Sacred Music Glorifies God, Nourishes Truth, Beauty

Editor's Note: What follows is an excerpt from Archbishop Chaput's welcoming remarks on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2001, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, at a concert celebrating Dr. Horst Buchholz's 25 years of service to sacred music.

In writing about Christian worship, C.S. Lewis once said that Christ's words to Peter were “feed my sheep — not, try new experiments on my rats; or even, teach my performing dogs new tricks.” He was being humorous, of course, but he was making a serious point.

Christian culture is organic. It's a living thing. In every generation, our faith interacts with new human experiences, so our culture changes and grows. But we can't treat our worship like a tool. We can't reprogram it like a computer or tinker with it like a car engine without wounding it. When we rewire our worship to fit this or that social agenda, it's no longer worship but a form of politics.

At its best, Catholic culture should be an expression of beauty. It should grow like a living shoot out of the truth of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. And that means sacred music, like sacred art, has two purposes. The first is to give glory to God. The second is to feed us with truth and beauty, and in doing that, to turn us toward goodness.

Music is powerful. Anyone who listens to great revolutionary anthems like the “Marseillaise” or the “International” quickly understands that. Music can turn us toward goodness, or it can lead us in very different directions. Which is why Shakespeare wrote in “The Merchant of Venice” that:

The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is moved with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treason, stratagems and spoils;

The motions of his spirit are dull as night;

And his affections dark as Erebus.

Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

We should remember that. “Mark the music,” because it reveals the soul of persons and cultures, just as surely as art, literature and architecture. Music is a window on who we are and what we believe. And because of its power, music not only reveals and expresses the soul; it also inspires and forms it.

Archbishop Chaput serves in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput


Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

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