Ceremonial Music in Spiritual Traditions

Ceremonies and rituals are always vital to the existence and the identity of cultural beliefs of a group of people. Most traditional and religious practices consider ceremonies as an essential part of expressing beliefs and commitment to some supernatural power. The use of music has been proven to be a key element of such ceremonies, especially in spiritual traditions. Different religious practices may allow the use of music during a ceremony. However, ceremonial music can differ in practice and action depending on the religious tradition. Examples of ceremonial music are those employed in the Catholic Mass and the Buddhist Temple Rite. Even though the two may differ in some aspects, they share some similarities.

Buddhists engage in various ceremonial services, which include celebrating the birth of Buddha, Nirvana date, and converting date among others. A particular example is the celebration of the Buddha Bath Festival to mark the birth of Shakyamuni. During such ceremonies, Buddhists use different melodies to establish a strong feeling of belonging for the occasion. Most of the ceremonial music encompasses the use of chanting and singing in harmony (Cupchik, 2015). The type of music is often described to be firm yet soft enough to purify the hearts of those listening to it (Sacred Music Radio, n.d.). Buddhist music is an essential component of the daily cultural practices of the people. Additionally, the music integrates the use of various instruments. The musical instruments include the inverted bell, large drums, cymbals, and wooden blocks among others. Such tools help in passing melody to the songs resulting in harmony (Sacred Music Radio).

Additionally, Buddhism also encourages the use of both song and dance in particular ceremonies (Cupchik, 2015). For instance, large Buddhism ceremonies in Tibet are characterized by Lamas using a variety of exotic instruments such as trumpets, windpipes, and spiral conches. Since Buddhist believes that music has the potential of spreading Dharma, it is encouraged as it can also help in the spread of religious education. Likewise, Buddhists use hymns in offering ceremonies, as they believe that it is a method of calling for the presence of Buddha (Sacred Music Radio, n.d.). The music used in such ceremonies is usually soft in tempo and intonation, which is necessary to reveal the beliefs held by the religion.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church also incorporates the use of Liturgical music when conducting some religious ceremonies to go hand in hand with the ancient traditions and beliefs (McMahon, 2007). Liturgical music is an integral part of the Catholic mass as it promotes active participation when singing the liturgy. Ceremonial music during the Catholic mass emphasizes the importance of conscious and active participation of both the faithful, the priest, and the choir. Further, the music also encourages Gregorian chant and pays close attention to the preservation of sacred music (McMahon, 2007).

Everything that is considered to demand some form of singing during the Mass is sung. However, a lot of emphases are laid on the importance of those parts that are sung by the priests while the congregations reply or those that are sung by the priest together with the entire group. In the same manner, the capabilities of those who are chosen to sing during mass are considered (Vatican, 1967). Sacred music is also not prohibited as long as they are in line with the spirit of liturgical celebration, which does not limit people’s participation. The Catholic tradition is also of the view that sacred celebrations are more joyful and have better religious meaning when they are accompanied by the expression of devotion and faith through the use of music (Vatican, 1967).

In comparison, both the Buddhist Temple Rite and the Catholic Mass share a lot in common. Ceremonial music in both instances encourages the use of chanting. In addition, the choice of song to be sung is selected depending on the ceremony. For example, songs that are performed during a procession and a candle lighting ceremony in the Catholic mass are not the same. The same applies to Buddhist ceremonial music. Songs that are presented to mark the birth of Buddha are not entirely the same as those sung during festivals such as Nirvana date. Similarly, both Buddhists and Catholic faithful’s believe that songs are a way of worship and a method through which they can articulate their faithfulness to a higher power. On the contrary, Catholic mass and Buddhist Temple Rite have some distinguishing characteristics. The Buddhist Temple Rite allows for the heavy use of different instruments in their ceremonies while in the Catholic mass, there is a little usage of such devices.

As can be seen, ceremonial music remains to be an essential element of various spiritual traditions, as is the case for Catholic mass and Buddhist Temple Rite. The two religious beliefs have managed to incorporate the use of music in ceremonies as a means of articulating their faith and passing on their beliefs. Even though the use of music has some shared characteristics between the two groups, small variations exist in the use of musical instruments between the two groups.


Cupchik, J. W. (2015). Buddhism as Performing Art: Visualizing Music in the Tibetan Sacred Ritual Music Liturgies. Yale Journal of Music & Religion, 1(1), 4.

McMahon, J.M. (2007). Musicam sacram revisited: Essay in honor of Robert W. Hovda. NPM Publications.

Sacred Music Radio. (n.d). Buddhist sacred music. Sacred Music Radio. Retrieved from http://sacredmusicradio.org/buddhist-sacred-music/

Vatican. (1967). Second Vatican ecumenical council Musicam Sacram: Introduction on music in the liturgy. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_instr_19670305_musicam-sacram_en.html

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