Diversity on Display: Catholicism in the African-American Community

The Archdiocese of  Washington enjoys a rich diversity of  parishes, many with a cultural distinctiveness. Among God’s gifts to this Archdiocese is a vibrant African-American Catholic heritage. Just over a dozen of our parishes are predominantly African-American in membership. In terms of liturgy and parish life, this most often means that the liturgies feature significant amounts of Gospel Music, vibrant preaching, and celebratory worship. My own Parish, Holy Comforter–St. Cyprian, traces its roots back to 1893 when former slaves founded a parish (with Cardinal Gibbons’ permission) to serve the needs of African Americans. The parish remains to this day a place where the Catholic Faith is celebrated with great vitality. If I do say so myself, we have one of the best choirs in the Archdiocese! And the preaching isn’t bad either :-).

I will also say that, among African-American Catholics, there exists a variety of tastes regarding Church life. Some of our parishioners love the vibrant Gospel Music, others prefer the quieter more traditional liturgies in our parish. Bible studies flourish alongside traditional novenas. Incense and rosaries are just as present as the joyful praise and hand-clapping of the Gospel Mass. Our choir can sing from the Vivaldi Gloria just as from one of the great old Gospel Hymns.

Many of our parishes with predominantly African-American membership are served by our own diocesan priests. Some of the parishes however are served by priests of the Josephite Order, an order traditionally dedicated to serving the needs of African-American Catholics. The following video, produced by the order, gives something of a sense of the flavor of African-American parishes.

Spread the word about the diversity of our Catholic Church. We have one faith, but a beautiful tapestry of expression. In future posts I hope we can show you other diverse expressions of the one and true faith we all share.