Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican directive: "Yahweh" inappropriate for liturgical use August 13, 2008

The Vatican has ruled that the Name of God, commonly rendered as "Yahweh," should not be pronounced in the Catholic liturgy.

The Vatican directive will not require any changes in the language of liturgy, since the Name of God is not spelled out in any authorized translation of the Roman Missal. However some hymns may be deemed inappropriate for liturgical use.

The Congregation for Divine Worship, in issuing the new directive, reminds bishops that in the Hebrew tradition, which the early Christians adopted, the faithful avoided pronouncing the Name of God. The Vatican directive explains that "as an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable."

In place of the Name of God, pious Hebrews used the four-letter tetragammaton YHWH, or substituted the terms "Adonai" or "the Lord." The first Christians continued this practice, the Vatican notes.

The Congregation for Divine Worship observes that the invocation of "the Lord" in Scriptural text follows this practice. Thus when St. Paul prays that "every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," the Vatican letter says that his statement "corresponds exactly to a proclamation of [Christ's] divinity."

The Bible reflects the Hebrew tradition, and the Name of God is not spelled out in authorized Catholic translations. The Vatican instruction says that liturgical language should adhere carefully to the Scriptural texts, so that the Word of God is "conserved and transmitted in an integral and faithful manner."

However, the instruction notes, "in recent years the practice has crept in" of using the Name of God and spelling out the tetragrammaton. That practice should be avoided in the Catholic liturgy, the Vatican says.

The effect of the Vatican directive should be evident in the selection of hymns, since some contemporary liturgical music violates the policy by pronouncing the Name of God. The policy will also call for some care in the preparation of variable elements in the liturgy, such as the Prayers of the Faithful.

The letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship, dated June 29, was signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcom Ranjith, the prefect and secretary, respectively of that congregation.

In an August 8 letter to the bishops of the US hierarchy, relaying the Vatican directive, Bishop Arthur Serratelli-- the chairman of the US bishops' liturgy committee-- welcomed the instruction, saying that it "helps to emphasize the theological accuracy of our language and appropriate reverence for the name of God."