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The Sacred

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The sacred and its opposite the profane are distinguishable from within a certain religion, by it’s followers. Sacred objects, places or concepts are believed by followers to be intimately connected with God or a divinity and are thus greatly revered.

For a devotee or believer the world is split into the sacred or the profane. The German theologian Rudolf Otto, in The Idea of the Holy stated that the sacred was, derived from a sense of the numinous. The numinous is explained as a"non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self"1. According to Otto, the holy was grounded in individual feeling, the apprehension of something outside the individual and infinitely greater. The sacred is described as being the experience of awe, of the transcendent majesty, energy, and mystery of the wholly other. Depending on the translation of Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, the German word heilig can be determined as either holy or sacred.

Otto touches briefly on the profane as being a direct opposite of the sacred. He argues that the experience of the holy and the numinous leads to a personal sense of unworthiness. He states “the feeling of the absolute profaneness” creates a sense of worthlessness of the whole of ordinary existence and it is an inevitable consequence of the experience of the sacred.

Emile Durkheim states that "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden.”2 Durkheim states that the sacred is representivtive of a groups interest and the sacred is utilized to bring that group to unity, through the use of sacred group symbols and rituals. Durkheim’s understanding of the sacred being a group or community embodiment, brings about his definition of the profane being an individuals concern of mundane every day things.

Religious music throughout the world meets with many of the widly held beliefs of what makes something sacred, as opposed to profane. The Roman Catholic Church’s Sacrosanctum Concilium states that “sacred music and words form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy”3. The Church specifies the purpose of sacred music as something “which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful”.

In an article written by Rev. James T. Benzmiller, regarding the sacredness of church music, he illustrates the differences between the sacred and the profane by stating “If the Mass is a sacred action that surpasses all othersвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚¦.then that has implications for what music expresses those supernatural realities. If we truly believe that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is indeed a sacrifice, a re-presentation of Calvary, and the Second Vatican Council did nothing to alter that theology, then it is essential that music used at Mass be sacred, otherwise it is incapable of expressing these most sublime sacred realities. If however, Holy Mass were merely a human event, a prayer service, a familial gathering, a communal meal or a tent revival meeting, then a very different kind of music might be appropriate.”4

Rev. Benzmiller specifies the differences between the sacredness at the Mass ritual where the level of music must fit the numinous of the situation and the profane nature of the mundane, where a differing music would be appropriate. While the music itself is not sacred, the sacred has manifested itself within the music, words and rituals that it is performed in. The music has taken on some “other” quality to the devotees of the religion to specify to them the sacredness of their rituals and deity.

Another example of the sacred within religious tradition is the sacred symbol of “OM” within the Hindu religion. The symbol of OM is representative Brahman, the impersonal absolute - omnipotent, omnipresent, and the source of all manifest existence in Hinduism. Brahman, is an incomprehensible understanding, so a symbol becomes mandatory to help us realize the unknowable. Om, therefore, represents both the unmanifest (nirguna) and manifest (saguna) aspects of God. The symbol OM is not sacred in and of itself, it is the perceived power of the devotees of Hinduism that makes the symbol and the corresponding mantra sounds sacred.

While “OM” is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, it is also a sacred sound. In the Upanishads, OM is regarded as a sacred syllable and a mystic sound that classed as the basis for every other mantra. “OM” is both a sacred symbol and sound,



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