Saint Richards Catholic Church
7500 S.W. 152 St.,
Miami, FL, 33157
Before I started this assignment I had all these different ideas about going to strange and exotic places of worship. I first had my mind set on attending this Buddhist temple by the house. Then I changed it to taking a visit to the Islamic Academy by the Tamiami airport. Then it changed once again to the cultish following of Jose Miranda, aka ‘Jesus Christ Man’. This all got me very excited, and I couldn’t wait until I finally chose one of my many options. Yet oddly enough, I was to attend a place of worship that would be last on my list. Even though I obviously wanted to go somewhere completely bizarre, my girlfriend wanted to take me to a Catholic church. She herself used to be a Catholic and later converted. She would always tell me how completely different Catholicism was to my Baptist church, but I would always think that it couldn’t be that far apart. I mean, both remain under the branch of Christianity, and having one been born from the other, I couldn’t imagine the two being so completely different as to call them 2 separate religions. With this odd turn of events, I prepared myself to attend a night service at Saint Richards Catholic Church.
Now anytime I get to visit church or any religious institution I get excited. It feels like I’m on some grand field trip. As a religious studies student, I se no better place to learn about a religion that in the actual religion itself. A class with lecture and theory can get you only so far. It cannot teach you faith, or spirit, or that feeling that tugs on your internals when you into a place considered holy. With this mindset, I was excited and anxious the entire drive there. Upon arriving I happy to see this beautiful coral pink and light beige colored building. It was adorned with this simple, sleek, and beautiful crosses, and with it’s residing complex buildings it was a rather impressive sight. Even though the building itself added to my excitement, the desolate feeling surrounding it started to tug at my nerves. Now I’m used to the hustle and bustle of my church services. Before our Baptist services, there are people smiling, laughing, running, and talking ALL over the place. Yet even though the evening Mass started in 10 minutes, there was no one in sight. As I excited the car, I could see the Priest unlocking the doors and rushing in. With this sight my girlfriend and I made our way into the building. An interesting thing I’d like to add is how my girlfriend had to change into the most conservative of clothing before we left to the church; which was something that struck me as odd.
We then entered through the large doors that lead way into the church. Two sights were the first to grab at my attention and to stand out sharply. The first were a set of alter boys. Now I’ve never seen these little dudes, so I was at first amused. Three of then stood against the wall, giggling and holding up various artifacts that I currently didn’t understand. I was inspecting these artifacts until my girlfriend pulled me aside and informed me that I needed to dip my hands in this little bowl of Holy Water, and then make the sign of the cross. I did it, and I liked it. Any respect towards Christ seemed like a good thing, so I enjoyed even this act of worship. After using the Holy Water to make the sign of the cross, I decided to go on inspecting. The next thing I ran into was a box for some saint. It was placed in the middle of the hall leading to the church and its pews. I guess it was to drop money for Saint Richard. Why is this important? Because this issue of money was to take a dominant role throughout the worship.
After inspecting some Catholic literature, I made my way to the pews. As I walked around the wall I had the blessing of admiring the most beautiful of blue stain glass windows. In addition the wall was decorated with small plates of relief sculpture; all displaying the crucifixion of Christ. So I grabbed a bunch of the pamphlets, and a book for lent, and made my way to the center. Before I sat down my girlfriend taught me how to genuflex. I don’t know if that’s the right spelling, but it’s when you bow to one knee and make the sign of the cross. I did this, oddly at first, and then stood before this majestic yet anguishing display of my Lord, Christ, pinned on this huge cross. It was a gigantic magnificent piece of art, and the sculpture was not shy of displaying pain and suffering. It was something to admire, and looking upon it gave me a grave feeling of the second important theme I found in the Catholic Church; respect. I sat down and decided that I would watch the Catholics as they entered. As I started to watch those enter, a man in a wrinkly black suit made his way to the alter and spoke in a soft, kind, monotone voice. He made some announcements, and then the alter boys, accompanied by music, made their way around the building. Behind them was the Priest, in these flowing emerald and white robes, and an entourage of people. I was lucky to sit in the center pew, and got to watch him and the others walk by. They held a cross with a crucified Jesus held up by rubber bands, a large matching green bible, and two large golden candles. We were all standing upon them entering, and it was a flashly display. It looked as if it had been preformed this very way for hundreds of years. The priest made his way to the stage, kissed the alter, and offered us his blessing. We all said “in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit” and everyone started making the sign of the cross. One of the alter boy held up a book to the priest, and then the most beautiful and arcane organ music filled the room. It was an unexplainable magestic sound. I’m used to the roars of guitars and drums, yet this organ music had a richness of it’s own. Sadly those singing did not. Even now, as we sang the chorus to an extremely high-pitched chorus of 2 boys and a woman, people straggled in. I noticed most present were the elderly and families, unlike my church that has it all (including a large youth group). It was all very warm and you could say ‘Holy’.
The Priest led us in prayer, and we asking for Gods knowledge. We then read Jer. 17, 5-8. And sang a second song of praise. The music sounded as desolate as the outside was earlier, but it still maintained a respectful arcane beauty. Upon looking around I now found 200-300 people, with more straggling in lat. As for the priest himself, he looked extremely calm and serene, emulating the tone of the music and that of the church itself. With this, the guy in the wrinkly suit walked up to the podium, made some boring announcements, everyone then stood, we said Halleluji (Or rather, sang it), and then people were making the calm sign of the cross against. We would stand, sit, kneel, stand, and finally sit again. After this empty praise and worship (we were only really allowed to sing like 2 verses), the priest began his message. He talked about Genesis and man ruining everything. He talked about how evil was stemmed from mans decisions. He also talked about some cosmic conflict and how God will take care of us all, but the majority of his sermon was about two things; money and the poor. In his extremely boring and monotone voice, he talked lightly about how God will take care of the poor, and how we needed to five to the ABCD (Archbishops Charities and Development Drive). He literally talked about us giving money for 15 minutes (and his sermon was only like 20-30 minutes). In his defense, a lot of the talk out of money was to not give out of ‘routine’ and that we should reflect before giving. He also talked about abortion, which was interesting. I would scarcely call it a sermon, because be basically talked in an expressionless voice, as if out of habit, and then took his place behind a table. Others grabbed some golden plates and a goblet, and he began to prepare the communion. I was VERY excited about this because as I was told this is the centerpiece of mass. Before this however, we prayed. We prayed for the Lord to hear us, for the poor, to give to ABCD, for families broken by divorce, and for the sick and suffering. The kids brought him some wine, he poured it in a chalice, and in another display that had seemed to be repeated hundreds if not thousands of times, he prepared the communion. He drank from the goblet, wiped, and gave to those on stage. He then prayed again, and with the beautiful organ music we all knelt. We then stood, gave eachother hugs and ‘blessings’, and walked up to take communion. I decided to take mine from the priest, and after instruction on how to take it, I stood in line. When I got to him, I noticed he seemed almost dead. He looked extremely tired and very bored. This sadden me, since I was expecting something amazing. I took the wafer, and stuck it in my pocket. I wanted to take it home, but when I made it back to the pew I remembered this was the ‘body of Christ’ so I stuck it in my mouth, where it stuck to the roof of it. With that, all in under a hour, the priest dismissed us. We all genuflexed and left. I decided to stay and study the complex, but I was rather sad because the service felt so empty; so void. All those attending had these serious and bored expressions, and as if reflecting the priest, appeared that they didn’t want to be there. After passing a table with holywater on sale for $2 bucks, we made our way outside. Upon exiting, we overheard the conversation of a little boy, his mother, and some lady. They discussed how nervous the boy was about his first confession, and the lady responded beautifully about how Jesus didn’t care what the kid would say but instead cared that he made the act of saying it. It was a very moving sight.
Even though the service felt extremely empty, and somewhat depressing, there were several things that stood out as beautiful. The stained glass, the candles, the bronze boxes for donation to the poor, the alter boys, the kneeling, the relief sculpture, the organ music, the giant statue of the crucifixion, and the portraits of popes all gave the building this feeling of serenity and peace. It was very beautiful, and the service itself seemed as if a piece of art. Even though I felt the lack of spirit in the service, it had it’s own majestic (even if empty) feel, and I respected it very much. It’s not something I could see myself doing, but it was respectable. As I left another thing caught my eye and made me rather sad. As I looked through the pamphlet, I noticed that the back was adorned with advertisements. There was everything from Jewish real estate brokers to animal hospital advertisements. It was odd, and rather unappealing, to see these attached to a notice advertising the opportunity to advertise in Catholic Church. It made me think of Jesus and his efforts in riding the church of it’s money changing. With all the talk of money during the Priest service, and these advertisements, it left an odd taste in my mouth.
Yet I still found the service beautiful, even if I accidentally stuck the body of Jesus Christ in by pocket in hopes of taking him home with me…