Sacred or secular?

In today’s society, a song is usually identified as “sacred” and “religious” simply by identifying a religious theme, imagery, or subject in the text. Appropriateness of venue is narrowly defined with that identification. However, that definition compared with Nineteenth Century lines between “sacred/secular” or “religiousness” reflect the shift in societal attitudes and a change in semantics. Nineteenth Century pieces considered “church” music were generally intended for use in a liturgical context, are usually labeled “anthem” or “motet,” and have a text from Scripture, the Liturgy, or hymnody.

In the part song tradition, texts may be of a sacred nature but the works were not considered “church” music. A poem or text used for a choral work may have sacred content, but it may not have been primarily considered a “religious” work.

Confusion over this has often led to misidentifying some part-songs as sacred “church” works.