The Most Important Building Isn’t Even on the Tour!

I live in Washington DC on East Capitol Street. If you picture the United States Capitol in your mind, one side faces the long grassy Mall where so many large gatherings and protests take place. Behind the Capitol, on the exact opposite side is a long street that stretches through the Capitol Hill Neighborhood called “East Capitol Street.”  My parish is just 14 blocks up on the right. It is a “merged” Parish of St. Cyprian (building lost in 1966) and Holy Comforter (a title of the Holy Spirit).

I want to tell you of the two most important buildings on East Capitol Street. Let me begin with the second most important building, the United States Capitol.

The United States Capitol is the epicenter of the free world. It is the nerve center in the Capital of the most powerful country on this planet. It is here that some of the most powerful people in the world craft legislation and ponder great issues. Presidents have stood in the well of the House chamber to deliver important addresses. Other heads of state have also visited here. In fact people from all over the world travel to this country just to visit and perhaps transact business with the United States Government. Decisions are made in this building that impact the lives of over 300 million  Americans and even more all around the world. Decisions are made here that change world history. Decisions about more money than you can imagine are made in this building on a daily basis. Perhaps no other building is more identified with this great country of ours than the US Capitol. It’s beauty and grandeur bespeak a powerful and confident land. The US Capitol: the second most important building on East Capitol Street in Washington DC.

What then you ask is the MOST important building on East Capitol Street in Washington DC?! It is Holy Comforter – St Cyprian Roman Catholic Church at 1357 East Capitol Street. In this holy place, some one greater than any head of state, God himself,  dwells in the tabernacle. Jesus the Lord and King of the whole universe dwells here, speaks here, ministers here. The prayers and worship that take place in Holy Comforter Church not only change world history but these prayers are also what enable the decisions at the second most important building on East Capitol to have any good effect. In the US Capitol human work takes place. In Holy Comforter Catholic Church God’s work takes place. In the US Capitol important but ordinary things happen. In Holy Comforter Church miracles happen as ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus, as sins are forgiven, as heaven is opened. In the US Capitol many words are exchanged and written that impact the day to day activities of America. In Holy Comforter Catholic Church, the Word of God does not just inform, it performs and it transforms. Many people come to visit the US Capitol. But in Holy Comforter Catholic Church the congregation is joined in worship by myriads upon myraids of angels and a company of saints which cannot be numbered. The US Capitol represents a government that we hope will endure for a long time but Holy Comforter is an outpost of a Church that the gates of Hell will never prevail against. In the US Capitol laws are passed that may one day be changed. But in Holy Comforter Church there is announced each week a law that will never pass away. The Senate majority leader and the Speaker of the House will come and go, changing year by year. But the High Priest, Jesus Christ who ministers at Holy Comforter Church will never die and has a kingdom that will never be destroyed.

Well, OK I suspect you know by now why the US Capitol is the second most important building on East Capitol Street in the Nation’s Capital. Holy Comforter – St Cyprian Roman Catholic Church far outranks in dignity and importance any other building on the street. This is true not because of the human elements involved, but rather the Divine. But I hope you will agree, the US Capitol is the second most important building on East Capitol Street, a distant second!

Funny thing though, all the tour buses drive right past Holy Comforter Church on their way to the second most important building. Wonder what that’s about? You’d think they’d at least stop to take a few pictures and ask to see God. Hmm…. There’s just no accounting for taste is there?  Imagine, driving right past the House of God to see “the man”  and his house. Imagine that! In your visits to Washington, perhaps you too missed seeing the most important building on East Capitol Street. It’s probably not your fault. Those silly tour companies just don’t know any better and you depended on them to get you around. But here for you in the video below are pictures, historical and current of the MOST important building on East Capitol Street in the Nation’s Capital.

22 Replies to “The Most Important Building Isn’t Even on the Tour!”

  1. This might seem like a random comment, but wanting our individual churches to be seen as icons which we place importance seems like a problem to me. Of course you mention in your article that it is about the spiritual presence which is why the particular building has importance but even still that seems a bit arrogant. Every church has the presence of God in it, and yes on East Capitol Street there is not another Catholic parish, I understand that, but God is always about something greater than a particular place and a particular time because God is in everything, and His love extends to all people. While the physical symbols of His presence are in churches, His divine presence is all around, even in the capitol building, as much as it may appear to some people that it is not there. I like the general message but I think the method loses me just a bit in this article. The method focuses too much on the building and not enough on the “known unknowability of God” (Marion)


  2. Oh Come on Aristocrates you’re being much too serious here. Enjoy a little levity, have a little fun with the rich “excesses” of the post. I wonder too if you’re not joshing me too with a pen name like Aristrocrates and then you mention it seeming a bit arrogant. Maybe you’re pulling my leg! 😀

    Ah but seriously, while I don’t doubt God is present everywhere, there is something very special about his presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the liturgy. That is our catholic belief.

    You are right in observing there is another Catholic Church at 50th and East Capitol. However, my context is the Capitol Hill Neighborhood.

    So read again and enjoy some of the tongue in cheek quality to the whole thing. A little shameless self promotion if you will. A serious point but with a dash of humor OK?

  3. I really enjoyed your parish when I went for the Gospel Mass. It was one of the friendliest parishes I have been to by far, and was so uplifting after a rough night at work. I definitely want to come again sometime!

    Church for me is my safe place when I need to think, or pray, or renew my faith. It is always nice to see friendly, welcoming faces when I don’t know anyone and am taking a chance on trying something new.

    1. Just to clarify for those who may not be familiar with the parish, Holy Comforter – Saint Cyprian doesn’t have Gospel Masses. We have mass as it is celebrated the world over, with music drawn from many sources – Gospel, classical, blues, jazz, traditional hymns, spirituals etc. One thing that particularly characterizes the liturgies, however, is that there is no need to rush, there is always plenty good time to praise the Lord!

      And I certainly agree that it is a very friendly and welcoming parish.

  4. I enjoyed your lighthearted post. I wonder does the “ARISTOCRATES” have any children? You need a sense of humor to raise children and be able to laugh at yourself too. MAY The Holy Comforter attend all those who read this post. God Bless and Merry Christmas!

  5. Aristocrates: “While the physical symbols of His presence are in churches, His divine presence is all around, even in the capitol building, as much as it may appear to some people that it is not there.”

    I think Holy Comforter is a Catholic Church, and you may be interested to know that Catholics don’t consider the real presence in the Eucharist a “physical symbol.” I don’t think you can say that “His divine presence is all around” in the Capitol building in the same way as it is in the Eucharist.

    Sounds pantheistic to me.

    1. Yes, even in the Old Testment, Ancient jews knew full well that God indwelt his creation but they also had the temple, a place of sepcific and intensified presence. God may be everywhere, but he is not everywhere in the same way.

  6. I have a question that may seem irrelevant or silly, but hey, that’s the advantage of signing on as an anonymous writer (Got Pride – Not Me) Why is a picture of the outside of a church always on the front of a Sunday bulletin? I know the church is Christ’s physical home here on earth, and that we tend to look at the architecture (or lack of it) when we approach and enter a church, but, why not a picture of the tabernacle, a picture from the inside of the church that focuses on the Truth, that Christ is our hope and will come again? Is there some tradition to bulletins that I don’t know about?

    I ask because I really don’t feel much of the presence of Christ when I look at a church; but… when I enter one, that’s a different story. When I open a church’s door, I feel a sense of power or a presence. The quiet stillness turns my mood into one of awe, respect, reverence and reservation. I find churches incredibly peaceful, welcoming and at times, overwhelming – he is so big and powerful and I am so small and powerless. I look for the tabernacle. I zone in on the altar, find the one flickering light of hope and I know, somewhere close by, our Lord rests.

    I’m always amazed at all the different tabernacles. Some I like more than others, some even catch me off guard, like the one in University Park, home to Penn State University. When I looked at their golden dome shaped tabernacle for the first time, I thought, “Wow, that’s unusual looking.” The feeling of reverence and awe was still present, but my mind wandered off in question and thought, “Hmmm…. They’re housing our Lord in an egg or some type of UFO that flew in and perched itself in a corner.” (Sorry God, I really get frustrated with my brain at times.) I wasn’t thinking in disrespectful terms – I was thinking just the opposite – thoughts of, “They put Him in a space ship came to mind?” I still do a double take when I go to mass there.

    My point or question is that, to me, it seems the tabernacle, the altar, the monstrance or the Eucharist are the items that really define our church. Why not have one of these items as the picture for the front of our Sunday bulletins?

    1. Well of course buildings are a quick way of identifying the Parish. THey are the most recognizable feature. Although several of the comments to this post have wanted to downplay the existence of buildings I would like to say a word in defense of buildings. It is true that the Church is not a building, it is the people of God in Union with Christ. Nevertheless, people build buildings that express their faith. Hence the building is not insignificant. My particular Church building shouts the faith. It is cruciform in style, Christ is at its center. The Holy Spirit descends as a tongue of fire over the altar, the walls are covered with the pictures of saints in whom the Holy SPirit acted to spread the faith through out the world, all the windows have symbols of faith etc. Buildings are a more than a hall for people to meet, or at least they should be more. They are a monument to faith. The word monument is from the Latin: Moneo – to warn or remind and mens – the mind. Hence, a good Catholic Building is a catechsim book, it is sermon, it is a testimony to faith. Unfortunately this concept was lost in the 1960s and many churches did just become sterile meeting halls that say little about the faith of those that built them. Thankfully this is beginning to change.

      So, three cheers for buildings! Hip hip horray!

  7. What a wonderfully fanciful way of expressing the most exhilarating best kept secret on Capitol Hill. Our church Holy Comforter St. Cyprian, in all its beauty sits there for the sole purpose of glorifying the Lord and enriching our faith and evangelizing all to enter. Monsignor the cat is out the bag! Ok, can we just say perhaps this is all about a call for evangelization in bringing more souls to Christ? I too can say it’s the Most Important building on Capitol Hill, just by its very existence and purpose, what can be more important, particularly during these times. Come, Taste and See!

  8. If the world knew what some of us know intellectually , some by experience , the treasure within those walls ….. the pews would be a very costly high maintenance issue ! ……parking would be a big problem also. If I look only as far as the human element , that gift evades me , but if in Him I peer into that same sphere , I know me better , and I am given the capacity to love and I receive a precious deposit of the treasure.

  9. Wow, it makes me want to stumble upon these Holy Places too!
    Last Pentecost I was in DC for a very important gathering, and while I was enjoying my day off I went alone to discover the city for myself and used the DC Metro; I was so proud that I had mastered it, since I only live on a small island with no such form of transportation. As though attracted by an unknown force I stumbled upon Saint Patrick’s Church. A plaque on the front of the Church read that it was the oldest Church in “Washington’s City.” I went inside to pray and knew that I was meant to go there. I also love the National Shrine too. I once shared with a group of people that DC is full of dead guys and their memorials: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc., but that the National Shrine with Christ Triumphant in the dome above the main altar reminded me that only one man conquered death! I pray for the seat of America’s government and the wonderful diocese of the District of Columbia.

  10. “Saint Patrick’s Church. A plaque on the front of the Church read that it was the oldest Church in ‘Washington’s City.’”

    We have quite a competition in DC for the oldest. St. Patrick’s is the first Catholic church established in the City of Washington. But Holy Trinity Parish is the oldest Catholic parish in DC, as Georgetown was not part of the City of Washington until 1871. Some at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill claim a lineage going back to Duddington Manor, where Mass was celebrated in colonial times (public Masses were not permitted). If you accept that, then St. Peter’s is the oldest Catholic community.

    The first free standing Catholic place of worship in what is now DC was Queen’s Chapel. This was not some Church of England edifice named in honor of the Queen, but the private chapel of the Queen family who boldly built a chapel for themselves and their neighbors to use for Catholic worship when no one but them would go any further than a room inside their manor houses. The Queen family and their plantation eventual went the way of history but their enslaved workers and their descendents continued to worship at Queen’s Chapel, which is 1908 became St. Francis de Sales Parish.

    So any one of these four parishes can be the oldest, depending on your point of view. (and yes, each of them has their advocates with very strong points of view!)

    1. Thanks for a very interesting comment on the Historical sparring! I have heard these conflicting claims before but have never seen them all brought together in print. I appreciate your contribution.

      1. The oldest Catholic church (as in building) in DC proper is indeed at Holy Trinity. The first church at HT was built in 1792. Although was replaced by a much bigger church 35 years later, the 1792 church still stands. It was used as a schoolhouse from the 1870’s until the late 90’s, but was renovated about 10 years ago and is now St. Ignatius Chapel. (We have our Young Adult Community mass there on the second Sunday of every month at 7:15 PM.)

  11. There is the complaint that the tour busses pass your church but some of the tour busses do stop at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In addition, the Catholic tourists will presumably find a parish near their lodging if they are in town on a weekend. So I wouldn’t assume that because they don’t visit your parish that no one is interested in visiting Jesus in the tabernacle.

    1. Ok MM, agreed but just so you know I am not really being serious in my “complaint” It is tongue in cheek! My over all point is serious – namely that we tend to be more impressed with worldly things than spiritual. But A lot of the piece is light-hearted humor. I am not seriously expecting tour busses stop here. It’s kind of a “imagine that! All those tour busses drive right on by! (Smile). I am well aware that Tour companies do schedule religious stops. In addition to your list, St Augustine is a popular stop for Catholic based tour groups on Sunday. So again, please, I am being humorous in a lot of my observations. I thought that by laying it on real thick many would get my humorous intent but apparently some missed that I was being humorous through the use of rich excess. Now some one please give me a rim shot! (Bada Bing!) 😀

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