Tag Archives: liturgy

Why the tetragrammaton (YHWH) is not allowed in the Liturgy

On August 10th I posted an article on the Pope’s prohibition of the use of tetragrammaton in the sacred Liturgy. You can read the original posting here.


A recent reflection on the restoration of this practice follows.


Why “Yahweh” Isn’t Used in Catholic Liturgy

Biblical Expert Says It Reflects Jewish Tradition

JERUSALEM, NOV. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org) – To understand the Vatican directive reiterating that the name of God revealed in the tetragrammaton YHWH is not to be pronounced in Catholic liturgy, it helps to know the history behind the Jewish tradition, says a biblical expert.

Father Michel Remaud, director of the Albert Decourtray Institute, a Christian institute of Jewish studies and Hebrew literature, explained to ZENIT that the message published in June by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments reflects current Jewish practice.

The Vatican note explained: “The venerable biblical tradition of sacred Scripture, known as the Old Testament, displays a series of divine appellations, among which is the sacred name of God revealed in a tetragrammaton YHWH — hwhw.

YHWH.jpg“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.'”

Father Remaud said that “until almost the year 200 B.C., the divine name was pronounced every morning in the temple in the priestly blessing: ‘The Lord bless and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you'” (Numbers 6:24-26).

He said this blessing originated out of the context of the next verse in Numbers: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Left unsaid

Furthermore, the priest said that the Mishna, the Jewish law codified toward the end of the second century, “specifies that the name was pronounced in the temple ‘as it is written,’ while another denomination (Kinuy) was used in the rest of the country. After a certain period, the divine name was no longer pronounced in the temple’s daily liturgy.

“The Talmud leads one to understand that the decision was taken to avoid a magic use of the name by some.”


According to Father Remaud’s sources, ever “since the death of the high priest Simon the Righteous, about 195 B.C., the divine name was no longer pronounced in the daily liturgy.”

The expert compared the Talmud’s testimony with the Book of Sirach, which mentions Simon the Righteous in Chapter 50. Chapters 44-50 remember all “godly men” since Enoch, including Abraham, Moses and David.


Father Remaud said the seven-chapter passage ends with the high priest Simon pronouncing the divine name: “Then Simon came down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his mouth, and to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing of the Most High” (Sirach 50:20-21).

Yom Kippur.jpgFrom the time of Simon the Righteous until the temple’s ruin, the name was only heard “as it is written” during the Yom Kippur liturgy at the temple of Jerusalem, where the high priest pronounced it 10 times, continued Father Remaud.


“On hearing the explicit name from the mouth of the high priest, the ‘cohanim’ [Aaron’s descendants] and the people present in the atrium knelt down, prostrated themselves with their face on the ground saying: ‘Blessed be the glorious name of his Kingdom forever.'”

The Mishna does not say that the high priest pronounced the divine name, but that the name “came out of his mouth,” he clarified.

A whisper


Moreover, continued Father Remaud, it seems that toward the end of the period of the second temple — 70 A.D. — the high priest now only pronounced the word in a whisper. This was explained in a childhood memory of Rabbi Tarphon (1st-2nd centuries), who recalls that even straining to hear, he could not hear the name.


The biblical scholar also noted that the formula of Exodus — “This is my name forever” (Exodus 3:15) — through a play of words in Hebrew is interpreted by the Talmud of Jerusalem as “This is my name to remain hidden.”


“Today, the divine name is never pronounced,” continued Father Remaud. “In the Yom Kippur office of the synagogue, which replaces the temple’s liturgy by the recitation of what took place when the temple existed, the people prostrated themselves in the synagogue when recalling — though not pronouncing — that the high priest pronounced the divine name.”


The Catholic priest noted that the first Christians called “Jesus by the term ‘Lord’ (Kyrios),” by which they “deliberately applied the term used in Greek to translate the divine name.”


“In Judaism’s liturgical tradition, this divine name was only pronounced in the liturgy of forgiveness of sins, on the day of Kippur,” he continued. “One might see an allusion to this tradition and to the purifying power of the Name, in this verse of the First Letter of St. John: ‘Your sins are forgiven for his names’ sake’ (1 John 2, 12).”

Dedication of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

How Lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

(Psalm 84)

Lateran.jpgToday is a most unusual feast of the Church, the Dedication of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, a day when a church is born and dedicated for sacred rites. But the celebration is more than architecture; it is about the birth of men and women into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of He established for this purpose. The proper name of the Pope’s cathedral -not Saint Peter’s–is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, Saint John Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist at the Lateran. The honor the Church bestows on us today is remembrance of the cathedral on the day it was consecrated. It ought to be noted that the Church in Rome also liturgically remembers the basilica on the feast of the Transfiguration (August 6). The Lateran Basilica is “omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput…the Mother and head of all the Churches of the City and the World.”


The basilica was built by Constantine and dedicated by Pope Sixtus III in the 4th century.
Lateran baptistery.jpgOne of the best things about the Lateran is the baptistery, though it is a beautiful church in general, but I love the 8-sided baptistery. There one reads:


Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven, whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful. Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God, and bears them virginally in this water. Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font. Eternal life does not await those who are only born once. This is the spring of life that waters the whole world, Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ. Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water. It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man. If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool, whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own. There is no barrier between those who are reborn and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith. Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone; Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.


And so we say with the words of Scripture: zeal for your house consumes me.

All Souls

The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed -All Souls–follows the Solemnity of All Saints. The Church’s remembrance of our deceased friends and loved dates back to Saint Isidore of Seville’s Rule for Monks but it wasn’t until the monks of the Abbey of Cluny under the leadership of Abbot Odilio, who in 998 ordered all the Cluniac houses to observe a day in which the dead were prayerfully remembered. By the 13th century the custom was extended to the entire Church in the West; the Churches in the East have a similar day depending on what ecclesiastical community we are talking about. The custom of singing the Dies Irae set the tone and theology of this observance; today one rarely hears the Dies Irae sung in parishes because it is considered a “downer” and thus completely neglecting what the hymn says; it seems, however, to be making a come-back (even the 1928 BCP included the Dies Irae post World War I) as an apt expression of grief rooted not in civil secularity but in theology reminding faithful that we neither make not sustain ourselves. This feast like all other liturgical feasts points to God and to his love and mercy more than to us and our to condition.


Last Judgment.jpg 

An excerpt of an oration of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus


“What is man that you should be mindful of him, mere mortal  that you should care for him?” What is  this new mystery confronting me? I am both small and great, both lowly and exalted, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly. I am to be buried with Christ and rise again with him, to become a co-heir with him, a son of God, and indeed God himself.


This is what the great mystery means for us; this is why God became man and became poor for our sake: it was to raise up our flesh, to recover the divine image in us, to re-create mankind, so that all of might become one in Christ  who perfectly became in us everything that he is himself. So we are no longer to be “male and female, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free” -distinctions deriving from the flesh–but to bear within ourselves only the seal of God, by whom and for which we were created. We are to be so formed and molded by him that we are recognized as belonging to his one family.


If only we could be now what we hope to be, by the great kindness of our generous God! He asks so little and gives so much in this life and in the next, to those who love him sincerely. In a spirit of hope and out of love for God, let us then “bear and endure all things” and give thanks for everything that befalls us, since even reason can often recognize these things as weapons to win salvation. Meanwhile let us commend to God our own souls and the souls of those who, being more ready for it, have reached the place of rest before us although they walked the same road as we do now.


Lord and creator of all, and especially of your human creatures, you are the God and Father and rule of your children; you are the Lord of life and death; you are the guardian and benefactor of our souls. You fashion and transform all things in their due season through your creative Word, as you know to be best in your deep wisdom and providence. Receive this day those who have gone ahead of us in our journey from this life.


(Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 7, 23-24; PG 35, cols 786-7; ET by ICEL)


V. From the gate of hell.

R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.


V. May they rest in peace.

R. Amen.


V. O Lord, hear my prayer.

R. And let my cry come unto Thee.


V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with your spirit.


Let us pray.


O God, Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of Thy servants and handmaids the remission of all their sins, that through our devout prayers they may obtain pardon which they have always desired. Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.


V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

R. And let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.

O Cross, our one reliance

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which, the day after the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection raised over the tomb of Christ, is exalted and honored, in the manner of a memorial of His paschal victory and the sign which is to appear in the sky, already announcing in advance His second coming. (Roman Martyrology)


The Church presents to us today a feast which commemorates the discovery of the Holy

Relics.jpgCross by Emperor Saint Constantine’s mother Saint Helena in Jerusalem (AD 325).  The Tradition says that Saint Helena found the Cross and the relics of the holy Passion and then brought them to Rome where they are venerated at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. On the spot of the discovery, she built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher keeping a portion of the Cross at there.


The sacred Liturgy gives us the image of the Holy Cross because it brings together the historical reality of the Cross with its theological import:  mystery of the life and death of Christ. This is not a feast celebrating a “terrific find” at an archaeological dig; it is a feast of our faith as the Cross is a central symbol of our faith.


Pazzi crucifxion.jpg

Hymnus in Honore Sanctae Crucis


Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.


Confixa clavis viscera
tendens manus, vestigia
redemptionis gratia
hic inmolata est hostia.


Quo vulneratus insuper
mucrone diro lanceae,
ut nos lavaret crimine,
manavit unda et sanguine.


Inpleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine,
dicendo nationibus:
regnavit a ligno deus.


Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata regis purpura,
electa, digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere!


Beata cuius brachiis
pretium pependit saeculi!
statera facta est corporis
praedam tulitque Tartari.


Fundis aroma cortice,
vincis sapore nectare,
iucunda fructu fertili
plaudis triumpho nobili.


Salve ara, salve victima
de passionis gloria,
qua vita mortem pertulit
et morte vitam reddidit.


In Festo Exaltationis Sanctae Crucis:

in hac triumphi gloria!


(“Vexilla Regis” was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the sacred Liturgy. This is the full hymn but when used liturgically at Vespers verses 2, 4, 7 are omitted.)

Professor of Eastern Liturgy dies: Father Miguel Arranz, S.J.

On July 16, 2008 Jesuit Father Miguel Arranz, the well-known professor of Liturgy who

Miguel Arranz.jpgtaught at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, in Moscow and in St Petersburg, died.

Father Arranz was born on July 9, 1930 in Guadalajara, Spain. Between 1941 and 1949, he studied at the Seminary of Toledo and in 1949 he began studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute where he trained under Jesuit Father Juan Mateos. He was ordained a deacon in 1952 and two years later he was ordained a priest. After spending a period of time studying in Belgium, Father Arranz returned to Rome in 1967 and began his study of the Typicon of the Monastery of the Holy Savior (Messina, Italy). In 1969, he defended a work titled “How did the ancient Byzantines pray?” at the Saint Petersburg Orthodox Spiritual Academy. Between 1969 and 1975, he taught Liturgy at the same Academy where in 1975 Patriarch Pimen appointed him a full professor and later he taught in Moscow and in St Petersburg. Father Arranz is the author of many scholarly articles and books on liturgical theology and history.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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