Question Corner
With Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. A fellow choir member does yoga. She is one of the most spiritual, peaceful, happy persons I have ever known. She suggested that I might want to try yoga because I have been having some really bad panic attacks. But she also told me that yoga was against our religion, and that absolutely floored me. Can you explain to me, in very simple terms, the Catholic position? (Egg Harbor City, N.J.)

A. The answer to your question “what does the Catholic Church think of yoga?” is: It depends.

Yoga is an Eastern physical and mental discipline with close ties to the Hindu religion. Obviously, if one were to study yoga seriously under a Hindu swami with a view toward adopting the philosophy and worldview from which it was born (with its aspects of pantheism and reincarnation), that would run contrary to Christian beliefs.

But there are plenty of people today who use yoga simply to tone the limbs and soothe the stress of life, as a methodology (not a theology), to center one’s being through breathing and movement, so as to attain inner quiet.

In 1989, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered a letter to Catholic bishops entitled “On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.”

In that letter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) suggested, with regard to techniques of Eastern spirituality, that Catholics could “take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.” He also noted: “Some use Eastern methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation.”

For many years, my son has played the bagpipes for Catholic weddings and funerals. Recently, he was hired to play for a Catholic wedding, but the priest celebrating would not allow the bagpipes in church. He said, “Bagpipes are an instrument of war” and could not be played inside a church. My question is this: Was that a diocesan or a personal stance? What, if any, guidelines are there regarding the use of bagpipes in a Catholic church? (Williamstown, N.J.) 

The priest was most likely expressing a personal preference rather than a diocesan rule. Some dioceses have guidelines regarding music at liturgies, such as, that the music be dignified and of a religious nature.

For the most part, the choice of instrumentation is left to the discretion of the local pastor. (I had never heard, by the way, of disallowing bagpipes because they are instruments of war. For that matter, trumpets were, too.)