26 March 2018


What a good idea it was - I think it started in the Authorised Version of the Bible - to print LORD in capitals; at least, in the Old Testament and at least when LORD stands for the four Hebrew letters YHWH. Most readers will know that what the Hebrew manuscripts actually have here is the Hebrew Name for God. But for millennia our Jewish brethren have refrained out of reverence from uttering it aloud: when the Reader gets to YHWH in the text what he actually utters is (the Hebrew word for) 'Lord'. To tip him the wink to do this, the texts put the vowel points of that word underneath the consonants YHWH, giving YeHoWaH (which is the origin of the version 'Jehovah'). So when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and then Latin, the translators wrote, not YHWH, but (the Latin and Greek words for) 'the Lord'.

It is disrespectful towards the Hebrew origins of our Faith for Christians to utter this great and unutterable Name. Even if the philologists are right to say that it was pronounced Yahweh, there is nothing more wince-making than to hear callow students of the Old Testament droning comfortably on about yarwey as if it were the name of their pet cat. Nor should we use in church translations of Scripture which encourage ignorant readers to read the Name aloud. Happily, the latest edition of the neovulgate Latin Bible eliminates 'Yahveh', and the Roman liturgical authorities have banned the public utterance of this word in Bible readings. It is a monstrosity to hear this Name uttered aloud.

We don't always realise the significance of 'LORD' in our worship. The priest starts the Eucharistic Prayer by calling God 'Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God' (at least, he does if he is using an accurate translation of the ancient Western 'Preface'). We thus begin by identifying the God we address as the ancient God of the Hebrews before we go on to identify him with the 'Holy Father' to whom our Saviour prayed at the Last Supper (John 17). As Pius XI pointed out, we are all spiritually Semites; the God to whom we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom we ask to receive it as he accepted the gifts of his righteous servant Abel and the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham and what was offered by his high priest Melchisedech. Dom Gregory Dix wrote of 'the majestic tradition of the worshipping church, the rich tradition of the liturgy unbroken since the Apostles, and beyond - beyond even Calvary and Sion and the synagogues of Capernaum and Nazareth, back to the heights of Moriah and Sinai and the shadowy altar on Ararat - and beyond that again', in what he called 'the Church's quiet insistent proclamation in the Canon'.

One last point. The priest introduces the Eucharistic Prayer by saying 'Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God' (Cranmer's biggest mistake was to render this 'our lord God' as if 'Lord' is an honorific functioning as in 'my lord bishop'). The celebrant thus calls upon us to join him in making the one all-availing thank-offering to YHWH of his Son's Body and Blood. In the Tridentine Rite the priest, at these words, joins his hands together, the liturgical sign of total self-humbling (as a captive or slave might offer his wrists to be bound). And he raises his eyes to heaven and then bows his head. What a shame it is that modern rites discard this wonderful reverencing of YHWH our creator God, the God of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God to whom once we offered a twice-daily Tamid sacrifice of a lamb in His Temple and to whom now we offer the Immaculate Lamb.


ccc said...

Wasn't there a note in the recent past forbidding the use of the tetragrammaton in anything liturgical? --- not just music?

Adam 12 said...

I would appreciate further thoughts on how sacred oratorios and hymns that include the "fleshed out" tetragrammaton should be dealt with. Is the proscription limited to Bible readings?

peregrinusto said...

Thank you for this very timely exposition, Father. The LORD be with you this Holy Week and Easter.

thefederalist said...

More to the point, I am participating in the Catholic Biblical Studies of Michigan at our parish, and our instructor occasionally refers God according to His Divine Name, to distinguish Him, I suppose, from the gods of the surrounding nations. In a course evaluation I did request that all the instructors be directed never to use the Divine Name, and appended an extra credit to one of my homework assignments requesting the same of our instructor, an otherwise very fine and holy priest. The textbooks, of course, are replete with the use of the Divine Name. I've not yet experienced that my quiet exhortations have had an effect. What would be a good way to press the point to effect?

ccc: ten years ago the Congregation for Divine Worship issued this directive to the bishops' conferences around the world. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8400

The USCCB allows our translation of Scripture into English three occasions where the Divine Name is compounded with another Hebrew word to form a place-name.

If the Divine Name be so holy that Holy Mother Church will not pronounce it aloud in even Her most solemn liturgies, what can be said of its use in any earthly forum less sublime?

Anonymous said...

Writing the name of the LOrd in capitals is common also in early prints of Luthers translation of the bible. Wonder, who invented it.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Exodus 6:3

That appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; and my name ADONAI I did not shew them.

Douay Rheims

qui apparui Abraham, Isaac et Jacob in Deo omnipotente : et nomen meum Adonai non indicavi eis.


Looks correct ... what translations have you been dealing with?

Victor said...

As far as I know, the prohibition to spell out or utter the tetragrammaton refers to liturgical texts, not scientific texts. Or am I wrong?

thefederalist said...

These are the directives

"In the light of what has been expounded, the following directives are to be observed:

1. In liturgical celebrations, in songs and prayers the name of God in the form of the Tetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used nor pronounced.

2. For the translation of the biblical text in modern languages, destined for the liturgical usage of the church, what is already prescribed by No. 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, SeƱor, 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 Tetrgrammaton YHWH, similar to what happens in the Greek translation of the Septuagint and in the Latin translation of the Vulgate."

Obviously, coming from the Congregation for Divine Worship, it could only be authoritative in Catholic liturgies.

"When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I perceived ..."

Does not our worship of the Father, in spirit and in truth, provide us guidance for how to live our lives generally? And isn't it our holy Mother the Church who teaches how properly to adore the Father?

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Hans

"I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai, but by my name YHWH I did not make my name known to them."

That is what the Hebrew has. Because YHWH was deemed unutterable, the reader said "Lord" instead, which is Adonai. In the written scroll, the consonants were left as YHWH so as not to corrupt the divinely sanctioned text, but the vowel-marks ... little dots and sqiggles underneath the text, not thought to be as ancient or authoritative ... were given as those of Adonai. It is a convention which has worked satisfactorily for centuries, or, rather, millennia. The reader knows what is expected of him.

Dear Victor

You are right. But since the vowels in YaHWeH are, in fact, conjectural, I can't see the problem about printing YHWH. Slipshod English speakers in fact never do pronounce the two Hs!

Back to Hans: I am unsure how to gloss your assertion "Looks correct" or your rather schoolmasterly question "What translations have you been dealing with?".

william arthurs said...

The main culprit for printing "the y-word" is the Jerusalem Bible, I think.

I watched a DVD of "Into Great Silence". The monks are yawning as they get out of bed for Mattins. The lections are taken from the Jerusalem Bible. The film shows the text on the screen as it is being read. The lector punctiliously says "Notre Seigneur" whenever the y-word comes up. Good !

FSL said...

No, this convention was present in the first complete English edition of the Bible, translated by Myles Coverdale (1535) where "the LORDE" appears in all caps as well. Below is an electronic copy link. Interestingly Coverdale includes Baruch in his Old Testament among the other canonical books and apart from the "apocryphal" or as we know them the other deuterocanonical books he segregated from the real Scripture like a good Protestant:


FSL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Spinks said...

Am I correct in thinking that when reciting Ps 68 according to the BCP, one should omit Coverdale's "Jah"?

Cherub said...

Dear Father Hunwicke, I am very grateful to you for reminding us all that the Jewish name for God should not be uttered. I cringe every time I hear a song sung in a Catholic Mass which uses that name and without any hint of sorrow for the disrespect that is being shown to our Jewish brethren. That usage has, of course, now been banned, but that doesn't mean that it isn't still happening. When I was training to be an Anglican priest in the 1960s, our lecturer in Old Testament made very clear to us the points you have made. And those points need to be made time and time again since, it appears, liturgical innovators seem to have a tin ear where sensitivity to the Old Testament tradition is concerned.

thefederalist said...


Rather, liturgical innovators have a tin ear where the fear of God is concerned.