About The Catholic Sacred Music Project


The Catholic Sacred Music Project provides professional musical development for current and future leaders in Catholic sacred music through an intensive encounter with great choral works conducted by leading artists in a festival format.  The Project aims to increase the artistic and professional commitment to cultivating great music for the Catholic liturgy.  This initiative is sponsored by St. John the Baptist Parish in Allentown, New Jersey, in association with Mater Ecclesiae Parish in Berlin, New Jersey.

The Festival Program

The Music


Choral rehearsal and performance are at the heart of the festival.  The works chosen this year center on the unique genius of the British choral tradition, but also draw on Catholic Continental styles, both historical and modern.  Plainsong is given its rightful prominence in the cycle of liturgical Propers for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The convergence of disparate styles and artistic periods are a hallmark of Catholic liturgical spirituality, which tradition renews in every generation, people, and culture.

The Festival’s choral centerpiece, the Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is an emblem of this paradigm of renewal in tradition.  The work is clearly grounded in Vaughan Williams modal idiom of the early 20th-century, but it finds its affective roots in the tradition of liturgical polyphony of earlier periods.  R. R. Terry, Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, by whom Vaughan Williams’ Mass was first performed in the sacred liturgy, put it this way to the composer himself: “I'm quite sincere when I say that it is the work one has all along been waiting for. In your individual and modern idiom you have really captured the old liturgical spirit and atmosphere.”

Other highlights in the repertoire include works by Scottish composer, Sir James MacMillan.  MacMillan’s Ave Maria and Ave Maris Stella evoke a liturgical spirit as well as the Vaughan Williams Mass does.  Yet, they are individual and fresh reinterpretations of these venerable texts extolling the Blessed Virgin. The preparation and performance of these and other works at the August 15 Mass for the Feast of the Assumption (Extraordinary Form) are the primary objectives of the festival. 

The daily cycle of rehearsals will be punctuated by opportunities for fellowship and camaraderie, as well as several program features aimed at deepening our experience of great liturgical music.  These opportunities include:

  • Daily Mass (Ordinary Form)

  • Daily chanted Compline (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms)

  • Daily communal meals

  • Discussion with Sir James MacMillan on the art of composing the sacred in a secular age (followed by Q & A)

  • Online Score Study Seminar presented by conductor, Martin Baker (UK)*

  • Faculty round-table discussion (followed by Q & A) on the current state and future prospects of sacred music and liturgy for the Catholic Church

  • Conducting workshop with Dr. Timothy McDonnell in a lab-style format with the Festival Choir.  Repertoire will include: O Radiant Dawn (MacMillan), Ave Maris Stella (MacMillan), and selected movements from the Mass in G Minor (Vaughan Williams).  Conducting participation limited.

* Virtual presentation