camp. And praying with our seminarians and college students who were involved in our Duc In Altum program, I was able to see and hear firsthand how the Holy Spirit was drawing these young hearts to Jesus.

I was leading our youth at boys’ Totus Tuus this summer and we were praying with the story of blind Bartimaeus (Lk 18:35-43). One of the campers shared with all of us that in prayer he realized, in a new way, that he was made in God’s image and likeness.

I asked how this made him feel and he said, “Happy.” I told him to close his eyes and thank God for this new insight he received in prayer. Another camper shared that he realized God was carrying him in his hands and that everything was going to be alright. 

These are two simple examples of how our young people encountered the presence of God when praying with the Scriptures as a group this summer.

In July, we took three buses of young people and adult leaders to the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Paul. Again, my eyes and heart were opened a little bit more to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our young people.

On our way home from the conference, a number of our youth shared with their peers how they had heard the voice of Jesus speak to their hearts that weekend and how they felt the warmth and abundant love of the Holy Spirit being poured over them.

A number of our young people stepped out in faith when the priest chaplain, Father Agustino Torres, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, invited them to run to the front of the stage if they have thought about being a religious sister, brother or priest. Many of our young people rushed the stage with fervor and joy. To see them was truly a grace-filled moment for me. My heart was truly consoled by the Lord’s presence.

On our way back, several of our young people pulled me aside and said, “Father Mark, when is the next seminary live-in weekend? I really want to go. I felt Jesus in my heart this weekend and the idea surfaced about being a priest.”

When they mentioned this, I could see joy-filled tears welling up in their eyes as they shared this desire rising in their hearts with me. I knew they had experienced the Lord and this desire came from him.

For some of them this was the first time they felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit — the voice of Jesus in their hearts, nudging them to consider priesthood. I asked them what grade they were going to be in this coming fall. They told me ninth grade.

My initial reaction was to say to them, “Call me in two or three years, when you are a junior or senior.” As a vocation director, it has been my custom to only take 11th and 12th graders to the seminary live-in weekend, although in the past I have taken several sophomores on a case-by-case basis.

The more my eyes and heart were open to these grace-filled encounters these young people were having this summer, the more I prayed about opening the live-in weekends to freshmen and sophomores, too. 

I could hear the voice of the late Msgr. William O’Connell saying to me, “Strike when the Spirit’s hot, Fr. Mark.”

These young people have encountered in a real way the presence of Jesus, who is inviting them to pray about priesthood and religious life. This time, I didn’t have the heart to say to them, “Wait! And I will call you in two years,” as I have done in the past. 

My decision was affirmed for me as I read a recent study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Surveying the 481 men ordained to the priesthood in 2019, the CARA study shows that the average age when they first considered a vocation to priesthood was 15 and 16 (typically freshman and sophomores). 

In the past, I have taken three to five young men with me for the Immaculate Heart of Mary live-in weekend. However, this November, by opening the door to freshmen and sophomores, our numbers have almost tripled.

As we continue to build a culture of vocations in our families and in our parishes, it is important to note that the CARA study also highlighted that “three in four (75 percent) responding ordinands participated in eucharistic adoration on a regular basis before entering the seminary.

“More than seven in 10 (73 percent) responding ordinands prayed the rosary, almost half (47 percent) attended prayer group/Bible study, two in five (38 percent) participated in high school retreats or in Lectio Divina (36 percent), and three in 10 participated in college retreats (30 percent).”

My eyes have been opened “a little more” by watching young people experience Jesus in prayer and then acting to support and encourage them to explore what they have experienced. Clearly, the Lord is speaking to large numbers of young men as they spend time with him in adoration. 

Let’s continue to be attentive to what the Lord is doing and celebrate and encourage what happens when one’s eyes and heart are opened a little more.

Fr. Mark McCormick, vocations director, driving a van of students to look at seminary life in 2018. (Front row) Joe Hanson, who now a seminarian. (Second row l-r) Thomas Dillon and Joey Fritz. (Back row) Branko Fistrovic. (File photo)

Entering silence we open ourselves to the presence of the Lord

“Quiet, please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” These phrases come to my mind during many of the Masses I celebrate throughout the diocese and even in my recent trip to Europe. I am referring to the pace of praying at Mass. We move from one prayer and action to another with little or no pause. This is not true in all parishes but is, nonetheless, a common occurrence.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) invites us to pause at specific times during the Mass. These moments occur just after the introduction to the Penitential Act; just after the priest invites the congregation to pray before the Opening Prayer (the Collect); during the Liturgy of the Word (after the first reading, the second reading and the homily); and following the reception of Communion. Many of these moments of prescribed silence are frequently ignored. You might be asking what difference that makes. Let me venture an explanation grounded in our understanding of the Mass and my own experience.

The general guidelines for the celebration of the Mass are deliberate and purposeful. There is a reason for each aspect of these guidelines. According to the great spiritual masters of the Catholic tradition, silence is the place where God speaks to our hearts. That is not the only way God can reach us, but it is indispensable.

If the purpose of the Mass is to encounter Jesus risen and present to us, then silence is an essential element of that encounter. By entering silence at certain times, we are being invited to open ourselves to the presence of the risen Lord. We are invited into a relationship with Jesus that is a true dialogue. We believe that Jesus wants to speak to us, and the silent moments are among the key ways to allow that communication to happen.

During the Penitential Act, we are asked to acknowledge our sin and reminded that Jesus is waiting to offer his mercy. Before the Collect, we are invited to pray, and to bring our petitions to the Lord, knowing that he wants to receive them and respond. We allow Jesus to speak to us in the scripture readings and the homily, but also in the silent pauses which allow that message from him to sink into our hearts. After all of us have received Christ in Holy Communion, we are asked to be still — to be present with the Lord so that he can truly enter our lives and transform us. Taking this time to truly be silent will open the doors to a fuller encounter with Jesus. I know this on a personal level, and at any Mass where this silence is missing, I experience a sense of loss at the absence of that encounter.

In the liturgy, silence means stillness, no sound and no movement. As meaningful as it can be at times, background music is not silence and lacks the solitude that pure silence offers. Certainly, silence can be uncomfortable for those who are not used to it. To a certain extent that would be all of us in our culture.

We are a people whose lives are filled with noise and movement. When we first encounter significant silence in the Mass it might be uncomfortable or even jarring. There is a need for formation — to explain that the moments of silence are carefully chosen and deliberate. It is also important for each of us to be prepared for the encounter that silence is intended to facilitate. Those who are responsible for liturgical ministry must be trained in the mechanics of how this silence is structured during the Gathering Rites, the Liturgy of the Word and the Communion Rite. Above all, it is important to simply do it. Be silent.

Some months ago, the Diocesan Liturgy Commission developed a video that explains the purpose and value of silence in the Mass. The video also suggested ways to develop this practice in the parish setting. It is available on the Office of Worship page of the diocesan web site. I would encourage pastors, lectors and all the faithful to review this presentation. I would encourage parish liturgy committees and liturgical ministers to explore this aspect of the Mass. Work together to figure out how to best achieve these moments of silence and explain them to the people in the pews.

The Diocesan Liturgy Commission also produced a worship aid for silence in the Mass. These were made available for pastors to use in their parishes and can be downloaded from the Office of Worship web page.

I would invite you to make Sacred Silence a priority in this Year of the Eucharist. This is an essential element in the encounter with the risen Lord that is at the heart of this yearlong effort. Once you become accustomed to these silent moments in the Mass, you will cherish them. Then, when you are in a setting where the words all run together, you will, like me, hear yourself say, “Quiet please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” And you might add, “I think Jesus wanted to share something with me in that silent moment, and I lost it.”

Links to the video and the prayer cards are on the liturgy page:

Liturgy of the Word requires whole-hearted attention

By Fr. Michel Mulloy, Director of Liturgy

The Liturgy of the Word is a dialogue. God is speaking to us and we are responding. That dialogue is accomplished through the human persons. This makes the role of the proclaimer very important.

The laity proclaim the first reading, the response and the second reading. Proclaimers are allowing God to speak to the community through their person. This ministry is the right of the baptized. As sons and daughters of God we are all called to read, speak and live the scriptures. Standing before the assembly to proclaim the word of God is a natural extension of this baptismal call.

The gospel in the context of the Mass is reserved for the priest or deacon. The priest is Christ present leading Christ body, the Church gathered. The deacon who shares in the ordained ministry of the bishop, can also proclaim the gospel. The gospels are the words of Christ himself and therefore the gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the word. God’s plan of salvation unfolds through the first reading, response and second reading, leading to the fullness of his plan revealed in Jesus Christ. It is fitting that the one who stands in the midst of the people speaking in the person of Jesus in his leadership of his people, should proclaim Jesus’ words.

We respond to the proclamation of the word of God in three ways. First, we listen. Listening is responding. It is hard work because it requires not just ears, but hearts and minds. Distraction is easy. Constantly bringing ourselves back to the moment, we are telling the Lord we want to be there and to be in relationship with him. 

The second way the congregation responds to the word of God is by offering thanks. The lector ends the reading with, “The word of the Lord.” This is a proclamation that sums up the experience we have shared. We have been privileged to listen to the Lord speaking to us in the person of the lector. Our response is important. We acknowledge this privilege to know the Lord present. Obviously, our hearts ought to be filled with gratitude. “Thanks be to God.”

The third way we respond to the word of God is silence. The general instruction of the Roman Missal invites the congregation to meditate on the word we have just heard. The silence allows the word of God to sink into our hearts and into our lives.

Silence can be awkward and difficult, but the silence is purposeful. In anticipation of the silence we listen to the reading with an open heart. There might be a phrase or a word, an idea or awareness that catches our attention. When that happens, the silence becomes a moment to allow that touch of God’s word to settle more deeply into our minds and hearts. If we are not moved by some aspect of the reading proclaimed, we can simply be quiet and relax in the goodness of the word we have feasted on. In the practice of silence over time the word of God will penetrate our lives and form us anew. The silence will be cherished and missed when we are in situations where the readings are moved through too quickly. This silence, along with our attentive listening and heartfelt spoken response, will enrich our dialogue with the Lord in his word.

The Liturgy of the Word continues after the readings. The homily opens up the word of God. Preachers are invited to help the faithful understand how the stories of our faith intersect with our own stories. Christ continues to speak to his people through a well-crafted homily.

Following the homily, we all stand and profess the Creed. Having listened to God speak to us, and having reflected on how we are called in response to God’s word, we state our belief.

Finally, having listened, reflected and professed our faith, we are ready to ask God for what we need. We pray confidently for God to help us. Thus, we offer our petitions or Universal Prayer.

The Liturgy of the Word is a rich encounter with God in Jesus. It requires our preparation and whole-hearted attention.

Gathering Rite ritual draws faithful together

By Fr. Michel Mulloy

The various ritual actions of the Gathering Rite draw the faithful together and prepare them to listen to the Word of God. Christ is present in his Body the Church when we gather, continuing his saving work. Presence in one building does not necessarily mean togetherness. The community shakes off the concerns of individual lives, opens their hearts and minds to the action of the liturgy and focuses on joining the self-sacrifice of Christ to God the Father. 

The Opening Hymn is the first prayer of the liturgy. Songs are prayers set to melodies. The stated purpose of this song is to begin the celebration, to foster unity with one another, to introduce the feast or mystery that we are celebrating that day and to accompany the procession of the priest, deacon and servers.

The community enters the eternal self-sacrifice of Christ. We must be willing to do this. This means we sing the gathering hymn to the best of our ability. A choice at this moment not to sing, to simply listen to the song or wait for it to finish, is a choice to not to join the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Furthermore, singing draws the community together. It expresses the unity with God in one another that is the hope of the celebration of the Mass. The gathering song also speaks about the feast or season of the liturgical year we are celebrating. Once again, the gathering song is designed to accompany the procession of the priest and servers to the altar. This is a reminder to us that music, although essential to the Mass, is not done for its own sake but rather to accompany the action of the Mass.

The Sign of the Cross is a declaration that we stand in this assembly as the people of God because Jesus died and rose to free us from our sins. We are not here of our own volition but gather because we are drawn here by God in Christ Jesus.

The greeting is an ancient dialogue with  roots in the letters of St. Paul. The three different forms of this greeting all express that we are here to unite our lives to God. The priest states that the community has a relationship with God, through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. (“The Lord be with you.”) The assembly’s response indicates that the priest, who is for them Christ present leading his Body the Church, has that relationship with God. (“And with your spirit.”)

The greeting also reminds us that the Eucharist is a dialogue between God and his people. In the same way that the inner life of God is a dialogue between Father and Son and Holy Spirit, so this ritual action affords us the opportunity to share in the dialogue that is the life of God. Thus, when the priest speaking in the person of Christ, reaches out to the assembly with this ancient greeting, the people as the body of Christ are expected to respond. Together we are declaring that we believe God is present to us in his Son Jesus Christ.

The Penitential Rite which comes next is the community’s admission that we are sinners. Yet, we are here because the forgiveness of God has been given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In effect we are declaring that though unworthy, we are made worthy by Christ. The “Lord Have Mercy” is less an appeal for God to be merciful and more a declaration that God IS merciful.

Next we pray the Gloria, a hymn of praise. It is appropriate at this moment in the Gathering Rite, to offer praise to God. We have just acknowledged God’s presence with us in the greeting. We have faced our unworthiness and yet declare that God’s mercy is with us. The community stands forgiven and redeemed. Praising and thanking God at this moment makes sense. Ideally the Gloria is always sung by all praising God in our unified voices.

The Gathering Rite comes to an end with the Opening Prayer. Although the priest vocalizes the prayer, the community is praying. Through the silence that follows the introduction, “Let us pray,” the community members call to mind and heart those things which they want to pray for at this Mass. When the presider speaks aloud a prayer, he is speaking for everyone. The community’s attention to his words and their clear “Amen,” which means in Hebrew, “yes I agree,” is vitally important.

Next month we will begin talking about the Word of God in the context of the Eucharist.

Let ‘Sede Vacante’ be a cry for a new bishop

I was asked last week by the editor of the West River Catholic what we should call this column that I am now writing. I decided to call it Sede Vacante. That is a Latin term which means “vacant seat.” It refers to the fact that as a diocese, we have a vacant seat in our midst. That vacant seat is the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, located in the cathedral. The light over that chair is not lit right now and the coat of arms is missing. More importantly we are missing someone who is very important for any diocese.

The Bishop is the Vicar of Christ for our local (diocesan) church. As a successor to the apostles and a member of the college of bishops, he is a visible connection to Jesus Christ and the church he established on earth. The bishop is also our direct link to the Holy Father and the universal Catholic community.

In the meantime, we are called to continue our mission, the mission of Jesus Christ. The “vacant seat” does not mean that we stop being disciples of Jesus Christ, called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly live and proclaim the Gospel.

All these connections are very important to being Catholic. We are a universal church which has a local expression in western South Dakota. We have our own unique experience of church, but our experience is not so unique that we are separate from other expression of the Catholic Church elsewhere. We are not a “congregational” form of governance. We belong to each other. We are brothers and sisters of one another because we are all joined to Jesus Christ who is our brother. We are sons and daughters of one Father, and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit. The bishop is our diocesan father and our family is not complete without our father sitting at the head of the Eucharistic table, leading us into a deeper relationship with our brother Jesus and his Father. We should be praying daily for our new bishop, longing for him to come, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the choice of our Holy Father, to be seated among us.

That is where I come in. Elected, I said yes to assuming this mantle of leadership temporarily. It has been interesting and challenging from the first day. I am learning and growing in ways that I have not been asked to do in the past. Most importantly I have come to appreciate the ministry of a bishop in a much deeper way. I have not prayed enough for our bishops and for all the bishops of our country and the world.

During my short few weeks, I have come to understand the burden of a bishop’s ministry. This was made especially clear when I had the privilege to attend a meeting of the bishops of our province (North and South Dakota and Minnesota). Their responsibilities would be a challenge during any era, but our own time has made their ministry particularly heavy to bear. Gratefully they do not carry this load alone. The Lord is yoked to them on the journey. Our prayers on their behalf, raised to the Father, will lighten that load, for the Father bends down to listen to the cry of his children.

In telling you all this, you should not feel sorry for me or for our bishops. As I often tell people, every appointment on my calendar was put there by me. Likewise, this responsibility of diocesan administrator was something I accepted. I am willing to do this, to serve the Lord and his people as we continue to grow in holiness and prepare for the leadership of a new bishop.

I am finding this new assignment challenging but also so interesting. I am learning and growing. I enjoy the support of the clergy and laity of our diocese. That is a great blessing. As much as I miss having a bishop in our midst, I know the Lord is present. The mission of our local church continues. While there will be no new initiatives while the cathedra is vacant, we will continue to bring to fulfillment the great work that we have already begun. The Lord is calling all of us to do our part so that when a new bishop arrives, he will find us ready and willing.

We are so blessed in our diocese. We have wonderful priests and deacons in roles of leadership. Many talented lay men and women are involved in our parishes, serving the Lord is our ministry together. We have a hard-working and generous chancery staff. There is much to be grateful for, and we are not finished. I know there is much more that the Lord wants to give us. There is a legacy of faith that is waiting to be lived. We have only begun to discover the blessings God wants to pour into our lives through his beloved Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let Sede Vacante be a joyful cry for a new bishop, a cry to spur us on to continue the great work we have been given until we stand together with our new bishop to rejoice in all that will be given to us by our gracious and loving God.