Throughout its journey, the Church, following in the footsteps of the people of Israel, has listened to the Word of God and has learned to read it in different contexts in order to discover God’s will for each historic moment. This long process of apprenticeship has crystallized in a form of reading the Word which was very early on (from the early 3rd century) called Lectio divina.
With the birth of monasticism, LD became the privileged way of spirituality. It became systematized among the monks. A 12th-century Carthusian left us the stages of this way of reading the Word, which nourished the faith of whole generations of Christians until the 14th century, when the disputes of late Scholasticism opened the way to other, more introspective, kinds of prayer (mental prayer, Ignatian meditation…). Vatican II proposed LD as a privileged form of continual and prayerful contact with Sacred Scripture (DV 25), not only for priests (PO 18) or religious (PC 6), but for all the laity (AA 4). Our congregation also recommends its practice (SW 21.2).
LD is a form of encounter with God alongside the Bible itself. It starts from the conviction that through Scripture God himself comes out to meet us, and that the written words in it are addressed precisely to us in the midst of the joys, longings, hopes or disillusionments of the personal social moment in which we exist.
A summary of Lectio Divina
- INVOCATION OF THE SPIRIT: Before all else, we must invoke the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) to help us know the will of God expressed in Scripture.
- LECTIO:This consists of reading and re-reading the text with attention and respect. It must be done several times, avoiding haste in reading. It aims at overcoming the reading of the eyes in order to attain the reading of the heart, and listening. God speaks and the Lectio divina is only a means of coming to hear (audire) and obey (ob-audire) him. For this, it is well to let the Scripture itself guide us in understanding the text by reading parallel passages and marginal notes, because Scripture interprets itself, as the Fathers of the Church remind us.
- MEDITATIO: This means ruminating over the text (when some monks call this stage ollation). Go over it again and again, until we discover the message enclosed in it. For this we need the kind of attentive and deep reflection that reaches the deepest meaning of the text from the standpoint of our own personal and situational reality as believers. In meditation, we strike up a dialogue between our life and what the text encloses. We do not always understand the text or do we always obtain the precise word we are looking for. Obedience to the God who speaks to us will sometimes demand that we wait and even acknowledge that we have not understood anything.
- ORATIO: Reading and meditation lead us to prayer, talking with God. Thus far we have been trying to listen to him, to grasp his message for us. Now is the moment to use our heart and sentiments which are expressed in the most varied way: petition, praise, thanks, lamentation, reproach…
- CONTEMPLATIO: This is the culmination of the process. Attention is concentrated on the mystery of Jesus, beyond the multiplicity of sentiments. We strive to keep acquiring, little by little, through personal contact with the Word, the view that God has of the world, history, humankind; in a word, to acquire what Paul calls the mind of Christ (Php 2:5), even to the point of being able to say that it is Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). The aim of the process of LD is not to evade reality, but to dwell in its most profound center from the new viewpoint that the Word has offered us, which leads us to commitment and action to make present in this world the saving design of God.
Other Possible moments of enriching Lectio Divina
The personal effort that LD entails does not mean that it is an individual or private way. The true place for initiation into a prayerful reading of the Word is the community, and that LD produces more fruit when listening to and meditating on the Word is done in a community climate.
The community and apostolic aspect of LD can be high lighted by adding moments of reflection and action together in community. Some experts suggest the following two moments too in LD.
6. Collatio, a moment of sharing the Word with our brothers,
7. Actio or operatio, making a commitment that springs from the Word.
It may not be necessary to add these moments, which of themselves do not belong to the original design, especially if we bear in mind that the most suitable place for apprenticeship in LD is a community or Christian group. There are prayer methods that incorporate these elements in Bible study and prayer for groups and small Christian communities.
St. Claret and Lectio Divina
In a present-day Claretian key, LD leads us to be about the Father’s affairs (Lk 2:49) and to feel them as our own.
Here is one of the texts in which we can best see some of the elements of LD in Claret:
“Not only is he [Jesus] your master, but also your model and exemplar, since he first did what he later taught. And the Eternal Father tells each one of us: Look at Jesus nailed to the cross on Mount Calvary, and copy him within yourself, until you can say: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me”. Thus, you will become a perfect disciple, so that you will be able to say by your conduct, as the Apostle did: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. Every day the priest will study his lesson, that is, he will read at least a chapter of the Holy Gospel, and every day he will attend class, that is, meditation, spending an hour or at least a half-hour meditating on the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ (CI 11,5,1,1,: SSW 358).
This text can be presented as follows:
- Lectio: Every day he will study his lesson, that is, he will read at least one chapter of the Holy Gospel
- Meditatio: He will attend class, that is, meditation.
- Contemplatio: Look at Jesus…and copy him in yourself, until you can say: I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me (as the end of the process of acquiring the mentality and attitudes of Jesus).