Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, Washington, DC

Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Musical1
Church: Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle
Location: Washington DC, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 18 December 2009, 12:10pm

The building

The present building was begun in 1893 and replaced an earlier structure. It was designed by the noted architect C. Grant LaFarge, whose firm was also principal architect of New York's Cathedral of St John the Divine until replaced by Ralph Adams Cram, and whose imaginative designs for many of New York's subway stations enthralled commuters for decades (alas, most of these stations are now gone). St Matthew's is a red brick building of Romanesque/Byzantine design. The interior is very ornate, with mosaics all over. In front of the altar is an inscription in marble marking where President John F. Kennedy's casket rested during his funeral mass. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved at a side altar.

The church

The cathedral is fittingly named in honor of St Matthew, who, having been a tax collector, is the patron saint of government workers. Its location in the heart of downtown Washington makes it popular with students and office workers as well as government officials. They sponsor adult formation classes in English and Spanish; a Cathedral Club, a social and spiritual growth organization for adults; and several programs for the homeless as well as for needy families. The cathedral ministers to a large Hispanic community and celebrates a mass in Latin (novus ordo) each Sunday.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is on Rhode Island Avenue between Connecticut Avenue and 17th Street near Dupont Circle, a busy area of shops and office buildings.

The cast

I have no idea. The priest never said his name, and the lector slurred it. The previous Sunday's bulletin didn't help.

What was the name of the service?

Daily mass

How full was the building?

Probably about 50 people in attendance. The cathedral can hold about 2,000. Everyone was pretty well spread out, so it didn't look as empty as it actually was.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I stood in line for confession, and the lady in front of me told me that she had been waiting for over 15 minutes. That was my greeting.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, but nothing out of the ordinary about it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and prayerful. A few minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, the priest came out of the confessional and said he didn't have time to hear any more confessions. There were still five people in line ahead of me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good afternoon."

What books did the congregation use during the service?


What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The fact that that the church has many mosaics and other art, but you had to look very hard to find a picture of Jesus.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Stiff upper lip, but not overly stuffy. A quick low mass (though the alleluia was sung).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – Very conversational in tone.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He preached on the gospel for the day, Matthew 1:18-25 (an angel tells Joseph not to hesitate to take Mary as his wife). He basically summarized the reading without elaborating upon it, although he did opine that Joseph may have intended to divorce Mary because he wanted no part of being Jesus' foster father.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The fact that a group of people had taken time out of their workday to go to mass, and it wasn't all old ladies.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Being denied the opportunity to go to confession, and having really to look to find Jesus.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The priest extended his hand and said, "God bless you. Happy Advent." After that everyone left without any acknowledgments or visiting. I tried to look lost, but no one noticed, although the priest did say hello to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – I liked the fact that it was a young crowd, but there wasn't any real sense of community. And not seeing a representation of Jesus among all the artwork really bothered me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, even so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Having to look to find Jesus.

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