Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sacred Name of the Almighty to Remain Unspoken


A new Vatican instruction reminds liturgists and songwriters that the sacred Hebrew name of God is to remain unspoken. Hymns (from the '70's and '80's which peppered verses with the word YAHWEH) must remove the unutterable proper name (transliterated = YHVH; translated = I AM WHO AM) and replace with Lord (Adonai, Kyrios or Dominus) and/or God (Elohim, Theos, Deus) for all hymns.

Since the time of Moses when God revealed His sacred name, only the High Priest could whisper this most sacred word while he stood before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple on one day each year (Day of Atonement, i.e., Yom Kippur). Ancient Hebrew had no vowels, only consonants, so some Jews purposely used other vowels to form the word JEHOVAH whereas other Jews merely replaced the sacred name (sometimes called the TETRAGRAMMATON which is Greek for 'four letters') The actual four Hebrew consonants are transliterated as (Y or J)odh, (H)e, (V or W)aw and (H)e, remembering that Hebrew is written from right to left unlike Greek, Latin and European languages which are written from left to right.

Hence, hymns like YAHWEH I know You are near must either be changed to say LORD or GOD I know You are here or simply deleted.

This is more than just a politically correct move to respect our Jewish brethren. It is also in conformity to what the Church has done for millennia before our English vernacular began to assert itself as the dominant tongue for contemporary worship in the USA. The letter from Cardinal Arinze's office to the USCCB reads:

"As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it 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 Vatican letter said. Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible used the word "Kyrios" and Latin scholars translated it to "Dominus"; both also mean Lord.

"Avoiding pronouncing the Tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the church has therefore its own grounds," the letter said. "Apart from a motive of a purely philological order, there is also that of remaining faithful to the
'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."

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