Music at St. Ignatius Essay: Bach’s St. John Passion at St. Ignatius Loyola

Mar 3, 2022

This Sunday, we begin our journey through the liturgical season of Lent. This is a period of prayer, reflection, and preparation for the celebration of Palm Sunday and the Triduum.

One year ago, when our music ministries were forced to move online, I began a weekly Zoom study with Canticum Sacrum, our weekly 7:30 PM Mass choir, of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion during Lent. The St. John Passion tells the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. Alongside the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B Minor, this large-scale work is one of Bach’s greatest musical achievements, standing as it does at the pinnacle of his compositional style.

To bring our online study of this piece full circle and into a real-life singing experience, we are mounting a special performance of the St. John Passion at St. Ignatius Loyola. The concert will feature Canticum Sacrum and the Parish Community Choir in performance on Sunday, April 10th, at 3 PM in the Church. This Palm Sunday event will be free and open to the public, to serve, in part, as an opportunity for spiritual reflection on this very important feast day.

In addition to our volunteer choir members participating, the concert will feature guest singers and instrumentalists from the Manhattan School of Music, as well as St. Ignatius’ very own principal organist Daniel Beckwith, orchestra contractor and cellist Arthur Fiacco, and professional members of the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola. This performance will be a “Special Event” this season as part of the Music at St. Ignatius program, and will also serve as my final conducting recital of the Doctor of Musical Arts degree program in Choral Conducting, which I am currently pursuing at the Manhattan School of Music.

If you attend the 7:30 PM Mass this Lenten season, you will be hearing one of the St. John Passion chorales as a communion anthem each Sunday. These chorales are moments for commentary and direct reflection within the recounting of the Passion and feature lyrics composed by varied poets and theologians of Bach’s time. There are 11 chorales in the Passion; we will present five of these in mass during Lent as spiritual nourishment for ourselves and the congregation.

Bach was a church musician who composed specifically for his community of worshippers. In an essay to be shared later this Lenten season, I will write more comprehensively about his musical style and setting of the St. John Passion. In the meantime, please mark your calendars to join us for this most special concert! We would love to see you there.

Michael Sheetz, Music Associate