I went to another church downtown this week, St. Patrick. Founded in 1794, it claims to be the oldest Roman Catholic Parish in the District of Columbia. Located at the intersection of 10th and G Street, it’s a short Metro ride away, walking distance from Metro Center.
The church’s design is very similar to the other ones I’ve visited. Columns flank the pews, leading up to the altar. It’s a medium sized worship space, not as wide as St. Dominic, but longer than the cramped Holy Rosary. Even though the church was plenty long, the first thing I noticed was the crammed pews. As I sat down, I barely had enough room to put my legs out, and the back of the seat seemed extraordinarily stiff. I must admit, I was pretty tired, and the uncomfortable pews made it impossible for me to doze off during the Mass. Maybe that’s the point.
The cross behind the altar was strange, but beautiful once I figured it out. It was marble, and depicted two figures on the cross. One was Christ, with hands outstretched. Christ was inside a larger figure, carved into the cross. The larger figure looked like an imprint that you make when you lie down in sand. Why was Christ inside this looming figure? Well, here’s the conclusion I came to. The larger figure’s arms were extended outwards, with hands pointing downward, seemingly limp. I realized that this was the outline of Christ suffering on the crucifix, the image generally depicted on decorative crosses. Upon second look, the smaller Christ figure had his arms pointed upwards, and he looked up towards heaven. The cross was commenting on the dual nature of the crucifixion. While we often look at the crucifixion as an event of sadness and suffering, it was also a moment of beauty and hope, because Christ sacrificed himself to bring salvation to his people on earth. The larger figure represents the suffering of the crucifixion, while the smaller figure is a reminder that it was also a moment of hope and salvation. (If I didn't describe it well enough, see the third or fourth picture below, and click to enlarge it.)
I was twenty minutes early for 12:00 Mass, and the church was almost empty. It seemed pretty empty up until about two minutes before, when large groups started pouring in. This Mass was more crowded than the others I’ve been to so far. This might have been because of the parish, or it may have been because this was the first noon Mass I’ve been to. I’d put my money on the noon factor: I figure most DC Catholics have just as hard a time as I do waking up early on a Sunday.
As the Mass’s one singer welcomed the congregation, a large family paraded through the church, taking up the first two rows of pews. I noticed that there were a lot of families in the congregation, surprising because the parish is so old, and the priests and deacon were certainly advanced in years.
The clergymen may have been elderly, but they were certainly not past their prime. The priest who gave the homily presented some interesting observations explaining why we need to have Christ in our lives. He said that temptation was really just a “scam,” like the scams we hear about in the news, to make us think we can be satisfied without following God. He told a story about a fudge sundae that he ate, and compared it to the nature of sin. He said that while it initially satisfied him, the more he ate, the less he was satisfied. Similarly, he said, pursuing anything other than God to achieve satisfaction was “destined to fail.”
The homily was nicely accompanied by the small children seated throughout the church, whose crying and shouting echoed cacophonously throughout the entire Mass. The priest finished his remarks just as the little boy behind me finished his third recitation of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.”
I’m having a lot of fun with this project, hope you guys are enjoying reading it. Leave me a comment, I would love to hear what you have to say!
Pictures (click to enlarge):