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Issue 09 – Lent 2022

Brass Rubbings

Ride Off to Marlboro

On a crypt.


Though I’ve been attached to my parish in the Archdiocese of Washington for several years now, I still find myself mumbling some warnings—generously, some prefatory remarks—to friends when they visit for the first time. Experience has taught me that there can be something off-putting about the church, which some have described to me as “oddly touching” and others as “bizarre and overwhelming.” My Catholic roommate grumbles when I drag him there, and my Protestant roommate says, politely, that he would be scandalized by the entire celebration; but this parish is to me the most peaceful on earth, and the one which has taught me to pray better than any other I have frequented.

Our pastor celebrates the traditional Mass in Latin every Sunday, from the carpeted altar at the back of the church, but in any language he would be impossible to hear because of the gurgles and yelps of small children, and the whoosh of the H.V.A.C. and clanging of pipes, which echo around the low, flat, and spare nave of Saint Francis de Sales, partway underground, a parish older than our nation or the capital city that surrounds it, gathered in a church which remains unbuilt. The great churches of Christendom, which travelers admire today, have been said to represent in their fine stones and glass the human soul, the great mysteries of our faith, and the whole wide world. Though its paint is often peeling, this building resembles nothing to me so much as the Church itself, always only part of the way there, off-putting to some, and full of the wonderful grace of our life with God.

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About the author

Christopher McCaffery

Christopher McCaffery works at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and writes the Washington Review of Books, an email newsletter.

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