Liturgical Arts in North Dakota (Diocese of Bismarck)

Christian liturgy is rightly seen as possessing a celebratory and artistic character.  For this reason it is a real treat to see beauty returning to the rites, even in small pockets of the world in rural locations.  It was a privilege to visit this little country parish for Sunday Mass in the EF, the church of St. Vincent in Mandan, North Dakota (Diocese of Bismarck).  The chapel is located about a half hour drive from the University of Mary.  It is situated on a hill among rolling hills in a farming community known as Crown Butte, just west of Bismarck.  The church with attached cemetery was founded in 1896 by German immigrants, many who were beneficiaries of the Homestead Acts that settled farmers in the area after the arrival of the railroad.  

While the secular world continues to divest itself of anything remotely religious, many Catholics find themselves looking for more.  It is precisely the transcendent dimension of the EF that attracts them, an expression of beauty as being convertible with truth and goodness that is the answer to their thirst.  These truths have been contested and denied in today's world, by a powerful secular media and society that does not see ontological significance in anything authentically spiritual.  In Catholic theology, on the other hand, beauty in the liturgy is normative and it is understood as an ontological and theological category.  For Catholics, the liturgy must be transcendental.  Beauty as well as truth and goodness are numbered among the transcendentals, because they are convertible with the being of God.

After the collapse of the Church in many parts of the world, there is a growing cultural movement within the Church consisting of young families seeking a refuge, to be safe or sheltered from the deluge.  There is also a direct connection with the EF and the Catholic homeschool movement.  Many of the homeschool curricula are classical in their approach, providing a holistic education that includes higher subjects such as classical music, organ, Latin and Gregorian chant.  Although the parish presently does not have an organ (it was perhaps broken and taken out many years ago), the community has an active chant schola of Catholic youth, representative of the community seeking transcendent dimension through artistic and liturgical expression. 

In some ways the Roman Rite brings a little piece of Rome to every corner of the world.  Rome, the chosen city where the Blessed Apostle St. Peter chose to establish his Petrine See, is part of a universal patrimony.  The liturgy brings the civilization and learning of Rome to every part of the world.  Where in the Middle-Ages it was the monasteries that preserved culture and history, so it is today with the Traditional Mass movement, preserving higher culture and learning, Latin, music and so much more.  While in today's world the liturgy is too often seen in terms of creativity, community and freedom, traditional Catholic theology approaches the EF liturgy by reference to rite, tradition, history, artistic merit and birthright.   

Hence communities such as this are appearing and growing, brick by brick.  Many thanks to the dear chaplain, Fr. Nick Schneider.  He is a wonderful priest and an alumnus of the Pontifical North American College in Rome and a graduate of the Angelicum.  Rejoice in our great priests, the Faith lives through their generous response and paternal solicitude.  Meanwhile, art is the expression of the beautiful, with a real capacity of revealing spiritual realities through sacred liturgy, sacred music and sacred art in particular - all manifestations of divine beauty.  The theological concept of beauty is revealed in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The truth is beautiful, carrying in itself the splendor of spiritual beauty."   

Let us pray for this wonderful EF community that it will find a permanent home (hopefully at this location), a community that deserves legitimate stability and permanence.  Bismarck would do well to have a personal parish erected for the area's growing population of Traditional Catholics, out of urgent pastoral necessity and a sense of pastoral solicitude, especially in regard to the nearby University of Mary.  The community could also sorely use a new organ (and sanctuary altars and furniture) if anyone knows of anything available, please contact the priest, an old acquaintance of mine from studium days in Rome (and a great canonist whom I have great respect for).  

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