The mission has begun, and so far, is going well. Today I went to St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Southwest Washington D.C. I wanted to start with a church that was close to campus, but far enough to be exciting. St. Dominic's is located about a block from the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop, which is a few stops from Foggy Bottom.
Looking on its website, the parish is over 100 years old, and is run by friars of the Dominican order. I don't know much about the Dominican order, but it doesn't appear that they have an overbearing influence at St. Dominics. The stained glass windows depict events in the life of St. Dominic, but if I didn't know that, I would have appreciated them just the same. Similarly, if I didn't know that the church was run by Dominicans before I got there, I wouldn't have figured it out during Mass.
The church was built in a very traditional style. Stained glass windows are on all sides of the church, as described before. A large stone bell tower flanks the main building. The inside of the Church is very beautiful. Large columns extend all the way to the high ceiling, leading from entrance to altar. The cross, which is usually a fixture on the wall, was suspended in mid-air from the ceiling by big metal wires. I've posted some pictures below.
As I entered the church, I was greeted by the priest. A very friendly man, he asked everyone who entered if they were a "regular" or not. I told him where I was from, and what I was doing there. I got the feeling that this was a church that was very used to visitors. After all, they were in the middle of Washington, D.C., near a good deal of hotels and tourist attractions. He made several remarks throughout the Mass about visitors; at first I thought he might be referring to visitors coming for the National Equality March on the mall today, either protesters or counter-protesters, but judging by the crowd, I didn't think this was the case. It appeared that "visitors" were a regular part of life at St. Dominic, the parish bulletin addresses issues concerning "regular parishioners" as well as "tourists" and "visitors." This may seem uninviting, but it is not inconsistent with the other Catholic Churches I have visited in other tourist areas, such as Newport Beach and Palm Springs.
About halfway through the first reading, I came across a phenomenon universal to Sunday morning church-going: the Cryin' Baby. It was not a huge disruption, and the reader didn't take offense. At home, if there's a Cryin' Baby during the homily, our priest will stop talking until the guilty parent brings the child outside. There is no crying room at home, and none at St. Dominic, apparently, they've been banned by the church.
I came on a special day for St. Dominic parish, it was the ninetieth anniversary of the consecration of their church building. As the priest explained during the homily, the parish was founded initially by Catholic immigrants (mostly Irish, I saw traces of this influence in the second reader, who had an Irish accent) in the 1850's. Their first church burned down in a fire, but they persisted, building their current church in 1919. The priest emphasized the importance of having a "holy space" in which to conduct religous ceremonies and to become closer to God. In today's reading, Jesus calls Zaccheus down from the sycamore tree, and goes to Zaccheus' home to bring him salvation. For the parishioners of St. Dominic, the father said, God calls them into their consecrated church, their "holy space," to bring them salvation. For this reason, he said, this consecrated church is "more than just the stones that make up the building."
St. Dominic's website touts the church's excellent acoustics. The band and choir, made up of about eight people, was certainly an interesting combination. There were about five singers, two acoustic guitar players, a flutist, and a pianist. The hymns were mostly familiar, and the singers were quite good. At St. Dominic, music is almost constant. The priest sang almost the entire consecration of the host. He would talk/sing through a prayer, often followed up by a chorus/hymn by the choir. I couldn't figure out what the musical style reminded me of, but at this point, I realized that it sounded a little like musical theater. This is not a complaint, the priest had a nice voice, and it made consecration less dry than usual.
Altogether, the Mass was very nice. I'm glad I chose St. Dominic as the first church, and I look forward to going to another church next week.