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Why was ‘Yahweh’ dropped?

Q: Why has the Catholic Church dropped “Yahweh” from its hymns, such as in “You Are Near”? (Garden City, SC)

A: Yes, I think we were all a little caught off guard in 2008 when the Vatican issued the instruction asking that “Yahweh” be removed from hymns and songs. We had all gotten used to using Yahweh and the instruction required some teaching and explanation. It was an important move but we needed to understand it.

And so, the name is the spoken version of the Tetragrammaton “YHWH,” which is the name of God in the Old Testament. It is revered by the Jewish people and by Christians as one of the holiest gifts given to humanity.

As the instruction reads: “As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God,” the name “was held to be unpronounceable.” That practice continued with Christianity and was demonstrated by “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.”

The Vatican’s instruction, therefore, is a retrieval of an ancient Christian practice. The holy name should not be used casually or even in a regular manner. It should only be used in a strictly reserved manner. This discipline is a call to all of us to realize how holy God’s name is and how we should approach it. This includes the name Jesus Christ.

Q: In a previous answer about women deacons, you indicated that the question is one of “sacramental matter.” Do you mean that women are improper matter for the sacrament of holy orders? (Hempstead, NY)

A: This could become a very complicated answer. And so, I’d like to begin by explaining what is meant by sacramental matter. Each sacrament consists of a sacramental sign which involves matter (the visible, physical part) and the form (the spoken part). For example, the matter of baptism is natural water and the form is “I baptize you …”.

In my answer about the possibility of female deacons, I indicated that the question Pope Francis would need to clarify is whether women could be sacramental matter for the order of deacons.

The Church has already taught that women are not sacramental matter for priesthood. This is not an injustice or question of equality but an answer of divine institution. Men and women are equal in dignity but have diverse missions within the Church. While God has not selected women for the priesthood, he has other ministries for women within the Church.

Does this involve the diaconate? Are women proper matter for the sacrament? These are the questions raised by Pope Francis. He’s asked for counsel and will discern the sources of divine revelation to see if women are sacramental matter for the diaconate and whether they are called to be deacons in the life of the Church today.

We have to wait and see what answer is given. The process here is the theological background on how the Church finds answers to its questions. Arguments based on cultural definitions of social justice are misplaced and reasoning born from a blurring of the gender differentiation between men and women are foreign to the Church’s attention on theological questions.

The principal and pressing question for the Church is whether God is calling women to the diaconal ministry. Theologically that means: are women sacramental matter for the diaconate?

Father Jeffrey Kirby is administrator of St. Joseph Church in Chester and Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. Email him your questions at


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