Well, this was a sad week, as the Catholics of the world turned their attention to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. With that in mind, I planned to attend Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in the evening, because they offer a Mass in Haitian Creole. During the week, however, I read in the Washington Post that the priest who leads the Mass, Fr. Arsene Jasmin, had left for Haiti on Monday, and had not been heard from since then. I wasn’t sure if they were still going to have the Creole Mass, so I decided to go to one of the morning masses, delivered in Spanish. My suitemate, Loreto, and I headed out early for the 8 AM Mass. (At the beginning of the Mass, the priest discussed Haiti and Fr. Jasmin. My Spanish is not perfect, but I believe he said that they had heard from Fr. Jasmin and that he was all right.)
Shrine of the Sacred Heart is located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, in North-Central Washington, D.C. Columbia Heights is named after the Columbian College, which was located in the neighborhood in the 1800’s. Columbian College later moved to Foggy Bottom and became The George Washington University. Sacred Heart is located on a stretch of 16th Street famous for its many Protestant churches. Legend says that the Protestants tried to keep the Catholics away from the main drag for many years. Sacred Heart was built in the early twentieth century and caters to the large Hispanic population in Columbia Heights.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think this Church would be much. I had seen pictures of the building, but I wasn’t that impressed. Upon arrival, I realized that the church was a lot larger and more elaborate than I expected it to be. The building itself was massive, with a central focus on an elaborate housing for the crucifix located behind the altar. The building was capped by a large dome, and the altar was flanked by shrines dedicated to Jesus and the Virgin Mary. It reminded me a lot of a miniature version of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Great Shrines think alike.
Once again, I was challenged to listen to Mass in another language. I took Spanish in high school, so I could understand this service a little better than the Italian Mass at Holy Rosary. The priest’s opening remarks touched on the earthquake in Haiti, and the coming Martin Luther King holiday. He called on the congregation to remember the changes that Dr. King brought to the United States.
While I expected more traditional music in such an elaborate space, the band sounded a lot like a Spanish light-rock band. The cantor had a good, steady voice, and was accompanied by acoustic guitar, keyboard, percussion, and background vocalists. I think it is an interesting choice of music, one that brings new energy into what seems like an ancient place of worship.
I couldn’t really understand the readings, but I figured out what the Gospel reading was during the deacon’s homily. I heard him talking about Jesus being “presented” at a “wedding,” so I figured it was the story of the feast at Cana. It is his first miracle: when all the wine at the wedding feast has been finished, Jesus tells the servants to fetch him some water, which transforms into wine. I heard the priest talking about “San Juan,” referring to John the Baptist, an “angel” and Jesus’ mother, so he was focusing on the first events of the New Testament. The homily turned into a discussion of the importance of family. Though a young person may just want to talk to their boyfriend or girlfriend all the time, he said, family should still come first. Then, he started making a food analogy that I could not comprehend. He started talking about “tortillas” and “mais (corn).” I’m not sure what he was trying to say, but I seem to think it was along the lines of, “If the tortilla is no good, don’t blame the corn.” Whether that’s correct, and what exactly that means is beyond me.
This was a pretty early Mass, and Loreto and I were both pretty tired. Apparently not as tired as the priest, though. The deacon was giving what appeared to be an engaging sermon. He was making broad gestures, varying his vocal tone to emphasize important points, and eliciting responses from the audience. About half way through the speech, I looked over at the priest, and he appeared to be looking down and squinting at something. When I looked again, I noticed him drifting a little more to the side, and I realized that he was SLEEPING!! Now, I’ll confess that over the years, I’ve had some struggles to stay awake during Mass, but I wasn’t up in front of everyone! A little embarassing for him, but I will judge not, that I may not be judged. It was an early Mass, and even priests sometimes don’t get enough sleep. A college student should be the last person to mock someone else for having abnormal sleep patterns.
Altogether, quite a surprising Mass. I didn’t expect such a large, beautiful church, and I didn’t expect such an impressive turnout for an 8AM Mass. I’m also glad I had a chance to explore Columbia Heights a little bit.
I’d love to see some comments. Let me know what you think about my project! Do I write too much? Too little? Anywhere you’d like me to go? And who exactly reads this anyway?
Statue of James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921) Archbishop of Baltimore, the second American ever to be declared a Cardinal. First Chancellor of Catholic University of America.
This is a map of all the churches I've visited so far. Click on the blue markers to see which church is located at that point.
View Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map