4/11/2017 10:30:00 AM Evangelizing with rock The Thirsting rock band shares an authentically Catholic message with lovers of the genre around the world
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel Daniel Oberreuter, here playing during a recent concert at Jesuit High School in Portland, created The Thirsting in 2006 to lend a Catholic message to rock music. To get The Thirsting's "Universal Youth" album, text "CATHOLIC" to 31996.
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel Wyatt Kane plays guitar for The Thirsting during the Rise Up Rally. The band’s mission is to promote the rosary, the Eucharist and the Catholic Church.
Catholic musicians struggle in Christian music industry
After contemporary Catholic music and contemporary Protestant music diverged in the 1960s and 1970s, the industries evolved separately. Today, the two groups have different infrastructures. Catholic music remains widely used in the liturgy and Protestant music remains largely as a tool for evangelization.
For Catholic artists creating evangelizing music, breaking into the Protestant industry is a challenge.
“There is that misunderstanding that still exists of a tension between Protestants and Catholics. Part of that is just deep-seated history. A lot of Protestants don’t understand or don’t trust the Catholic Church for whatever reason. That’s the way they were brought up,” says Ken Canedo, music development specialist for Oregon Catholic Press. “A lot of that is a misunderstanding of church teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and our devotion to Mary. A lot of that scares Protestants away.”
The differences between the genres don’t stop there, however. Canedo adds that contemporary Protestant music tends to be focused on the audience’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Contemporary Catholic music expands beyond that, reaching into topics like community, social justice and the right to life.
“Both streams of contemporary Christian music reflect the roots of the church where they came from,” says Canedo. “And that might explain why we don’t get our Catholic songs on contemporary mainstream media.”
The auditorium at Jesuit High School is dark. Suddenly a strum comes from the bass guitar. The drums pulse. Green and purple spotlights flash across the stage. Daniel Oberreuter takes the microphone in his hands. His words are short. His notes are staccato.
“This is the song of a new revolution. These are the words of a new generation. One Holy Church founded by Jesus Christ. One Holy Church that will never ever die,” he sings.
Oberreuter and his Catholic rock band, The Thirsting, are performing “Universal Youth” on stage at March’s Rise Up Rally for teenagers in the Archdiocese of Portland.
The rosary, confession, the Eucharist, the Catholic Church: these are not often topics heard in the lyrics of rock songs. But they are some of the core themes touched on by The Thirsting.
The band’s music is not watered down, says Oberreuter. It has what he calls an authentic Catholic voice.
“We want to guide people to the fullness of truth,” he says.
Oberreuter formed the Portland-based band in 2006, and the 36-year-old performs as the band’s lead singer and acts as its manager. After working in a local parish doing youth and music ministries, he felt a calling to create The Thirsting.
“I saw these youths who needed a Catholic message in their music,” he says.
Eleven years, two albums, numerous tours and one World Youth Day performance later, the band is still giving young people and lovers of rock music that message.
“They’re preaching the Gospel through the music,” says Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, permanent deacon at Immaculate Heart Parish in Portland.
People, especially youth, often link experiences in their lives with music, says the deacon.
“Catholics have lost the sense of what it means to be authentically Catholic,” he adds. This showcases the need for the new evangelization introduced by St. John Paul II. The pope was not talking about converting new people to the faith, but re-evangelizing Catholics and bringing them back to the fullness of the church.
The deacon points to three ways to do this: build deeper communities, preach the truth and tell stories. Music like that performed by The Thirsting has a way of doing all three, he says.
“Obviously the music is having an effect on people,” he says.
Oberreuter hears about people listening to the band’s songs and being drawn to go to confession or to pray the rosary or even to go to Mass regularly.
“You feel like you’re doing at least something right,” says the singer-songwriter.
The music, he says, has a way of softening a message for people who might ordinarily shy away from that message.
“If I can use music as a tool to evangelize, then that makes us successful,” says Oberreuter.
Using music to evangelize isn’t a new phenomenon. The evolution of Christian rock began with the creation of folk music, the popular music of its day, for the Catholic liturgy in the 1960s.
“One of the things that came out of the folk Mass movement in the 1960s was the way it attracted youth,” says Ken Canedo, music development specialist for Oregon Catholic Press. “Suddenly, the pews were full of teenagers and college kids. They loved the idea of worshipping God in the traditional Catholic Mass, which had just turned to English, and worshipping God in the music of their times. It was like a winning combination.”
Canedo wrote a book on the evolution of the folk Mass in the 1960s, “Keep the Fire Burning.”
Soon, this music spread to the Protestant faithful and became a tool for evangelization. It remained a tool in the liturgy for the Catholic Church, says Canedo. The movement created the Christian music industry and proved that the message of Jesus could be preached through a medium that means so much to young people, music, he adds.
For Oberreuter and The Thirsting, the end of preaching this message through rock music isn’t in sight.
“I have a lot of hope for what the band still can do at this point in my life.”