On the Use of the Name of God, Pope Benedict teaches

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Thumbnail image for Benedict XVI.gifOn Friday, 8 August 2008, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments communicated to the relevant ecclesial authorities (i.e., Bishops' Conferences and therefore Diocesan Bishops) that the Holy Father in accord with the same congregation and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the norms for the liturgical use of "...the Divine Name signified in the sacred tetragrammaton...." The document is called "Letter to the Bishops' Conferences on the 'Name of God'" (Prot. N. 213/08/L). The directives are clear and concise. The Letter is issued under the signatures of Francis Cardinal Arinze and Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith and dated 29 June 2008. The directives:


1.      In liturgical celebrations, in songs and prayers the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton.jpgtetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used or pronounced.

2.      For the translation of the Biblical text in modern languages, destined for liturgical usage of the Church, what is already prescribed by n. 41 of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam is to be followed; that is, the divine tetragrammaton is to be rendered by the equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios: "Lord", "Signore", "Seigneur", "Herr", "Señor", etc.

3.      In translating, in the liturgical context, texts in which are present, one after the other, either the Hebrew term Adonai or the tetragrammaton YHWH, Adonai is to be translated "Lord" and the form "God" is to be used for the tetragrammaton YHWH, similar to what happens in the Greek translation of the Septuagint and in the Latin translation of the Vulgate.


The cardinal and the archbishop explain in the first part of the letter the value of remaining faithful to the consistent teaching and tradition of the Church. Here one can say that in following this teaching Catholics have continuity of faith: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (often abbreviated by the bromide of lex orandi, lex crendendi). The implication of this teaching, therefore, has much to do with Christology, liturgical theology, catechetics and interfaith dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters. I think the final paragraph bears prayerful consideration because of the Church's objectivity:

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


As commentary, the teaching presented by the Church was taught to me and my classmates at Notre Dame High School (W. Haven, CT) in Mr. William Parkinson's Old Testament class in 1983. So, I think we were fortunate to have had the correct catechesis and praxis at that time in our Church's history. Having said this, I wonder about the arrogance (perhaps mere ignorance?) of Christians using of the Divine Name incorrectly and I wonder how long it will take publishers to change their editorial policy. I am thinking of the dreadful liturgical songs still used in parishes.


RE: On the Use of the Name of God...

Dear author:

I love this article, and want to present it at my parish councils. Could you take a look at it more closely. I think there are some type-errors that need to be corrected:

directive 3
final paragraph


Fr. Timothy Johnson

What about Jesus' own words at John 17:26 where it says "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." If we are to ignore Jesus feelings on this, what else would the Vatican have us ignore?

What about these words of Jesus? The Church follows, i.e., is obedient to, the words of sacred Scripture. Scripture and biblical theology can't be discarded if you are a true Catholic. I can't think of a single time where the bishops and the popes of the Church have demonstrated negligence in adhering to the Scripture. Have you read Pope Benedict's letter "Deus caritas est" (God is Love)? It is worth the trouble because he orients our attention to just the theme you mention. Just curious, who is the Vatican? Does it speak or do people in the service of the Lord & Church, speak?

Are not Jesus' words at John 17:26 "sacred scripture"? Are we not supposed to follow his example, in word & deed? Is the amputation of God's name from the Bible obedience to sacred scripture or an alteration of it? What are we now to do with the "Our Father" prayer? Jesus opening words to his Father are "hallowed be thy NAME". If Yahweh must be removed, then wouldn't it follow that "Jesus" name must also be removed?

Indeed, you are correct Stephen, John 17:26 still stands, as does the whole of the Bible. As Christians, we are to listen and heed Scripture. BUT, you may not be aware of the various names for God and the theologies that surround the various names for God which led Pope Benedict to offer a renewed interest in respect for the Divine Name. Simply put, no, the use of the word "Father" in the Lord's prayer is not the same as the Divine Name, YHWH; here the use of the word father is more personal (and intimate) than formal might be be in the OT. The use of the YHWH was never uttered by Jesus that we know of, at least as recorded by the Evangelists. AND NO, it does not follow that Jesus' name would not be used, only speaking the name YHWH is forbidden to be spoken and written by Jews and Christians. This is first level Scripture study. I am happy to suggest a few resources to read if you'd like.

Thanks your reading the Communio blog and writing.


So when Jesus said "I have made your name known to them and will make it known" he was lying was he? Not everything Jesus said and did was recorded in the Gospels.(John 21:25) Suffice it to say that Jesus DID use his Father's name.

Rose, I think you have to re-read what Pope Benedict is teaching and see the theological continuity from the Jews through all of Christianity. Yes, Jesus made known the face of God and used His Father's name, but didn't us YHWH. A good Jew would not have gone against God's will.

Thanks a lot for this post. It's incredibly informative. If you don't mind, I've got a question; How do you deal with Spam in blog comments? I genuinely hate it, It wastes my time and I hate dealing with it each day. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do to reduce the amount of comment spam I get on my blog? Thanks for the suggestions"

I hate spam, too. I periodically have to delete comments and remove spam from the junk file manually. I think spam is here to stay if you are in going to be in cyberspace.


Thank you for your post. I am confused however, by the idea that the Septuagint always substituted the Tetragrammaton with Lord or God. It is known that texts of the Septuagint dating before Jesus contained the Tetragrammaton. Even if it was a Jewish tradition not to use the Tetragrammaton, Jesus plainly said of them, "You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition." (Matthew 15:6) Jesus set the matter straight when he said as has been previously quoted "I made known to them your name and I will make it known." (John 17:26) We cannot allow tradition to prevent us from knowing Jesus words. Jesus words must come before tradition. We should follow the words of Saint Peter at Acts 2:21, "and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord."

I don't know why some are chosen to understand while others continue in the dark, (1Cor.4:3,4) but surly it is a matter of the heart, and a hardened heart will remain ignorant to the knowledge of our God. YAHWEH said of Pharaoh, I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing My power in you, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Rm.9:17) He had also indicated to Moses,"This is My name forever and this is how I am to be remembered for all time. (Ex.3:15)"The name of our God identifies him from all other gods that the people of this earth would hope to embrace and bears the very essence of His being. The name YAHWEH was recorded some 7000 times throughout the Old and New Testament writings only to be replaced with the words LORD or GOD spelled in small capitol letters, and it is my life's goal to see that it is one day replaced.
The book of Matthew was recorded in Hebrew for those Jews who had recently converted from Judaism to become followers of The Way. YAHshua Messiah would have never misquoted scripture, he was sent to draw us to his Father and God (2Cor.1:3)) just as Moses was sent some 2500 years earlier. Why do so many allow Satan to dictate what they are to learn? Again its a matter of the heart. In Matthew 4:10 YAHshua quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 when he said, "Get behind me Satan for it is written, you shall worship YAHWEH your God and Him only shall you serve."

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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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