>A Dominican Weekend (No Merengue Required)

>It is a big weekend for the Dominican friars here in the Nation’s Capital, and it’s not too late for you to get involved in their upcoming events this Saturday and Sunday!

The Priory of the Immaculate Conception is located at 487 Michigan Avenue NE here in Washington, D.C., only a couple of blocks from the Brookland-Catholic University Metro station on the Red Line. With the annual Cherry Blossom Festival kicking off this weekend, many tourists or residents with visitors will find themselves with much to do during the day, admiring the blossoms and participating in many cultural events, but may also find themselves wanting something more edifying to do with their evenings. A visit to the Priory is a welcome antidote to the crowds and hustle-and-bustle of tourist Washington. There is a wonderful sense of timelessness, as in the best European monasteries, where in its hallways, chapel, and cloister, the Priory imparts a sense of permanence and removal from the everyday world, while at the same time not feeling completely cut off from it.

On Saturday evening beginning at 6:30 pm the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies (“DHS”) will be holding their Spring Gala, and it is not too late for you to attend: online registration is closed, but tickets can still be purchased at the door. The evening will include a reception with food and drink (including beer brewed by the Student Brothers at the Priory!) prepared and served by the Dominican Student Brothers; a silent auction of many – for lack of a better word – tempting items, including such lots as signed prints by my friend Matt Alderman of New Liturgical Movement and Shrine of the Holy Whapping fame, as well as pieces by local artists, and tickets to events at The Kennedy Center, The Folger, and The Shakespeare Company, among others. The evening will conclude with Compline in the beautiful main chapel of the Priory. I have been looking forward to this evening for many weeks now, and hope to see not only old friends but perhaps meet some of my readers in person.

On Sunday evening at 7:15pm my friend Brother Innocent Smith, who was recently interviewed by The Washington Examiner about the season of Lent, will be giving a talk at the DHS on Lenten Gregorian Chant, as part of the series “The Passion of Christ: Conferences for Lent 2011”. More specifically Fra. Innocent, whom I have found to be quite the scholar of early music, will be examining three of the Dominican chants for Compline: “Evigila”, “Media Vita” and “O Rex Gloriose”. He writes:

The Dominican liturgy preserves many ancient chants that are sung during Lent and Passion-tide. These chants present beautiful articulations of Christian teachings on death, suffering, dependence on God’s mercy, and Christ’s protection of his people. This presentation will include the singing of several Latin chants, and will offer an exposition of their history, influence, and theological meaning.

If you cannot make this Sunday’s talk, for your reference keep in mind that there will be Sunday evening talks in this series up to and including Palm Sunday. Upcoming talks by the friars will consider St. Luke’s narrative of the Passion, a modern-day example of St. Dismas the “Good Thief” of Calvary, and the iconography of the Passion and Redemption in the work of the great 20th century fiction author Flannery O’Connor. The Dominicans are, of course, more properly known as the Order of Preachers, and because of their apostolate take great care in crafting their public presentations so as to prove not only well-thought out but also memorable.

I would also like the reader to consider the idea of visiting the Priory as a small, personal pilgrimage – and not just because the friars have quite a number of very interesting saintly relics in the cloister (which they do.) A pilgrimage does not, as some would think it, necessarily entail an enormous outlay of time and resources combined with personal discomfort in order to reach a distant point on the map. We forget that, for many centuries, people would flock to the nearby houses of the various religious orders at Lent and other times of the year for periods of prayer, reflection, and works of piety, during which their spiritual and temporal needs would be provided for.

A true pilgrimage begins with the desire to change the heart, rather than simply ticking off a “been there, done that” box on some sort of list of major Catholic shrines and Lent itself is meant to serve as a pilgrimage from death to life. We are approaching the mid-point of Lent, but there is still time for you to act on those Lenten resolutions which you wanted to take on with all sincerity back on March 9th. Spending some time with the Dominicans this weekend will be a tremendous boost for you to continue to persevere in those efforts, or to make a new start at sticking to them as you continue your Lenten pilgrimage.

Statue of St. Dominic outside of the
Priory of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

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