Centuries-old Catholic ceremony held for Fargo judge

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FARGO — A centuries-old Catholic ceremony honoring legal professionals was held here Thursday, March 8, for a Fargo judge appointed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Ralph Erickson served 24 years as a federal trial judge — 14 years in Fargo and 10 years as a county and state judge in Cass County. In his tenure on the bench, he presided over nearly 500 cases and filled in on the 8th Circuit in 92 cases.

Erickson was nominated by President Donald Trump in June 2017 to fill the vacancy of former Judge Kermit Bye, who retired September 2016.

At Sts. Anne & Joachim Church, where Erickson serves on the parish council, there was a celebration of this career elevation known as a Red Mass.

Bishop John Folda said he is often asked what is a Red Mass. The tradition dates back to 1245, he said, when the Bishop of Paris brought together lawyers and law students to pray for blessings of wisdom and good counsel.

"The church has been praying for holy and virtuous lawyers for over 800 years, and as one lawyer said, maybe another 800 years will finally do the trick," Folda said to a large crowd of family, friends and colleagues of Erickson.

The Red Mass, named after scarlet robes traditionally worn by royal judges during the ceremony, also symbolizes the coming of the Holy Spirit, Folda said, who wore red along with other priests and deacons that evening.

"Will you stand up in court or in your law office or classroom and shock everyone by full-throatedly preaching the Gospel? Probably not. Will you quote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in your legal opinions and rulings? Perhaps not," Folda said. "But through your cooperation with the gifts of the Spirit, you will bring the truth, justice and mercy of Christ to bear upon your daily decisions and work."

The Red Mass came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. For the past 65 years, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., hosts a Red Mass the Sunday before the Supreme Court session, and many justices attend.

This Diocese of Fargo doesn't host the Red Mass on a particular day, instead it was held in conjunction with Erickson's investiture Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Sanctuary Event Center in Fargo.

Erickson was nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. District Court in Fargo in 2003. He is a graduate of Jamestown College and the University of North Dakota School of Law.