Lectio, or Lectio Divina, is a traditional form of "holy reading," which had its roots in Jewish and early Christian understanding of Scripture as the living Word of God. The purpose of Lectio is not to understand ideas, but to encounter a person—the Divine Being who inspires the words. Like Centering Prayer, lectio cultivates contemplative prayer but it is a more participatory, active practice that uses thoughts, images and insights to create a conversation with God.
Lectio is a logical extension of the Catholic understanding of Scripture as the inspired memory of the community’s continuing encounter with the living God, which reached its most perfect form in the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ. The early Church fathers, including Origen, Ambrose and Augustine, considered Scripture a sacrament.
In the late fifth and early sixth centuries, holy reading became one of the three fundamental components of daily life in Benedictine monasteries, along with liturgical prayer (the Mass and the Daily Office) and manual labor. A more formal format for Lectio Divina was described by a Carthusian monk, Guigo the Second, in the late 12th century. Guigo’s manuscript, The Ladder of Monks, contains the first known description of this method of prayer; it consisted of four steps which have become more or less standard components of Lectio Divina ever since:
reading the sacred text; thinking (or meditating) on the text; responding inprayer; and entering a state of quiet awareness of God's presence
In an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine in 2008, Catholic scripture scholar Fr. Daniel Harrington described the four steps of Lectio this way:
• First, reading or lectio: What does the text say? This step is basically about giving the text some time to sink into the mind and heart.
• The second step is meditatio--meditation. What does this text say to me? Who am I when I come to this text, and what does it say to me here and now? It could say a lot of things, and some of these I might need at the present time more than others.
• The third step is oratio or prayer, that is: What do I want to say to God through the text? I might want to say, "Thank you," or "I confess all the wonderful things you have done for me."
• There's some division about the fourth and final step. One school of thought describes it as contemplation--contemplatio--that is, simply enjoying the experience of reading this text. Another direction this step could go, and these are not mutually exclusive, would be action or actio: Is there anything that this text is challenging me to do in my life? Is there something that I should do or stop doing?
[The interview with Fr. Harrington is online here. Read Fr. Harrington's reflections on lectio here.]
While practiced more or less routine over the years in monastic communities, new interest in Lectio Divina for lay people emerged in the twentieth century. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) urged lay people “to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” and to “put themselves in touch with the sacred text.” They should remember, the Council noted, “that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together” (#25 online here).
Forty years later, Pope Benedict told an International Congress celebrating the anniversary of Dei Verbum: “ I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina." “…[T]he diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about [an] intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart," the Pope said. "Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged...through the use of new methods...in step with the times." "If it is effectively promoted this practice will bring to the Church…a new spiritual springtime” (text of the Pope’s address online here).
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Daily Lectio on Our Facebook Page
The Daily Lectio which appears on our Facebook page has been adapted from the traditional Lectio format in order to make it more accessible to lay people living busy lives in the modern world. Rather than containing all four steps of lectio in one setting, our Daily Lectio format stretches the process out over the course of the day. It may be used in combination with the Daily Prayer or Evening Examin on our Facebook page, or separately.
Readers who wish may perform all four steps in a single setting if they have the desire and time to do so, using the standard structure for Lection outlined above. The format provided for the Daily Lectio is only a suggestion -- it may work well for some people and not for others. Be flexible, and adapt the process so it works best for you.
As with any form of prayer, the key to success (or at least perseverance) is to find a format and rhythm that works more often than not for you. Some people may use the Daily Lectio every day; others every other day, once a week, or from time to time. Some will make it all the way to the end of the day most days, and others rarely or not at all. Be patient and persistent, but not compulsive. Use the Daily Lectio as long as it is helpful and useful; try a different form of prayer or Scripture study if it is not.
• Suggested Process for Daily Lectio
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Find Out More About Lectio Divina
Watch a slide show about Lectio Divina produced by Contemplative Outreach [link]
Frequently Asked Questions About Lectio Divina. Contemplative Outreach. [link]
About Lectio Divina. Contemplative Outreach. [link]
Accepting the Embrace of God--The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina. Fr. Luke Dysinger OSB. St. Andrew's Abbey. [link]
The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina. Fr. Thomas Keating OCSO. [link]
Ever Ancient, Ever New--Lectio Divina Is Not Just for Monastics Anymore. John B. Klassen OSB. America, 2008 [link]
How to Practice Lectio Divina--A Step-by-Step Guide to Praying the Bible. Fr. Luke Dysinger OSB. Beliefnet. August, 2000. [link]
Lectio Divina (video). Fr. James Martin SJ. [link]
Lectio Divina and Deepening Marital Intimacy. Patrick and Claudette McDonald. America, 2009. [link]
Pray by Reading. Austin Newberry OSB. Youth Update, March 1996. [link]
Sharing the Word of God at Home. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2009. [link]
Take a Closer Look--Lectio Divina. Sr. Sheryl Frances Chen. U.S. Catholic, June 2011. [link]
Text of the 12th Synod of Bishops on the Word [link]
Verbum Domini--Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Pope Benedict XVI, 2010. [link]