Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Location: Rapid City, South Dakota, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 August 2019, 10:30am

The building

The cathedral is an early 1960s stone and steel building. The lengthy nave is much taller than it is wide, perfectly rectangular, focusing the view of the worshippers on the huge icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help above the high altar. Outside the main rectangle there are two chapels: a small chapel of the Sacred Heart to the right of the nave, and to the left a Lady chapel, larger than many small churches, currently used for perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The church

The community has outgrown the space available for fellowship and other non-liturgical activity and has begun a $5.6 million capital campaign to build a large parish hall on the south side of the building and to renovate the current hall in the basement. This will allow fellowship activities not currently possible, and will create classroom and conference room space in the basement. The plan is to obtain stone for the addition from the original quarry in Mankato, Minnesota. The diocese is currently without a bishop, as their last bishop was recently transferred to Saginaw. The community is praying that Pope Francis will soon fill the vacancy with a faithful bishop to lead the diocese.

The neighborhood

Rapid City, in the western part of South Dakota, is set against the eastern slope of the Black Hills. A mountain ridge splits the city into two parts geographically. Statues of every past President of the United States (sitting Presidents are ineligible) dot the various street corners of downtown Rapid City. The cathedral and the Catholic elementary and high schools located on the same campus are immediately adjacent to a neighborhood of small, inexpensive but well-maintained homes. Just a few blocks south of the cathedral is one of Rapid City's more expensive neighborhoods, with much larger homes.

The cast

The cathedral parish's associate pastor was the celebrant. He was assisted by four pre-teen and teenaged altar servers. There was a pianist, a reader for the first reading (who also led the psalm and its responses), and a second reader for the second reading.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There were greeters in the narthex wearing nametags. They said hello as we entered.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were spacious and comfortable, though not contoured. The kneelers were also comfortable and properly positioned.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential. The organ was playing a prelude when we arrived ten minutes before 10.30, and at that time the church was only about one-quarter full. By the time the mass started, the church was almost full.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

After the singing of the entrance hymn: ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Breaking Bread 2019.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ for the prelude, but for the service, a baby grand piano.

Did anything distract you?

The celebrant was a doppelgänger for the American actor Brian Posehn, who played the character Bert on the popular TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Fortunately, his voice was not that of the Bert character, nor did I notice any of the other members of the cast visiting Rapid City.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Middle of the road Roman rite, ordinary form. The cantor was missing, creating some confusion, which the priest apologized for during the announcements at the end. But when people were able to get on the same page as the piano, it's clear that this is a community that sings well. Altar servers with thurible and torches accompanied the priest to the ambo for the gospel reading. A unique feature occurred at the offertory. The priest brought an offering basket and, crouching outside the altar rail, received offerings from dozens of enthusiastic young children. After this, ushers collected the remainder of the offering throughout the nave in the usual manner. There were seven extraordinary ministers of holy communion, with three assisting the priest in the administration of the hosts, and four serving as chalice ministers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The sermon took several minutes really to get organized, and at the beginning I was wondering whether I could even assign a rating of 5, but by the end the preacher was making his points clearly and forcefully, deserving the 8 I have assigned.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon drew on the gospel reading, Luke 12:32-48, the parable of the servants whom the master finds vigilant on his return. But how are we to prepare, and for what? The disciples, during Jesus' ministry, did not yet understand what sort of kingdom he intended to establish. Would they sit at his right hand and wield earthly power? No, our hope does not belong to this world, but to the kingdom the Father has prepared, a kingdom with power over sin and death. We are to prepare not by defeating political enemies, but by being sure that neighbors – and strangers – all have something to eat. Generosity is the center of the gospel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is one of my favorite pieces of religious art. Today I spent a heavenly hour under our Blessed Mother's loving gaze, watching her comfort Our Lord, who has hurried to her, frightened by the sight of Michael and Gabriel holding the instruments of his future death and of our redemption.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The confusion over the music is almost certainly not the norm here, but today it was quite annoying. Frequently, no one at all knew what was to be sung, since only those who heard and knew the hymns were able to find them in Breaking Bread. But even worse than the disconnect between the hymn board and what was played by the pianist was the problem at the end of the canon. The congregation seemed to think that the pianist was playing an extended Great Amen, when in fact he had moved directly into the Lord's Prayer. Well into the prayer, the celebrant asked the congregation to stand, at which point we realized what the pianist was playing. In ‘the other place,’ I would expect that it would be impossible to keep up with anything that is going on.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

One of the parishioners offered to answer questions about the building. Another looked for a booklet with a description of the building, but they were out of stock. She then showed me the Lady chapel. Yet another again tried to find the guide booklet.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Non-existent. In the material regarding the capital campaign, it is implied that this will change once the new parish hall is built.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — I'm considering a Seattle to Boston Interstate-90 road trip sometime a few years in the future. It would be great to see the completion of the planned parish hall construction, and how that has enhanced the life of this community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. It is wonderful to be reminded that we are responsible for each other, and that the needs of the common people are our own individual responsibility, not something that can be fulfilled by a secular political utopia.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Bert from The Big Bang Theory.

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