The Hebrew name of God is not to be used in liturgical celebrations, songs, or prayers.

It's true: among the most popular songs used at Mass is "You Are Near" by Dan Schutte. And the opening address was changed from "Yahweh " to "O Lord." The switch doesn't interrupt the cadence, but if you've been singing it since 1971, it's understandable to stumble on the phrase. Other hymns were affected, but none as prominently as this one.

The change was made in accordance with a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2008. This was in response to an explicit directive from Pope Benedict XVI regarding the casual usage of the divine name. The Hebrew name of God is not to be used in liturgical celebrations, songs, or prayers. Translators of texts are cautioned to show the “greatest faithfulness and respect” regarding the Holy Name. In contemporary Bible translations, wherever the Hebrew name was originally used, now appears the name LORD in capital letters. 

Although the name appears in Scripture as early as Genesis in passages composed by a writer called the Yahwist for this very reason, most contributors refrained from using the name until it's given to Moses as a special gift in Exodus. On that occasion, God says, "As God the Almighty (in Hebrew, El Shaddai] I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but my name, YHWH, I did not make known to them." Later biblical personalities like Elijah [YHWH is my God] and Isaiah [YHWH is salvation] bear names that define their relationship to this God.

The name isn't a noun or a descriptor but a verb. God is to be known as a vital activity rather than a static notion. As Scripture likes to say, God is the God of the living, the is-was-and-will-be, the Being of eternal progression. I AM, says God—but this implies more than simple existence. God not only IS but also CAUSES all to be. Theologians would inelegantly label God the Uncaused Cause in recognition of this idea. They might also have recognized the God of infinite relationship.

Sometime after the Babylonian exile, reverence for the divine name increases. Dead Sea scroll writers used different pens and ink to write the name in an archaic script. Eventually the name adonai in Hebrew, kyrios in Greek, LORD in English, would replace YHWH in the texts altogether. Taking Yashem (the Name) out of casual usage reminds us of the privilege we have in addressing our God.

Scripture: Genesis 4:26; 17:1; 35:11; Exodus 3:13-15; 6:2-3; 7:17; 8:6, 18; 9:29; 10:1-2; 14:18; 20:2-3; Leviticus 11:44-45; 22:32-33; Deuteronomy 6:12-13; Pss. 20:2, 8; 54:3; see also Jesus in John 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8; and Mark 14:61-63; Luke 22:70-71; Philippians 2:11

Books: Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God in the Qu'ran and the Bible, by Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, with Mary Margaret Funk, Zeki Saritoprak (Liturgical Press, 2017)

The Names of Jesus, by Stephen Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 2004)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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