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How to Do Lectio Divina: Catholic Meditative Prayer

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina, pronounced LEK-tsea-ho di-VEEN-ah, is a latin term meaning “divine reading” and is a Catholic meditative form of prayer.  The process is a slow, reflective praying of the Scriptures which enables the Word of God, to unify us with God…to be a fruitful source for growing our relationship with Him. The person praying the Lectio Divina is more communicating or sharing Scripture with God instead of the typical studying of passages that is usually found when just reading the Bible. The method allows you to let go and open yourself up to what God wants to say to us.

History and Development

The Lectio Divina has its origins with the early church fathers in the 3rd century. One in particular, Origen, was likely the first to articulate the idea of reading Scripture to discover a meaning beyond the literal sense of biblical text. He described the purpose of Scriptural reading as finding the hidden message from God, which is central to Lectio Divina.

The monastic movement carried on the informal Lectio Divina method. The Benedictine monks made reading the Bible the center of their lives. The monks were born and organized around listening to the Word of God and praying with it. Life in a Benedictine monastery consisted of liturgical prayer, manual labor and a prayerful reading of the Bible. Their slow and thoughtful reading and pondering of Scripture was a form of meditation for them. St. Benedict believed it is not only a matter of reading the Bible but of becoming the Word of God to others. That was the goal of the Lectio Divina to them. Saint Cassianus said that the more you progress in understanding the text the more you identify yourself with it, until you reach the same spiritual experience of the biblical writer. It was a monk named Guigo II in the 12th century that organized the Lectio Divina into four spiritual steps in his book called, “The Ladder of the Monks”.

The Four Steps of the Lectio Divina

Guigo described the Lectio as being like a ladder to heaven. The ladder had four steps; Lectio (reading/listening), Meditatio (meditation), Oratio (prayer) and Contemplatio (contemplation).

  • Lectio – The first step is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. You are listening for the voice of God speaking to you intimately. In lectio, read slowly and attentively, listening for a word or phrase that is God's Word for you.
  • Meditatio – Once you have heard your word or phrase that is speaking to you in a personal way, take it in and ponder it. Memorize it – and while gently repeating it to yourself, allow it to interact with your thoughts, your memories, your hopes, your desires. This is the second step or stage. In this step, allow God's Word to become His Word for you, a word that touches you and affects you at your deepest levels.
  • Oratio – The third step is the prayer step…prayer understood both as dialogue with God and as consecration, or prayer as an offering to God of parts of ourselves that we have not previously believed God wants. Allow the word that we have taken in and on which we are meditating to touch and change your deepest self. Just as a priest consecrates the bread and wine at the Eucharist, God invites us to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given us in our lectio and meditatio. Finally, allow yourself to be touched and changed by the Word of God.
  • Contemplatio – In the final step, simply rest in the presence of God and accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are not even necessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Contemplation during the Lectio Divina is a wordless, quiet rest in the presence of God. In silence, let go of your own words and simply enjoy the experience of being in the presence of God.

The Lectio Divina can be done as an individual prayer as described above or as a group exercise. The group version is popular in Catholic churches of the third world where books are rare. The group form of the Lectio Divina is unique in form and process but that will be for another post.

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