The Church and Rock Music

Dear Catholic Exchange:

What does the Catholic Church teach about rock music? I'm thinking of studying rock guitar. I enjoy the oldies popular music from the '60s. I enjoy some of the hard rock music, but don't take the lyrics seriously. I reject any songs that are violent, anti-Christian, satanic, etc. I guess I'm confused because I don't know if I should trust my own thoughts about this or the views of others.

There are some who think of it as occultism (like the Orthodox). There are definitely rock musician celebrities that are admittedly involved in satanic influences, yet rock music actually came from gospel music. I just very much enjoy the sounds of groovy music. If I were to put lyrics to the music, they'd be about good intentions or perhaps praise and worship of the Trinity and Saints. I heard a priest once say he knew of satanic ritual and curses put on rock records before they were released to the public. And we fans can be cursed without our knowledge.

Do you believe this possible? Any of your insight is appreciated.

Thank you for your attention,


Dear James:

Rock music, like any other art form, may be done to the glory of God, the glory of the artist, or the glory of Satan. The Church urges that it be done to the glory of God and warns against anything that leads away from or contradicts His glory. There are Catholic rock musicians out there and they do fine work. (See, for instance, the wonderful and inspiring work of my friend Bob Halligan, Jr., who is the driving force behind Ceili Rain ( And he's not alone.)

So there's nothing intrinsically evil about rock per se. The Catholic Tradition has a long and rich history of taking various human forms of art and filling them with Christian content. There's no reason that can't be done with rock 'n' roll.

At the same time, it has to be faced that a great deal of rock is not about the glory of God. It is about sex, drugs, hedonism, the celebration of the self, the celebration of violence, the exploitation of women, anger, rage, fascination with the occult, and reckless individualism and rejection of God and the common good. That's not a secret.

The problem with this is that music has a peculiar power to penetrate our consciousness. Try this experiment: Recite the lyrics to a typical pop song without the music. Imagine saying it to God's face. Imagine saying it to a child as wisdom you want them to take to heart and remember the rest of their lives. If you find that what you are saying is either embarrassingly stupid or horrifyingly contrary to what you would ever tell God or a child, then chances are that, good beat and catchy hook or not, you would be better off without that song in your brain. That will still leave an awful lot of music left to enjoy.

In short, basic rule of thumb is this: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”(Philippians 4:8).

Music that helps you do that is great. Music that doesn't, isn't.

Mark Shea

Senior Content Editor

Catholic Exchange

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