The Name of God in the Liturgy

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name through all the earth!"
- Psalm 8:2

TheCongregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a letter on June 29, 2008 which included a number of directives on the translation and the pronunciation of the Divine Name as signified in the sacred tetragrammaton in the Liturgy. The directives indicate that the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton is neither to be used nor pronounced in the Liturgy, and that the translation of the Divine Name, in accord with Liturgiam authenticam, no. 41, is to be rendered by the equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios, in English, "Lord."

The letter from the Holy See explains that the Divine Name as revealed in the Old Testament, יהוה (YHWH), has been held as unpronounceable as an expression of reverence for the greatness of God. The directive notes that "in recent years the practice has crept in pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," known as the holy or divine tetragrammaton, written with four consonants, YHWH, in the Hebrew alphabet. In order to vocalize it, it is necessary to introduce vowels that alter the written and spoken forms of the name (i.e. "Yahweh" or "Jehovah"). Citing theological and philological reasons, and in keeping with tradition, the letter reminds the bishops that "from the beginning… the sacred tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any languages into which the Bible was translated." Historically the Divine Name was rendered in Hebrew as Adonai, in Greek as Kyrios, and in Latin as Dominus. This is evident in the Bible in both Septuagint and the Vulgate texts of the Bible (the New American Bible, used in the Lectionary for Mass, follows the same principle in translation). Liturgical texts have always followed that tradition.

In presenting the Congregation's letter to the Bishops of the United States, Bishop Arthur Serratelli, then-Chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, stated "While the directives contained here do not force any changes to official liturgical texts… there may be some impact on the use of particular pieces of liturgical music in our country as well as in the composition of variable texts such as the [Prayer of the Faithful] for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments." Composers of liturgical hymns and songs which were affected created alternate texts so that familiar songs could remain usable in light of the directives.

Questions have been raised regarding several passages in the Lectionary for Mass which appear to make use of the Divine Name. In three separate instances, the Name "Yahweh" appears as part of a hyphenated construction of the name of a particular place, e.g., "Yahweh–yireh" (Genesis 22:14, Easter Vigil, Second Reading, long form, no. 41; Thursday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle 1, no. 380) or "Yahweh–shalom" (Judges 6:24, Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle 1, no. 420). As proper names of places (that do not refer directly to God), changes to these constructions are not necessary.

The directives provide the Church with "an opportunity to offer catechesis for the faithful 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," as Bishop Serratelli wrote to the U.S. Bishops. One can also appreciate the opportunity to appreciate the unbroken practice of our Jewish brothers and sisters in showing reverence for the Divine Name. The directives from the Congregation help the faithful to understand better that tradition.