The year 2025 marks the 500th anniversary of perhaps the most famous composer of Catholic sacred Music: Giovanni Palestrina.
At the flourishing parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the anniversary year will be marked by a festival of faith including monthly concerts of the finest quality, solemn Masses, and public outreach.
Jonathan Bading, music director at Sacred Heart Parish, spoke with CWR recently about the Palestina500 project.
CWR: Who was Palestrina? Why should we learn more about him?
Jonathan Bading: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) was a composer, cantor, conductor, and organist in a Rome reeling from the Reformation. He held some of the most prominent directing positions in the Eternal City, including director of the Julian Choir, the clerical ensemble that sang for Papal Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica. He was the leading sacred musician at the time of the Council of Trent, and the Council Fathers thus esteemed his music as the exemplary model of sacred polyphony, and pointed to it as a means of liturgical unity in a fractured Church.
Palestrina influenced many major composers after him, perhaps most notably J.S. Bach, who copied his music and even troped on it. His oeuvre is enormous: he wrote over 100 Mass settings alone, not including his myriad motets, antiphon, Magnificats, Psalms, etc. A colossal output! He is one of the major pillars of sacred music, and his 500th birthday is an opportunity to thank God for his legacy and call to mind the strength, beauty, and glory of our Roman Rite.
CWR: What is the goal of Palestrina500? What format will it take?
Jonathan Bading: Palestrina500 is a year-long celebration of the life, work, and legacy of the supreme maestro as he turns half-a-millennium old. The musicological significance of this anniversary alone merits such a festival. However, as his music is quintessential to the Roman Rite, we as Catholics owe him this particular homage: we aim to restore his music to the context for which it was written: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The format is as follows: Once a month during the year 2025, we will be hosting a visiting choir who will sing an hour long “choral meditation” followed by a sung Mass featuring prominently the works of Palestrina. We will then have a lovely reception in our parish hall. Each monthly event corresponds to a major liturgical feast day (see our website for the full list of events). And we’re bringing in top-tier international, domestic, and local ensembles to do this music justice.
Most importantly, as this music is foundational to our Rite, we hope to glorify Our Eucharistic Lord in the beauty of holiness. We aim to usher in clergy, the Faithful, Protestants, seculars, academics, or whomever into this Temple free of charge, that they may meet our Lord face to face. In short, it’s a year-long retreat into beauty.