For those of my readers who are in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, I would like to extend an invitation to you to join me this Sunday, November 20th at 11:00 a.m., for what promises to be a particularly memorable celebration of the Eucharist at my parish of St. Stephen Martyr. St. Stephen’s is located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Streets, N.W., a couple of blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, as you head towards Georgetown. Even if you are not a Catholic, or of any particular religious affiliation, you will be most welcome. It will be a grand opportunity for you to not only experience a beautiful celebration of the mass with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, but also to admire a large and remarkable new piece of sculpture, as well as to hear some magnificent sacred music performed exceedingly well.
I should first provide a little background, for my readers who are not Catholics. This weekend the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King, which is the end of our liturgical year. The new Church year begins the following weekend with the 1st Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas. For those of us who are members of St. Stephen’s however, which some of us younger members refer to affectionately as “St. Yuppie’s”, this Sunday will be an extra-special celebration of the feast reminding us of Christ’s promise of His eventual return in glory.
It just so happens that this the 50th anniversary of our present parish building, which was completed in 1961, though this is the second church to sit on the site, as St. Stephen’s was originally founded in 1866. To mark the occasion, Cardinal Wuerl will be dedicating our beautiful new front doors, featuring bronze sculptural reliefs of the life of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, by artist Anthony Visco, and about which I have written about previously in a photo-essay. The Cardinal will also be dedicating our new vestibule, which has provided better lighting to the main entrance to the church and improved insulation from the street noise and the elements on busy Pennsylvania Avenue just outside.
We are also very fortunate to have, as of the past few months, our new music director and organist Neil Weston, a native of the UK who studied at Oxford, the University of London, and the Royal College of Music, and served as Assistant Master of Music at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex before moving to the United States. He is an extraordinary musician in his own right, and has taken our choir – which was always very good – to even greater musical heights. A regular Sunday mass at St. Stephen’s since Mr. Weston’s arrival is one marked with wonderful music as it is, aided by the superb acoustics of the somewhat Neo-Cistercian interior of our church, with its parabolic arches amplifying and enriching the sound as in old, Gothic-era monastic churches in Europe. I for one am looking forward with great anticipation to what the music for this coming Sunday, on this very special occasion, will sound like.
For the mass itself, I have the great privilege of serving as the first reader from the Scriptures, and will be reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.
(Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17)
And for those of you interested in history, below is a picture of JFK coming out of mass at St. Stephen’s back in 1963. There is also a great picture of him and Jackie doing so one Sunday in 1962, which hangs in the church lobby, though unfortunately I cannot seem to find a scan of it online. While the building itself may not be that old, because of its location in the Nation’s Capital, midway between the White House and Georgetown, it has had a number of prominent people worship here regularly, or drop in/pass by from time to time, including even Pope Benedict XVI in the Popemobile during the Papal Visit to Washington a few years ago. In fact, there is a great photo in the lobby of him raising his hand in benediction as he passed in front of St. Stephen’s.
In short, with what promises to be a wonderful celebration, as well as the beautiful, sunny, and mild autumn weather anticipated for Sunday, you have every reason to consider joining us on our parish’s special day. All is done for the greater glory of God, as we praise and thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed on the members of St. Stephen’s for so many years, and which encourages us to reach out to our surrounding community. So even if just for a brief visit, gentle reader, it would be wonderful to see you there this weekend.
JFK leaving St. Stephen’s after mass