Monday, September 22, 2008

The following memo was sent to our parish's various directors and cantors:

Dear Music Ministry Leaders,

There are a few items of interest that I would like to bring to your attention regarding the programming of certain songs and hymns for use at Masses. The following is an article that outlines a decision that was first an-
nounced about a month ago from the Vatican Congregation of the Divine Faith by Cardinal Arinze. This letter to American bishops is From Bishop Serratelli:

Not to be used in Catholic worship

Holy See lays down law on use of ‘Yahweh’ and ‘Jehovah’

The Holy See has ruled that the tetragrammaton, the Old Testament’s name for God and rendered “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” may not be used in Catholic worship.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued the ruling earlier this summer, and Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, informed the U.S. bishops of it last month.

Though the ruling does not affect in any way the official liturgy of the Mass, it will require the editing of some general intercessions used in the Mass and the celebration of other sacraments. Also affected will be some popular songs used in the Church in the United States, such as “I Will Bless Yahweh,” “Rise, O Yahweh,” and “You Are Near,” which opens with “Yahweh, I know you are near.”

“You Are Near” is among the more popular songs used in Catholic worship in the U.S., said John Limb of Oregon Catholic Press, according a Catholic News Service article in the Sept. 8 Catholic Voice, the newspaper of the Oakland diocese. The article said the Oregon Catholic Press web site lists about 12 songs that feature the tetragrammaton.

Oregon Catholic Press has already printed its songbooks for 2009, so the changes will not be apparent until 2010 at the earliest. Another major publisher, GIA Publications in Chicago, has long had a policy against using the tetragrammaton. For instance, in GIA songbooks, the song “Thanks Be to Yahweh” appears as “Thanks Be to God.”

The tetragrammaton is so called because the holy name of God in the Old Testament appears only as the four Hebrew consonant equivalents of YHWH. “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,’” said the Holy See’s letter. Greek translations of the Bible use the word Kyrios, translated into Latin as Dominus and in English as Lord.

“Since the text of the Septuagint constituted the Bible of the first generation of Greek speaking Christians, in which language all the books of the New Testament were also written, these Christians, too, from the beginning never pronounced the divine tetragrammaton,” the letter continued.

The New Testament’s calling the “risen Christ” Lord corresponds exactly to the proclamation of his divinity, said the Holy See. "The title in fact becomes interchangeable between the God of Israel and the Messiah of the Christian faith, even though it is not in fact one of the titles used for the Messiah of Israel."

The Holy See concluded, "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."

I would suggest that should you desire to program “You are near” or other songs or hymns that contain “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” that you inform both your singers and the congregation that a substitute term will be used in its place. In a case such as “You are near” the addressing of “Yahweh” could be easily changed to “Abba” or “Father,” or “Dear Lord,” “Lord, God” or any two syllable combination (“My Lord”) that is licit.

Despite whatever personal preferences or feelings we may have regarding this issue and the prohibition, it remains nonetheless an authoritative dictum that all faithful Catholics are bound to observe. Whatever reservations that you or I have regarding these sorts of policy issues are worthy of respect and discernment. But there isn’t any merit to be gained from debating the issue, as there can lawfully be no argument or willful disobedience.

Another issue that is not yet officially articulated, but should be considered when programming songs and hymns, are the theological and dogmatic implications of their texts. The USCCB/BCL both have sub-committees studying this issue currently. But we need not wait to re-examine our own methods and reasons for choosing our own repertoires. We need to constantly monitor our own criteria for choosing repertoire as a progressive enterprise: immersing ourselves more deeply with resources beyond those provided by our hymnals’ publishers, or by commercial exposure at conventions and catalogues. The many search engines on the WWW such as Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc., can provide you with perspectives on specific songs that you may never have considered or heard of before. Take, for example, the following quotation from an internet blog “Unam Sanctam Catholicam” (One Holy Catholic [church])-

“Now let's look at a few "Catholic" songs. First and foremost on the list of offenders is Tom Conry's "Anthem": We are called, we are chosen. We are Christ for one another. We are promise to tomorrow, while we are for him today. We are sign, we are wonder, we are sower, we are seed. We are harvest, we are hunger. We are question, we are creed. Aside from not making any sense ("we are creed"?), these lyircs completely glorify man. Gone is the centrality on worship of Jesus, gone is any acknowledgement that man is a sinful being in need of Redemption. Everything is man centered. Though this song comes from a "Catholic" writer, it leaves out everything distinctively Catholic. Furthermore, the Protestants we mentioned (Sonicflood, Keith Green and Matt Redman) all firmly believe in the Gospel (as they know it), thoroughly believe in their own unworthiness and take the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. But we know that men like Conry, Haugen and Haas believe that the some of the moral teachings of the faith are no longer true, that doctrine can change, etc. To put it blankly, the Catholic songs are driven not just by an anti-Catholic agenda but by an anti-Christian agenda."

Now, that is quite an incendiary indictment of “Anthem” by an author who uses a nom de plume rather than his/her own name. But it illustrates my point that there are many folks “out there,” including in our own pews who may well harbor many valid questions as to how our choices are aligned to sound theology, dogmatic premises and liturgical principles. “Anthem” comes to mind easily because I’ve known of it since its inception, and became aware quite early that critics of its lyrical thrust cited the heresy of Pelagianism/Semipelagianism as being transparently implicit in the prose. I’m not rendering judgment here. I’m just letting you know that we live in an extremely information-rich era, for better or worse. And because we are providing leadership in singing at the one human activity that is dogmatically defined as the “source and summit of our being” we need to go the extra distance to know “what” we are singing about and “why” we are singing it.

So, please take this information to heart. Consider this issue of texts’ merits as well as its licit theological content when programming for Sundays and other Masses.

The peace and blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,


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