Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Simple Primer to Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina – if you are Catholic, you have no doubt at least heard the phrase somewhere along the way. But I wonder how many of us know what it means, how to practice it, and just how naturally it should come to us.

Until recently, I was one of those Catholics. I had heard of it...and I knew a bit about it as a form of contemplative prayer based on the Scriptures. But I had no idea how to REALLY practice it, and I certainly didn’t realise how natural it should be for me as a Catholic. That was until I heard a talk by Dr Brandt Pitre entitled “The Bible and the Spiritual Life”. What Dr Pitre shared was so simple, yet so profound, that it would be wrong for me not to share it.

What is Lectio Divina?

“Lectio Divina” is Latin for “divine reading”. With roots stretching back to the earliest days of the Church, it is a form of prayer which is practised with the use of the Sacred Scriptures in “stages”, or as a ladder, in order to bring us to the point of contemplative union with the Divine Author who not only gave us the Word of God, but who is also Himself the Word of God in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

How does one practice Lectio Divina?

[For this part, I am going to take for granted that we all know that Lectio Divina (or any form of prayer for that matter) isn’t some kind of magical formula. Rather, for Lectio Divina to be fruitful, we should put aside sufficient time to spend in the Word and in prayer. Seeking a quiet place with little or no distractions is a no-brainer. And most obviously, I assume that we all know that without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our efforts would be pointless – so beginning with a simple prayer asking for the Spirit’s guidance is a given.]

The practice of Lectio Divina takes place in four stages:

1)      Lectio (Reading) – in this stage, the Word of God is simply read. It is usually best to start with short passages. As a suggestion, reading the Gospel passage in preparation for Mass is a great place to start. Read slowly and thoughtfully. It is usually a good idea to read the passage a few times because we get easily distracted without even being aware of it. By reading a passage through a few times, we will gain a better feel for the whole, and often pick up on things we may have missed in previous readings.


2)      Meditatio (Meditation) – in this stage, we ask questions of the passage we have read. What point is the author trying to make? How does this apply to me? How should I respond? Etc., etc., etc. The Holy Spirit will use questions like these to open our eyes and helps us to see what we need to do in our own lives so that we can become more conformed to our Lord Jesus Christ.


3)      Oratia (Prayer) – in this stage, we talk to God about the passage we have read. We ask God for His grace to help us make the changes we need to make. It is important to be completely honest with God in our prayer. So often, we think that we need to pray in a certain way using censored words – and if we don’t, then we aren’t being holy enough.  Well, God knows our hearts and our needs before we even ask, so there is no point hiding. If you are feeling frustrated or angry – then tell God about it. He is our Heavenly Father, and He loves us. Like any loving earthly father, He wants His dear children to come to Him openly and honestly.


4)      Contemplatio (Contemplation) – in this stage, once we have prayed to God and spoken to Him, we need to take time to be still and listen for His voice – the still small voice of God speaking to our hearts, communing with our souls. After we have climbed the first three rungs of the ladder (Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio), God takes the final step when He climbs down the ladder to unite Himself to us, and we behold His glory with the eyes of faith.


As you can see, Lectio Divina is not some “higher calling” reserved only for “spiritual giants”. It is a simple method of prayer that even the least of us lay faithful can practice with great success. It is natural, because it follows the pattern of dialogue – something that we engage in every day. And to top it off, like the icing on the cake, it is a great way for Catholics to get to know their Bibles better.

Even with the naturalness of dialogue aside, as Catholics (especially as Catholics), practising Lectio Divina is something that we should be very comfortable with because Lectio Divina mirrors another great prayer that we pray so often that we tend to take it for granted. You guessed it...Lectio Divina mirrors the greatest prayer – the prayer of all prayers – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Think about it...

Mass begins with the Liturgy of the Word where the Scriptures are read and we listen (Lectio). What follows is a meditation when the Word of God is opened up and explained in the Homily (Meditatio). After the Homily, we move into the Prayers of the Faithful (Oratia). And finally, the summit of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ comes to make His Communion with us (Contemplatio).

Hopefully looking at Lectio Divina in this simple, familiar, and profound way will encourage us all to take up the Sacred Scriptures and seek to deepen our walk with the Lord in this Year of Faith.

On a final note, and certainly not the least important, I need to add that the best way to learn how to practise Lectio Divina is in the school of Mary. We are told a few times in Sacred Scripture that Mary pondered the things of Christ in her heart. Mary is the model of contemplative communion with the Lord Jesus, so who better to teach us how to “do whatever He tells you”.

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