Among the oldest and richest forms of prayer in the Catholic faith is one that many Catholics are not familiar with.
It is called Lectio Divina, which is Latin for “Holy Reading.” It is a way of praying by reading scripture more as the Living Word of God than as a text to be studied and scrutinized.
This is a form of prayer that is quite personal – it is more difficult to do with a group of people (as opposed to prayer like the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours) and it is therefore more difficult to pass on to others.
Lectio Divina goes back to times in the early centuries when most people could not read. It was common in Monastic settings to have one monk read passages of scripture out loud to the rest of the monks for them to reflect upon.
The first formalized recording of Lectio Divina did not occur until the eleventh century when a monk of the Carthusian order described the prayer in a letter to a fellow religious. The letter described a four-rung ladder to Heaven. Each rung was a step in what would come to be known as Lectio Divina.
The four steps are reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. In the setting of Lectio Divina the steps are often referred to by their Latin names: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.
The Prayer Process
In short, the practice of Lectio Divina is performed by:
- Finding a quiet place to read and pray without interruption (sometimes this action is given the name “statio” for “position”)
- Read a passage of scripture (Lectio)
- Meditate on the pieces of scripture that stood out to you (Meditatio)
- Pray to be changed by what you have meditated upon (Oratio)
- Contemplate the goodness of God and His Word (Contemplatio)
- If you are praying in a group setting, discuss what each of you have gained from the prayer (sometimes this step is called “collatio” for “discussion”)
- Go out and live it (sometimes this step is called “actio” for “action”)
Let’s take a closer look at each step:
Find a place that is quiet and peaceful, without distractions. Relax in a position that will help you to pray.
First find a passage to read. A couple of paragraphs (about a dozen verses) is usually a good length.
New Testament readings are probably the best. The goal is to be able to read slowly and take a lot out of the reading while maintaining focus.
In Lectio Divina we do not try to quickly read through a great volume of scripture. You might read the day’s Gospel reading from Mass, or you might open to a random passage.
Read the passage. If possible, and if you are comfortable doing so, read the scripture out loud to yourself so that you can both see and hear the Word.
If anything about the scripture is confusing seek a good Catholic commentary to help understand it.
There may be footnotes in your Bible for this purpose, or you might look to a book such as this one.
Take a moment and reflect on the reading. Focus especially on any words or phrases that jumped out at you. Ask whether there is something that the Lord might be calling you to do by pointing out the segments of the passage to you, or if there is something that you are called to pray more deeply about.
It may even be worth reading through the passage again to see if there is any more that you can get out of it.
Take time to talk to pray to the Holy Spirit that you might take what you have gained through this Holy Reading and apply it to your life so that you can grow closer to God and be more fully moved to do His will.
Now we rest in the presence of God and give Him thanks for His grace and His Word.
If Lectio Divina is being done in a group setting this is the point at which we would discuss what we have learned, or what moved us, with the group.
Finally, we go out and live what we have learned through Lectio Divina and prayer.
Praying Lectio Divina with a Group
Although Lectio Divina is more often done as an individual prayer, it is certainly possible to pray it as a group.
The most recommended way to pray Lectio Divina as a group is very similar to the process above.
First the passage is read out loud by one member of the group, and then there is an extended period of silence for reflection.
If desired, the group can go around and each person can share a word or phrase from the passage that stood out to them. This is not the proper time to discuss the scripture, just to point out the pieces that caught the members’ attention.
Next, a different person from the group reads through the passage a second time. Another extended period of quiet reflection follows.
Now, if desired, a period of discussion about the passage can take place between the members of the group.
Finally, the group concludes with a prayer.
Do you have any experience with Lectio Divina? Share your tips or experiences in the comments below.