As worship director, Father Erickson was behind the scenes of every major local liturgy

| July 9, 2018 | 0 Comments

Father John Paul Erickson holds a prayer book for Archbishop Bernard Hebda during the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. At left is Deacon Ronald Schmitz. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

My pastor didn’t follow the Mass rubrics; what are you going to do about it? Where do I find the prayers for a house blessing? Can my parish celebrate St. Genesius April 1?

For the past 10 years, Father John Paul Erickson has fielded liturgical queries like these from people in the pews to the archbishops he’s served while heading the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“We would get a variety,” said Father Erickson, who recently became pastor of Transfiguration in Oakdale. “Mostly, they were so-called ‘look-it-up’ questions.”

Guided by Church tradition and published norms for the Church’s liturgical rites, he’s clarified questions around vestments and vessels, mustum in lieu of wine and what to do if a holy day falls on a Saturday or Monday.

“I’ve had a great run, and I consider it a privilege,” said Father Erickson.

On June 30, Father Erickson completed his tenure as worship director, which included organizing and overseeing multiple archdiocesan liturgies, ordinations and a new translation of the Mass. Ordained in 2006, Father Erickson accepted the role to represent the archbishop in handling the archdiocese’s liturgical matters.

At the time of the appointment, Father Erickson was in his second year of priesthood and serving as an associate pastor of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, where he was often involved in confirmations and as a master of ceremonies at Masses, where he made sure the logistics of the liturgy ran smoothly.

“I was shocked, I was humbled, I was honored,” Father Erickson said of the 2008 appointment from Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was then leading the archdiocese.

As the director of worship, Father Erickson continued to serve regularly as the master of ceremonies for important Masses, including priest ordinations in the archdiocese and bishop ordinations throughout the province, which consists of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

He served as master of ceremonies for the episcopal ordinations of Bishop John LeVoir for New Ulm in 2008; Bishop Paul Sirba for Duluth in 2009; Bishop David Kagan for Bismarck, North Dakota, in 2011; Bishop Robert Gruss for Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2011; Bishop John Folda for Fargo, North Dakota, in 2013; and the installation of Bishop Donald Kettler in St. Cloud in 2013.

Father Erickson also served as master of ceremonies in the archdiocese for the episcopal ordinations of Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché in 2009 and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens in 2013.

More recently, Father Erickson served as master of ceremonies for the installation of Archbishop Bernard Hebda in 2016 and the pallium Mass later that year.

Day-to-day operations of the worship office are more behind-the-scenes. Father Erickson planned confirmation Masses, major archdiocesan liturgies and responded to inquiries from parishes.

“The office helps the archbishop to discern when those letters come in,” Father Erickson said. “That’s a challenging part of the role, because … ‘everybody’s an expert.’”

Father Erickson said that liturgy is deeply personal for many Catholics, as it’s the primary place of encountering Christ, and feedback “comes from all spectrums.”

“It’s an important point that the faithful have a right … to the liturgy as holy Mother Church intends it to be celebrated,” he said. “Because they have a duty to celebrate, to worship God, they have a right to those means that assist them in that, which one of them is clarity about what we are doing.”

Clarity is one of the things Father Erickson sought to bring to his brother priests, parish staff and the laity with the implementation of the new translation of the Mass in 2011. He spoke at parishes and clergy study days that year to explain the reasons for the new translation, which proved to be a major — and sometimes controversial — transition across the English-speaking Catholic world.

“It was a challenge, but it was not a crushing challenge because we relied on other people’s help,” Father Erickson said, noting that materials provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops eased the task.

While Father Erickson didn’t consider liturgy an area of special interest or expertise in his early priesthood, he had attended St. Agnes School in St. Paul before earning a liberal arts degree at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

“Both places have pretty high liturgy, pretty formal liturgy, and so I really had a certain interest in and love for more traditional forms,” Father Erickson said. “Beyond that, I’m really a liturgist by training, not so much by avocation.”

He studied for the priesthood at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul. After his appointment as director of worship, he spent five summers studying at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, from 2009 to 2014.

“It’s not enough just to read the rubrics, as critically important as that is,” Father Erickson said. “They [the laity] need to understand the meaning and why the Church wants these particular things.”

During his tenure as worship director, Father Erickson has also held parish assignments at St. Agnes from 2008 to 2015, and at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul from 2015 to last month. His new assignment at Transfiguration puts him at the helm of a parish still grieving the unexpected death in January of its previous pastor, Father William Baer, who also had a deep affection for the liturgy.

Father Tom Margevicius, who teaches liturgy at the St. Paul Seminary, assumed leadership of the worship office July 1. Father Erickson said he anticipates that Father Margevicius will be tasked with forming a liturgical commission to assist him and the archbishop.

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