The Transcendent Power of Music

Science now confirms what believers have long known: Sacred music can bring on a meditative and reflective state.

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- Posted on Sep 18, 2019

A choir in a sanctuary

Music has always been a part of spirituality. Before literacy was widespread, religious texts from all faith backgrounds were often sung, sometimes in languages that the congregation didn’t even understand. Like Gregorian chanting, a style inspired by earlier forms of spiritual songs. It was sung in Latin, which in no way diminished its power to transport people.

From the beginning of Catholicism up until the 20th century, this form of acapella sacred song was routinely recited in churches across Europe. Cathedral architecture even evolved specifically to amplify the otherworldly music, with cavernous ceilings and arching walls designed to reverberate and carry the acoustics to the farthest corners of the church. The feeling imparted by the music, of solemnity, meditative thought, and divinity, transcended the bounds of language.

Now, science backs up the feelings that churchgoers have experienced for centuries. Research shows that listening to Gregorian chanting generates alpha brain waves—the same brain waves emitted when the body is in a calm and reflective state. This is because the chants are intertwined with music, encouraging the listener to unconsciously hone in on the structure of the rhythms. The effect is often a state synonymous with deep prayer and meditation.

Hear a Gregorian chant by listening to the clip below. How does it make you feel?

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