07 March 2010

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church

It is a beautiful morning in Washington today. It’s warmed up a little bit, almost all of the snow has melted, and the sun is shining brightly. Today I went to St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church, one of the oldest and most highly reputed churches in the District. It was dedicated in 1859, but the Church flourished after World War II when the Jesuit Father Horace McKenna began to run the show. Today it is also home to Gonzaga College High School and the Father McKenna Center, which seeks to help the poor and homeless. St. Aloysius Gonzaga is located on North Capitol Street, close to Union Station.

St. Aloysius has a beautiful and imposing building; it’s a great example of neo-Roman architecture. I was a little disappointed that the 9:30 Mass was not in the main worship area, but in a smaller space in what appeared to be the basement of the church. However, the 9:30 Mass boasts a gospel choir, and I’m a sucker for gospel choirs (By the way, they were great). Mass at St. Aloysius was honestly quite different from everywhere else I’ve seen it in D.C. That being said, it was awesome. St. Aloysius doesn’t advertise itself as a black Church, but the service today seemed to fit in with the other black parishes that I’ve visited so far. What I found interesting was that a Mass with a black priest and deacon, as well as a gospel choir, was attended mostly by white people.

There were a couple of rituals that struck me as strange. During the prayer of the faithful (“Lord, Hear our Prayer”), the congregation was encouraged to speak up and give their own intentions. Some asked for prayers for soldiers, friends and loved ones, while others put forth bold political statements. One woman prayed for an end to war, and then said that we shouldn’t pay federal income tax to support the military. Another person asked to pray that the Republicans would pass healthcare legislation, and another prayed that the Archdiocese would end their practices of discrimination (presumably those against homosexual couples, as has been in the news recently). While I’m not necessarily opposed to the last two, I felt a little uncomfortable. I think it’s best to keep politics out of the worship area, especially when presenting intentions that everyone prays for. Finally, before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, everyone was asked to get out of their seats and stand by the altar. I LOVED IT. The congregation got a front row seat to watch Father Glenn bless the Eucharist, and it created an unbelievable sense of intimacy and reverence. We all held hands as one big family during the “Our Father” and we all shook hands and offered peace before we made it back to our seats. Electrifying.

Father Glenn delivered a very simple message in his homily, but it was one of the most eloquent responses to Scripture that I’ve ever heard. His theme was that “our God is a God of Second Chances.” He said that a bush that could be burned and not consumed, a people that were enslaved, yet would be free, and a tree that bore no fruit, but would not be chopped down were all examples of a “God of Second Chances.” Lent, he told his congregation, is a time to focus on whatever killed your first chance. He also reminded them that there is someone in all our lives who deserves a second chance. In my lame paraphrase, I cannot even attempt to capture what a profound and eloquent statement Father Glenn made. As with everything else at this uniquely awesome Church, you will have to see it for yourself.

St. Aloysius Website
Interesting Interview with Father Glenn


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  1. Michael thanks for coming to visit on Sunday. And thanks for your kind words.

  2. You're very welcome! It was my pleasure.

  3. I found your blog randomly, thank you for sharing your experiences!

  4. You've GOT to go back and visit the main sanctuary! It's beautiful!

    Join us this Saturday for the Annual Seven Church Walk for Young Adults!

    I'd love to meet you and hear more about your travels!

    Laura Ferstl

  5. @Ginnie- You're very welcome.

    @Laura- I'll try to come back soon!

  6. Hi Michael just wanted to update you that we are now using the Upper Church for our masses. ( except June 5 when it will be used for Gonzaga's Graduation)


  7. Lisa,

    I will be sure to stop by when I am back in the District (in September). If you'd like, you can shoot me an email at capitolcatholic@gmail.com and we can try to meet up and talk after Mass.


  8. wow I really miss St. Al's. It was shut down when I was 12. I've kept meaning to go back on a weekday but since the roof was damaged in April, even those haven't been going on. I miss the sense of community it had- it was one of the few religious settings where I felt truly loved and involved, even as a kid. I haven't found that since.