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Aug. 15 , 2008

Vatican bars use of `Yahweh' in Catholic churches

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Catholics at worship should neither sing nor pronounce the name of God as "Yahweh," the Vatican has said, citing the authority of both Jewish and Christian practice.
    The instruction came in a June 29 letter to Catholic bishops conferences around the world from the Vatican's top liturgical body, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, by an explicit  "directive" of Pope Benedict XVI.
    "In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," the letter noted, referring to the four-consonant Hebrew "Tetragrammaton," YHWH.  That name is commonly pronounced as "Yahweh," though other versions include "Jaweh" and "Yehovah." But such pronunciation violates long-standing Jewish tradition, the Vatican reminded bishops.
    "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, (the name) was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: `Adonai,' which means `Lord,'" the Congregation said.
    That practice continued with Christianity, the letter explained, recalling the "church's tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred Tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated."
    Invoking a Vatican document from 2001, the Congregation reminded bishops that the name "Yahweh" in Catholic worship should be replaced by the Latin "Dominus" (Lord) or a word "equivalent in meaning" in the local language.
    The Vatican's move will require changes in a number of hymns and prayers currently used in American churches, but not to the Mass itself, said the U.S. bishops' top liturgical official.
    Catholic News Service quoted an Aug. 8 letter from Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship, informing American prelates of the policy.
    The Vatican's instruction, Serratelli wrote, would serve as "an encouragement to show reverence for the name of God in daily life, emphasizing the power of language as an act of devotion and worship."
-- Francis X. Rocca

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