Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Refraining From Using God's Divine Name

It is so convenient to have a dear friend with a brother who is a priest!

The question:
At Bible Study last night we were talking about not using the name Yahweh any more in the music at Mass.  Why is this? Could you help us out?

The answer:
Musicians are asked to refrain (pardon the pun) from using the Divine Name “Yahweh” because of a tradition that goes back from before the time of Christ.  In the the Book of Exodus we learn that God reveals His name to Moses (Yahweh) in an atmosphere of great awe and reverence.  Moses has to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground, ground made holy by the powerful revelation of God’s name. 
From that time on, the name of God (Yahweh) was deemed by the Jewish people as being so sacred that it would only be uttered one time each year, and then only by the High Priest standing within the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Instead of saying the divine name the Jewish people would use the word “Adonai,” which is translated as Lord. 
Even though the divine name (Yahweh) was written down in the Torah (the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible), when the Torah was read out loud in the synagogue and the reader came to the word “Yahweh” the reader would substitute the word “Adonai.”  This is the reason why in the New American Bible and many other translations (including the RSV and the NRSV) you find in the Old Testament the word “LORD” all in capital letters.  This means that the text of the Bible says “Yahweh” but out of respect for the divine name the translation renders it “LORD.”
For the first 1966 years of the history of the Church every bible ever printed has used “LORD” to translate the Divine Name.  In 1966 the Jerusalem Bible was printed and, amidst great controversy, that translation used the name itself (Yahweh).  Musicians quickly followed and wrote songs such as “Yahweh I Know You are Near” etc.
This innovation of 1966 flies in the face of over 3000 years of tradition. The name of God is sacred and holy and shouldn’t be bandied about as if it is just any name.  This is especially true because it offends the sensibilities of Jewish people, many of whom have been absolutely scandalized when visiting a Catholic church and hearing folk music that uses the name “Yahweh”.
So there.  I hope that answers the question.  The bottom line is that even though it is not a sin for Catholics to speak the Divine Name it does go against a very long tradition that was known and respected by Jesus and the apostles.  Knowing that the use of the Divine Name offends the sensibilities of other people is a good enough reason for musicians to stay away from using it.

Hat Tip (and big thank you) to Mary Jo!

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