23 January 2011

Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family

This week, Dan, Loreto, and I took a trip out to the Ukrainian National Catholic Shrine of the Holy Family, a beautiful church near the Catholic University of America. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is an eastern-rite Catholic church, meaning that they are in communion with the Holy See, but are not part of the Latin Rite, which encompasses most of the Catholic Churches in the United States and around the world. Thus, members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are Catholic, but not “Roman” Catholic. More on this later.

The church building doesn’t look like any church I’ve ever seen before. Built on a sloping hillside, the church appears to resemble some sort of military battleship. Above a few feet of vertical wall is what appears to be a giant, sloping roof, topped with golden sphires, a distinctive feature of Slavic architecture. On the inside, the church had mostly plain white walls, with several Byzantine-style icons all around. The windows located on the slanted part of the church were designed to allow the sun to shine into the church differently during the different seasons, and to shine directly on the altar one or two days of the year. There was also what appeared to be a big golden fence with several icons on it in between the altar and the congregation. During the Mass, a set of gates in the center of the fence was opened, but much of the action of the Mass was still covered from view.

The Mass was, of course, in Ukrainian, and the three of us had no idea what was going on most of the time. We tried to follow along in the bilingual liturgy guide, though it was tough to keep track of what page we were on. We kept looking over the shoulder of the gentleman sitting in front of us to see what page we should be on. There were a few things I noticed while trying to follow along. The first was that there was very little talking, and a whole lot of singing. The three priests would chant out a verse, and the congregation, along with the choir, located in a loft above the parishioners, would respond. Unaccompanied by any musicians, much of the Mass was done in this purely vocal, call-and-response form.

They did a few things that reminded me of Our Lady of Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Church I visited last spring. The first was their use of incense at several points during the Mass. Roman Catholics generally reserve incense for special occasions. Another was the way they presented the Eucharist. Whereas most Roman Catholic Churches offer a small wafer as the body of Christ and wine as the blood of Christ, the Ukrainians offered a cube-shaped piece of bread that was soaked with wine. Mixing bread and wine, a practice known as “intinction,” is considered a big no-no in the Roman Catholic Church, but is still practiced in some Eastern churches. Rather than directly placing the Eucharist in our hands or mouths, the priests at the Shrine of the Holy Family stuck the Eucharist in our mouths with golden spoons. I joked to my friends that it was the first time I had ever been “spoon-fed” the Eucharist.

After Mass, we spoke briefly with the Grand Knight of the Holy Family’s Knights of Columbus Council, Brian. He introduced us to one of the priests, who explained some of the Ukrainian Catholic traditions and symbols. Normally, he said, the church would have icons all over the walls, but they simply didn’t have the money to put them in right away. The big golden fence in front of the altar was called an “icon screen,” and when the priests moved outside of it to distribute the Eucharist or read from the Gospel, it symbolized the way God moves toward us to awaken the spirit inside of us. Altogether, quite an interesting Mass. 



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21 January 2011

DC Catholicism in the News: Shriver's Wake

Sargent Shriver passed away a few days ago, and his wake was held today at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. According to AP: 
 WASHINGTON (AP) — Former colleagues and admirers of R. Sargent Shriver are gathering to offer condolences to the family of the first Peace Corps director and 1972 Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Hundreds of people streamed into Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. Friday evening for a wake for Shriver, who was the brother-in-law of President John Kennedy.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and journalist Bill Moyers were expected to eulogize Shriver.
Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton are expected to speak at the funeral Mass on Saturday. First lady Michelle Obama will also attend.
Shriver will be buried late Saturday in the same Hyannis, Mass. cemetery as his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He died this week at age 95 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

A Link to the Story Here

17 January 2011

Holy Name Church

Today, I went to church with my good friends, John and Loreto. In honor of our friend Kate, who moved back to Illinois from D.C. last month, I decided we should visit Holy Name, a church she told me about a while back. Holy Name is in Northeast Washington, near Gallaudet University, where Kate was attending school.

The church building wasn’t overwhelming. The red, rectangular-shaped building looked more like a barn than a Catholic Church. Outside is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary welcoming people into the building. The worship space is actually on the second floor of the building, with a parish hall on the first floor. This arrangement looks a little bit funny from the outside: the second story has stained glass windows, while the first floor has no windows at all. The actual worship space was pleasant, with plain white walls and patterned stained glass. It felt a lot like some of the other African-American parishes that I’ve visited, which have sort of a Southern Protestant feel.

The singing duties were performed by a small choir accompanied by the piano. Though certainly not as energetic as the choir at St. Teresa of Avila, this group got me swaying and clapping my hands a few times during Mass. Father Villanueva talked about the phrase “Lamb of God” during his homily today. He said it conjured three familiar images: that of the sacrificial lamb of the Old Covenant, that of the sacrifice of the Passover and the blood of the lamb that was to be smeared on the door of the chosen people, and that of a lamb going peacefully to be slaughtered. Father called on us, like Jesus, to become sacrificial lambs by loving and forgiving without condition.



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16 January 2011

Immaculate Conception Church

Ah, back to Washington, D.C. After a wonderful Christmas break back home in California, it was back to my church project. After arriving home on the 8th, I set out for Immaculate Conception Church, a very beautiful church near the Washington Convention Center, north of Chinatown.

Not to be confused with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Conception was one of several parishes formed during the Civil War, when a boost in Washington’s population began to overwhelm the capacities of St. Patrick Church, the first church in the Federal City. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Mary, Mother of God, and St. Matthew’s were also formed during this period.
It’s a striking red building, with one large tower at the center of the church. It also has large glass windows which are quite prominent on the front and side exterior of the church. On the inside, I found a lot of dark-colored wood, which reminded me of St. Gabriel Church. I was immediately struck by the strong smell of pine, which was coming from the Christmas trees and wreaths that were located all over the worship space.

Immaculate Conception was an interesting parish. It seems like a relatively young one, there were a number of children and young families present. It was also racially diverse, with a significant number of both African-American and white parishioners. The pastor, Monsignor Watkins, was energetic and humorous. To discuss our relationship with God, he brought up a boy who was to be baptized later in the Mass. He compared the boy’s relationship with his parents with his relationship with God, saying that “we know who we are because we know whose we are.” We know who our parents are because they look like us; we know that we are God’s children because we were created in his image. He said that through baptism, the young man would be “born again as an adopted son of God.”