21 February 2010

Cathedral of St. Matthew

I’ve done a lot of reading and research on St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and I’ve come to one conclusion: it’s kind of a big deal. It is the seat of Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, it was the site of John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass in 1963, and it hosts an annual “Red Mass,” which asks the Holy Spirit to guide the nation’s lawmakers, which is attended by many Congressman and Supreme Court Justices. I figured it was about time to head over for a visit, and my good friends Loreto and Amanda decided to come along. St. Matthew’s was walking distance, about halfway between Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle.

On the outside, the church doesn’t look like much. It is certainly big, but it’s dwarfed by the colossal office buildings that surround it. The red brick exterior is pretty plain looking. The inside of the building, however, is magnificent. Marble and tile line the walls, forming beautiful images of Christ, St. Matthew, and other Biblical figures. On top of the high ceiling is a monstrous dome, which allows light into the space.

St. Matthew’s offers a ten o’clock Mass in Latin, and I jumped at the opportunity. I initially thought the whole service would be in Latin, including the readings and the homily, just like the Spanish and Italian Masses that I had seen. But then I realized this was silly. Why would a priest give a homily in a language that literally NO ONE speaks? The readings, homily, and some of the hymns were in English, while most of the prayers were in Latin. The choir was made up of twenty or so people dressed in flowing, red robes. They led the congregation with hymns and chants that echoed beautifully through the space.

Today’s Gospel reading told the story of the devil tempting Jesus in the desert, after Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. The priest explained that the devil tempted Christ with food, power, and control over God, things that symbolize a lack of reliance on God. He reminded his parishioners that there are greater temptations than the sweets or television that they gave up for Lent: there is the temptation to stop relying on God. During Lent, he said, we are able to overcome our temptations through Christ.


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  1. May I make a suggestion for this coming Sunday, March 7?
    St. Mary's on 5th and H, NW at 9am.
    It will be a Missa Cantata, that is a sung Mass in the extraordinary form.
    But, make sure you return another time for the 11:30 am Mass in Cantonese/Mandarin.

    And the best time to visit the basilica will be Saturday April 24th at 1 pm for the first Pontifical High Mass in 40 years during the visit of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

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