19 December 2010

St. Peter's on Capitol Hill

I've been visiting the Library of Congress a lot recently, both to study and to do research. Every time I'm around the Capitol Hill neighborhood, I run into St. Peter's Catholic Church and I always make a mental note that I still have to go there. I figured it would be an appropriate place to visit for my last D.C. church visit of the year. It's located about a block away from the Capitol South Metro Station, located at 2nd and C Streets, Southeast.

St. Peter's is sort of a sister parish to St. Joseph's, which also gives itself the suffix, "on Capitol Hill." Both have similar architecture, and they're located just a few blocks away from each other on opposites of the Capitol building (St. Joseph's for the Senate side, St. Peter's for the House side, I was once told). St. Peter's has the same pseudo-Gothic style found in other downtown D.C. churches, and I found it remarkably similar to St. Mary, Mother of God. Above the columns of the church, extending all the way around the church, was what appeared to be a banner, with gold letters and a Latin and English message. I couldn't understand the Latin, but the English, at the front of the church, said "Christ has died. Christ is risen."

The church appears to have a pretty young parish, with lots of 30 and 40-somethings and plenty of young families. The Capitol Hill neighborhood, after all, is known for being a haven for young professionals and Hill staffers. The "folk" choir group, made up of about six singers accompanied by two guitars, had some soothing interpretations of familiar Advent hymns. Father Carter was offering confession with a group of other priests after Mass, and in his sermon, he talked about why confession was a necessary part of our relationship with God. He said that the great thing about God's love was that it was unconditional, and that we don't need to live up to his standards to accept his love. The important part of our relationship with God, he said, is how we respond to God's love, and we can help to heal that relationship by going to confession. He said that fear of shame or embarrassment was what kept most people away from confession, and then quoted Jesus, saying "Be not afraid."

St. Peter's on Capitol Hill


Here's my list of Churches that I've visited in Washington so far. My goal for 2010 was to visit over 40 in both California and Washington, I ended up getting to 27...not bad!

View Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

05 December 2010

Holy Trinity Catholic Church

After coming to St. Anselm’s, I asked Kate’s friend Richard to pick a church for this Sunday. He picked Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, a parish that I’ve been looking forward to visiting for a while. The same group, Richard, Kate, John, and I, headed over to Holy Trinity from the Rosslyn Metro Station. We crossed the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and walked up a strangely placed set of stairs to get to the church at 36th St. NW. John pointed out that the stairs looked like the ones featured in a famous scene from the horror film, The Exorcist. As it turns out, they were.

            Holy Trinity is another one of the churches in contention for the title of “oldest parish in Washington.” It was formed in 1794 by Jesuit missionaries, the same year that St. Patrick parish (located downtown) claims to have been formed. I’m certainly not one to settle these kinds of disputes, but there appear to be two important questions: 1) which parish was formed earlier in 1794? and 2) should Holy Trinity be removed from contention since Georgetown was not considered to be part of the city of Washington at the time?  I think St. Francis De Sales can also throw its hat into the ring because of its claim of descending from the Queen’s Chapel, where Catholic worship started in 1722. Anyone have a good answer to this question?

            The church itself was built in the early 19th century, and it certainly doesn’t feel much like a Catholic church. Both the inside and outside of the building feature tall Corinthian columns, indicative of the “Greek Revival” style of architecture popular during the early 19th century. The outside looks very much like the White House, the Treasury building, and many other federal buildings. Because of its large, overhanging balcony, the interior felt a little like Ford’s Theater.

            The mass was very crowded. We were a little late and had to stand at the back of the church. There were lots of families there with small children, and we heard plenty of the whining, shouting, and crying that usually comes with such an environment. I quite enjoyed listening to the choir perform. There were about eight singers accompanied by three guitars and a pianist. They performed some of my favorite Advent hymns, including “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,” and “Soon and Very Soon.”

            In his homily, Father Murray discussed the calls for reform that were presented in today’s readings. Jesus left his apostles to do his work of bringing peace on earth. Since the world has not changed, some claim that he was not the Messiah. Father countered this argument by saying that the world has not changed because we have not taken Christ’s message upon ourselves. He told the parish to care for the poor and to “exclude no one from our love.”

Also, at the end of Mass, I realized that Speaker of the House (soon to be House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi was in attendance. I managed to snap a picture of her as she left. This is my third major politician sighting while visiting Catholic churches around the country. This summer, I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger at church in Santa Monica and this fall, I saw Joe Biden, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas at the Red Mass in Washington, D.C. I wonder who’s next?!



View of the Interior of the Church from the Upper Balcony

Speaker Pelosi Leaves The Building:

Churches That I've Been To So Far (The list is getting big!)

View Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

St. Anselm's Abbey

I visited St. Anselm’s Abbey a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been far too busy with school work to write about it. I’m glad I’m doing it now, because it was such a wonderful experience. I asked my friend Kate to pick the church that week, and she chose St. Anselm’s. St. Anselm’s is a small monastery on the very northeastern edge of Washington, D.C. It was not particularly easy to get to, but I trekked over there with Kate, her friend Richard, and John one of GW’s FOCUS missionaries.

The abbey was a 40-acre property which was beautiful on a mid-November morning. The church was actually one of the smaller buildings on the campus. It was a tiny brick building that looked like it couldn’t hold more than 40 or 50 people. There was a wooden roof and some brilliant stained glass, which lit the church beautifully as the sun started to shine through. The monks were seated in front of the congregation, facing each other, with the priest and the altar in the very rear. A crucifix was hung from the ceiling near the middle of the building; I thought it was interesting because the vertical and horizontal parts of the cross were of the same length. The whole thing felt very much like an old Protestant church in rural England. I learned later that the Benedictines, who built St. Anselm’s, are an order that hails from Scotland.

            The mass was very low-key, but I thought that was perfect for such a peaceful setting. One of the brothers served as a cantor, accompanied by a small organ. He wasn’t a particularly good singer, but I don’t think any of the monks were. Each week, the monks who have been ordained as priests (the “Brothers” who are also “Fathers”) trade off leading the Sunday services. This week was Father Phillip’s turn. He talked about our concept of time, particularly the “end times.” He said that since, according to God, history ended at the crucifixion, we are really living in the “end times.” He said that the “end times” could be quiet and peaceful, like the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning.

            After Mass, John, Kate, Richard and I talked to Father Phillip and asked him to show us around the grounds. After taking some time to start preparations for the day’s lunch, he took us around for about two hours! I was particularly impressed with the numerous historical artifacts of the Abbey. He showed us furniture from the Middle Ages, a first edition of a book by Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus, and my personal favorite, a bunker constructed on the property to defend Washington, D.C. during the Civil War era. I eagerly climbed over a fallen tree to get into the ditch where the bunker was located, nearly causing Father Phillip to have a heart attack. Father Phillip also showed us the small cemetery where monks and friends of the monastery were buried. It was beautiful to see men buried in the same area where they had committed so much of their lives. In such a peaceful wood, it was hard to imagine that I was still in Washington, D.C. 



Civil War-Era Bunker

Shrine to Mary

Latin Inscription "His Mercy Is To Those Who Fear Him"