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

Yahweh

The Vatican directive will not require any changes in the language of liturgy, since the name of God is not spelled out in any authorised 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.”

Tetragrammaton

Tetragrammaton from the Greek ??????????????, meaning ‘[word of] four letters’ refers to ????, the name of the God of Israel written with four letters.

In place of the name of God, pious Hebrews used ???? (YHWH) in their texts or substituted the terms “Adonai” or “the Lord.”

These four letters are usually transliterated from Hebrew as IHVH in Latin and YHWH in English. This was variously rendered as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”, since in Latin there was no distinct lettering to distinguish ‘Y’ from ‘J’, or ‘W’ from ‘V’, and the Hebrew does not clearly indicate the omitted vowels.

In English translations, it is often rendered in small capital letters as “the LORD”, following Jewish tradition which reads the word as “Adonai” (“Lord”) out of respect for the name of God and the commandment not to take the name of God in vain.

Use in Catholic Liturgy

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 Catholic translations that are authorised for use in the liturgy. 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 Yahweh. 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, where “Yahweh” is freely used. 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.