January 24, 2012

Lectio Divina

Near the end of the second part of Verbum Domini, "The Word of God in the Life of the Church", Pope Benedict spends time on the subject of lectio divina: "the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture".

What is lectio divina?
It is a practice dating to at least the third century which the Pontifical Biblical Commission described as "a reading, on an individual or communal level, of a more or less lengthy passage of Scripture, received as the word of God and leading, at the prompting of the Spirit, to meditation, prayer and contemplation." The Synod acknowledges it as "a great patristic tradition" in which we not just read Sacred Scripture but dialogue with God about it. Of all the methods for approach Sacred Scripture, lectio divina is the one on which the Synod spent the most time.

It is made up of four stages: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio; or, reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Briefly, you begin by reading a short passage from Scripture - a line or so, then meditate on the meaning(s) of it. What is God telling you in those words of His? Next, you pray, speaking to God about what He is telling you. After speaking a little, of course, you should listen all the more; in the last step, you sit quietly in God's presence so He may respond. The Holy Father notes that these steps must ultimately lead to "actio": putting the Word of God into action in your life and living a Christian witness.

Note that this isn't intended to take the place of authentic interpretation from the Magisterium or public reading of the Word of God in the litury. Pope Benedict reiterates this reminder of the Synod, "that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God.... Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church."

In an address on Oct 28, 1996, Blessed John Paul II called it "the privileged occasion for meeting God while listening to His Word." This is not a subject that I can treat adequately in one article, nor am I an expert on "divine reading" by far. I've recommended some additional resources below, and I encourage you to read about the practice and give it a try.

Some resources, from brief to in-depth:
Lectio Divina in Our Catholic Life Today, Fr. Scott A. Hayes, S.J.C. (free article)
Meditation, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶2705-2708
Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer, Sam Anthony Morello, O.C.D. (booklet)
Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, Dr. Tim Gray
Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.

John Paul II. 1996. Renewed Catechesis Will Lead to a More Incisive Promotion of Vocations. Address at World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961028.htm.
Pontifical Biblical Commission. 1994. On the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. Available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.htm.

It's been quite a while since I started this measured read-through of Verbum Domini. In my next post we start the third and final section: Verbum Mundo.

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