On this lunchtime bike ride I went to The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where I attended the noon service. Established in 1840, and located downtown at 1725 Rhode Island Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
The Cathedral is constructed of red brick with sandstone and terra cotta trim in the Romanesque Revival style with Byzantine elements. Designed by architect C. Grant La Farge, it is in the shape of a Latin cross and seats about 1,200 persons. The interior is richly decorated in marble and semiprecious stones, notably a 35-foot mosaic of Matthew behind the main altar by Edwin Blashfield. The cathedral is capped by an octagonal dome and is capped by a cupola and crucifix. As St. Matthew’s Cathedral and Rectory, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As a Federal employee, I think it is also noteworthy that because of Matthew’s duties as a public official, namely a tax collector, the Church has designated him as the patron saint of civil servants and all who serve government in some capacity. Because of this connection to government employees, and the Cathedral’s location in the nation’s capital, many prominent government figures, including Senators and Congressmen, members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, and many other dignitaries including, at times, the President, attend the Mass there. The requiem mass during the state funeral of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, thus far the only president who was a member of the Catholic Church, was also conducted at the Cathedral in 1963. The iconic photograph of John-John Kennedy saluting his father was taken out front afterward.
St. Matthew’s Cathedral is also the location for one of the most famous Red Masses in the world. Each year on the day before the term of the Supreme Court of the United States begins, Mass is celebrated to request guidance from the Holy Spirit for the legal profession.
It was an uplifting and educational service. However, I must confess that as I sat there and took in the ornate cathedral’s elaborately decorated interior and appreciated its beauty; I couldn’t help but think of the numerous homeless people on the sidewalk in front of the church’s steps who were asking for money from people as they entered. Although it is commonplace in D.C., and while I did not see it as reflecting on the church or the parish, I felt a sense of uneasiness as I found myself unable to reconcile the opulent excess of the cathedral with the unmet basic needs of the individuals outside.