top of page

Can Catholic Musicians Change the World for the Better? The Power of Beautiful Music

Updated: Jul 8

Do you ever, as a musician, wonder at the beauty and power you have been given? As a Catholic musician, do you ever ponder your responsibility to share this beauty and power? Most of the time, you, like me and many others, are likely just trying to survive the secular world and practice your craft to the best of your ability. But there is more that we are called to, as music is not just a combination of pitches and rhythms expressed through different timbres. It is much more. 

Beauty Revealed

The beautiful expression of nature in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the heart-wrenching motifs of suffering in Bach’s Crucifixus, the themes of death and hell represented in Liszt’s Apres une lecture du Dante, and the glorious ecstasy of the Alleluias in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, all point to the transcendent. I remember the first time I felt music touch my soul deeply. I was fifteen and had just finished my sophomore year in high school. The Sanctuary Choir I sang with at my parish toured Rome and Assisi. The apex of the trip was singing at the High Mass for Pentecost in St. Peter’s Basilica. I was changed forever when I saw the light streaming through the dome and viewed the magnificence of the Basilica. I saw the Church in a new light that day. I was given a glimpse of the universality of the Church, and it opened my soul to new graces that God wanted to give me. 

An Awakening of the Soul

However, It wasn’t until a year and a half later that my soul was stirred profoundly, changing how I viewed and experienced music and God. When I was seventeen, I obtained a CD box set of Verdi’s Rigoletto and one evening decided to listen to it. I had become enamored with classical singing and thought opera was the next thing I should experience. The opera had many beautiful moments, but I will never forget the music during the Storm Scene. The music stirred my soul in a way it had never been before. Verdi masterfully wove the music and lyrics in such a way that made me realize there was a deeper place in the soul that I never knew existed. It transcended any other feelings I had as a teenager and was more excruciatingly beautiful than anything I had ever experienced. It was at that moment that I began to truly realize the power of music and the power of God.

The Gift and Power of Song

Music had always been something I enjoyed, and I even had many beautiful moments of music-making, but this was something different. What was this power, and why did God give it to the human race? God could have given us other methods of communication. For example, He could have given us the gift of telepathy. It is a more streamlined approach to communication; even those who cannot communicate in speech can communicate with this method. So why did God give us an audible voice that can produce pitches in such a wide range of notes and varied timbres of sound? For that matter, why did he give us the gift of sound?

Humans are programmed for more than mere speech. How long did it take humans to create songs with the voice God gave us and develop instruments to use sound further to glorify God? We know that in the Bible, singing to God in praise, in particular, but in other ways, is mentioned over 400 times. Paul and Barnabas sing God’s praises in the Acts of the Apostles.


About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. (Acts 16:25-26)

Talk about powerful music! 

Music as Worship

Music has always been used as a way to express worship of God. We see it in the Psalms when David instructs us. O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1) And when Paul says to the Ephesians, “ filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20). From these passages, we can see that worship and music go hand in hand. 

The Catholic Church has long held that the use of music has been a historically and theologically important component of the liturgy, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant” (CCC 1156). As Scripture details, music and singing allow the faithful to participate more fully and deeply in the Church's liturgical life. 

A hymnal open to a page

The Catholic Church and Western Music

In addition to Worship in the Liturgy, the Catechism also tells us that  “Singing and beautiful music have provided an entry into the interior life of God’s people” (CCC 1156). Though heavily influenced by the traditional songs of European countries, the Catholic Church was an enormous patron of the arts. From the Church’s patronage and influence, we have such beautiful music as Palestrina’s beautiful polyphonic music, Mozart’s Masses, and other beautiful liturgical works. St. Augustine states the following:

“Music, that is the science or the sense of proper modulation, is likewise given by God’s generosity to mortals having rational souls in order to lead them to higher things.” -Saint Augustine, Epis. 161. De origine animae hominis, 1, 2; PL XXXIII, 725.

That is what happened to me that evening when I listened to Rigoletto. I experienced a taste of the higher things that St. Augustine mentioned. What the Catechism says about beautiful music providing an entry into the Interior Life is true. That moment allowed me to enter more deeply into my music-making and eventually led me to a deeper prayer life. 

The Transcendent vs. Transcendentalism

Now, we have all felt the power of music stirring in our souls. Are all feelings of music for our good? The transcendental nature of music is not the same as Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism originates with the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, though the roots of this -ism can be traced further than that. The transcendentalist took the power of music and directed it towards the self. This heresy focused on individualism, leading to the birth of many modern social justice platforms. The true transcendent nature of music can draw us away from this heresy. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us:

“As stated above [Article 1], the praise of the voice is necessary in order to arouse man’s devotion towards God. Wherefore whatever is useful in conducing to this result is becomingly adopted in the divine praises. Now it is evident that the human soul is moved in various ways according to various melodies of sound, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] state, and also Boethius. Hence the use of music in the divine praises is a salutary institution, that the souls of the fainthearted may be the more incited to devotion” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 91, art. 2).

“That the souls of the fainthearted may be the more incited to devotion.” What a beautiful way to describe what music can do to our souls! The Catholic Church knew this to be true, and It is a task for all Catholic musicians to take to heart.

Communicate the Power and Beauty of Music

How can Catholic musicians contribute to building the Kingdom of God? Through our ability to communicate the transcendentals of the Beautiful, the True, and the Good in our music-making, we too can help others, fainthearted or devout, encounter God more profoundly. Unfortunately, in recent times, Western Music has moved away from the transcendental. Many works in the late Romantic period moved toward exploring emotion devoid of God. Later, in the early to mid-twentieth century, there was a complete divorce from emotion in atonal music. 

As in other aspects of society and the Church, musicians need to make a concerted and deliberate effort to return to music expressing the transcendentals because this is where music is most true. Music doesn’t necessarily need to be an obvious statement of truth as it is in Sacred Music, but it should always point to the One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. This is where music is most authentic and is one explanation as to why God gave us this ability to sing and make music.

Music can redirect social justice towards the Good, The Beautiful, and The True, to take Transcendentalism and reorder it to the Transcendent. This is another reason why it is paramount that today’s Catholic musician gets it right. We need music to help counter the direction that society has gone. As a special gift God has given His people, music can stir our hearts and direct our souls toward Himself. May our time as composers, teachers, performers, engineers, producers, therapists, technicians, and managers do just this for if we can stir the hearts of the people of God to see that there is more to life than mere emotion, maybe, just maybe, humanity will begin to regain its soul. Musicians, stand up and offer God's beauty through music, and you will help change the world.


bottom of page