Is there a particular element in music that makes it "sacred?" Is music written for a religious service any more sacred than music written for the theatre, opera house or concert hall? Is Handel's 'Messiah' more sacred -- because its theme is the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ -- than, say, Beethoven's ninth symphony, 'Ode to Joy,' glorifying the Brotherhood of Man? Does only religious music define what is sacred in music or is there something deeper and more profound that all music has in common that deems it sacred?
To make sacred is to make of many parts one whole. It is the expansion in consciousness towards synthesis and oneness. The dictionary defines "sacred" as "dedicated to God, hallowed by associatin with the divine." Sacred, then, is that element in life that draws many parts together into a complete whole, in the likeness of God.
In a like manner we might ask, what is the element in musical writing (at least in Western traditional music) that gives it a sense of completeness, harmony and beauty? A short answer might be the use of the Triad -- a chord made up of a tonic note, a major or minor 3rd and a perfect 5th -- as with the notes C-E-G on the keyboard. The inclusion of the major or minor 3rd was of particular significance. It was the introduction of the triad that really revolutionised all musical writing from the 15th century onward. As stated in the Oxford History of Music: "composers had now at least a material which they could treat in an expressive manner... a vehicle for the representation of moods of feeling, and that which belongs to the music of the divine service."
Throughout the Middle Ages, in religious music, 3rds were used in most contrapuntal and polyphonic writing. But they did not figure in the final chord at the cadence, at the end of the piece. Generally, only the octave and the 5th were used in religious music at the final cadence. The 3rd of the chord was introduced (or "allowed" by Church officials) around the year 1500. That cadence was even given a name: the 'Tierce de Picardie,' or Picardie 3rd. When sounded at the end of a piece written in a minor mode, the major 3rd in the final chord produced an uplifting sense of finality and completeness to the piece. The 3rd has the ability to portray colour and mood and feeling in a piece of music, any music. The 3rd has long been used in secular madrigals which were much more expressive of deep feelings. But when the major or minor 3rd was introduced in religious music, church officials didn't, at first, approve of the "new" sound; it was considered "too pleasing to the ear" and might detract from the "serious" and somber function that religious music was supposed to inspire. But they also had to admit that the triad did remind them of the divine Trinity, so it was allowed.
It obviously wasn't just by chance that the use of the triad occurred during the 15th century. The latter part of that century marked a great awakening in culture and the arts. This awakening followed -- and is likely a direct result of -- the Hierarchical conclave in 1400 and in 1425. From this point on, a new wave of highly enlightened souls came into the world bringing fresh creative energy to the fields of arts and culture. The musical scales, that are still used today, became organised and equal tempered and universally accepted for the first time, thanks largely to the presence of the triad. Ultimately of course, the main element that gives music its "sacred" quality is the presence of the soul itself as it works through each artist. It is the middle principle of the triad -- the uplifting major 3rd of the soul -- that gives expressive quality to human consciousness. And it is the same creative force that enables us to build a network of lighted triangles around the world, drawing it together in a complete, sacred whole.