18 May 2011

St. Martin of Tours Church

For my final church visit of the year, I asked my good friend John, who’s gone with me to a bunch of different churches, to pick which church he’d like to go to. I also wanted him to do it because he’s not coming back to GW next year as a FOCUS missionary, since joining the seminary to study to become a priest next year. At any rate, he picked the 9 AM Mass at St. Martin of Tours in Northeast Washington. After trying to figure out how long it would take to take the Metro there, a trip involving several transfers and a considerable walk to the church, I suggested that we just walk the entire way from Foggy Bottom. It was about a forty minute walk up Rhode Island Avenue, and John, Loreto and I got to enjoy a beautiful day in Washington.
            St. Martin of Tours is in an interesting location, situated on hill right next to a bridge going over North Capitol Street. It was hard to distinguish a single architectural style on the building, it seemed to embrace neo-classical Greek and Roman architecture. The interior of the church had mostly plain white walls, with blue stained glass windows. At the front of the church were two banners, one depicting human figures dancing, and another showing a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. At the rear of the church, below the choir loft, there were two quilts hung with African-influenced patterns. The area behind the altar had a large wooden frame and a golden cross; it had a very modern feel.
            There was one cantor singing accompanied by the powerful pipe organ. The Mass was interesting because not all of the pews had kneelers, so rather than kneeling, the parish stood up. I asked Deacon Robert about this after Mass, and he said that the standing was also something the parish chose to do regardless of the missing kneelers. Father Michael gave the homily, and discussed the appearance of Jesus to the men on the road to Emmaeus. He reminded us that these fellows were leaving Jerusalem disappointed before Jesus appeared to them. While they may have given up on Christ, but Christ did not give up on them. Father said that our mothers often do the same thing in our lives, and then called the church’s mothers up to the altar for a Mother’s Day blessing. When he did, a long line of mothers formed that went all the way to the back of the church.
John, Loreto, and I went downstairs after Mass for a fundraiser for the parish youth group’s production of The Wiz. We had a nice time talking with Deacon Robert and our new friend Irene, a nursing professor at Georgetown University who supervised a service-learning project at St. Martin of Tours. It was a great way to end the semester.

St. Martin of Tours Website (The noisiest church website I've ever been on)


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St. Mary Mother of God Church (Tridentine Latin Mass)

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow Knight of Columbus Peter suggested a trip to St. Mary, Mother of God Church in Chinatown to see their Tridentine Latin Mass. I jumped at the chance to go, as did several other friends from the Knights of Columbus and the Newman Center: Christina, Francisco, and (another) Michael. I had been to St. Mary Mother of God before to see their 11:30 AM Mass in Cantonese (Chinese), so I already knew what it was like to sit in that church for an hour without having any idea what was going on.

The Tridentine Latin Mass is the Mass that was performed in the Catholic Church before the 1962 Vatican Conference, which produced a new order of the Mass (known as “Novus Ordo,” or “New Order”) and allowed Masses to be given in vernacular languages. I have previously seen a “Novus Ordo” Latin Mass, a Mass in which the post-Vatican II Mass was given in Latin, but it is much rarer to see the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Latin Mass, which can only be performed with the permission of a local Archbishop.

St. Mary Mother of God was the same neo-Gothic church that I had seen before, except for a worn down shrine section of the church, which had since been improved with a navy-blue background and a large metal image of the Virgin Mary. The congregation was very conservatively dressed, with men generally wearing suits, and many women wearing veils. There were a lot of elderly folks at Mass, but a few families as well, like the one with five or six children that sat in front of us. Nearly everyone at the Mass was Caucasian.

The Mass itself was a very interesting affair. For much of the celebration, the priest, had his back to the congregation. He would chant a verse of a prayer or reading, and a response would come either from the congregation or the fantastic choir sitting in the loft at the rear of the church. The choir was fantastic, and their wonderful songs and chants filled the space with a very uplifting ambience. I was pretty confused as to what was going on throughout the Mass because, of course, I failed to grab one of the Latin Missal booklets located at the front of the church. I didn’t realize that nearly every section of the Mass was sung either by the choir or the priest, including the first two readings. I thought I had missed the entire Liturgy of the Word until the priest read the Gospel (in English).

The priest, who wore some sort of hat during the Mass (it looked like a beret) and spoke with a British accent, said in his homily that if we do not actively engage our faith, we become passive spectators to a grand spectacle, like the British Royal Wedding. He said that to avoid doubt, like that of the apostle Thomas in the Gospel reading, we need to work our faith out like a muscle. Part of exercising that faith, he said, was receiving Holy Communion, which preserves Christ’s resurrection over time. Later in the Mass, the congregation received Holy Communion in a manner that I’ve never seen before; we knelt before a small wall in front of the altar, and the priests and Eucharistic ministers distributed the host to our tongues as we knelt. It was a very interesting end to this very traditional Mass. Personally, I didn’t really feel connected to this Mass and some of my friends felt the same way. I think it is great that this tradition is kept alive, but I can also see why the Church moved away from the Tridentine Latin Mass and began to allow Masses in the vernacular. 


(This shrine has been recently refurbished)