Over the past couple of years as I worked with Paulist Evangelization Ministries on the parish program, Living the Eucharist, I’ve been really pleased with the fact that it includes Lectio Divina, a way of praying with the scriptures. Although it models the practice in small groups, ideally Lectio Divina can be continued on an individual basis long after the program is finished.
Although there are many different ways of praying that use Scripture, the process of lectio divina seems to be a rich one for preparation for or reflection after Sunday Eucharist. This is not catechesis. It is not exegesis. It is not Bible study. But I do believe it can be a kind of mystagogy, opening our hearts and lives to Christ’s presence in the Word.
The specific connection to the liturgy is through the choice of scripture: a reading is taken from the Sunday lectionary. Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, who wrote the sections on Lectio Divina, and is an experienced retreat director, described the four stages of the process — Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio — in a way that I found engaging. Here are some excerpts from his descriptions.
The art of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to attune our hearts to the voice of God, which often speaks very softly and which requires us to become still and silent. … Is there a word or phrase or a sentence that has a particular ‘sheen’ on it, that lifts off the page, or hangs in the air for you when the reading is over? Do not expect a bolt of lightning; attune yourself, rather, for a gentle touch.
After listening to the reading a second time, take up the phrase or verse that attracted you, and let it interact with your thoughts, hopes, memories, and desires. … Do I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ Christ in this verse? Gratefully receive the Word and look closely at what it reveals to your heart.
The third step in lectio divina is prayer, understood both as dialogue and as consecration. … At the heart of oratio is the experience of Christ calling us forth into doing or being. What is Christ in the text calling me to do or to become?
Here we become still, and know that God is God. Here we lay aside our thoughts. We simply come to rest in the presence of the One who, through the medium of the living Word of Scripture, invites us into God’s loving embrace.
There’s more, of course, and I’m sure there have been many books written on this subject. But this gives you a taste. Now, not everyone will be attracted to any one discipline of prayer, so I’m not proposing that everybody ought to do this, but I found it intriguing and wanted to see if others have experience of it.
Here is why I bring it up. When we think about what it means to fully participate in the Liturgy, it seems to me that we are very sure the choir and cantor should practice, the preacher should prepare his homily, and the readers their readings, and all the ministers should know their cues and be prepared to do whatever is their role in the celebration. Yet many in the assembly, which has a role of the utmost importance in offering their lives joined to the sacrifice of Christ, come in “cold.” By the grace of God, it all still comes together for many people, but I wonder about those who drift away because “I don’t get anything out of Sunday Mass.” Maybe we have to put more thought into what we do outside Mass in order to help people come together to celebrate the liturgy more fruitfully.
Of course there are challenges in this. Having more prayerful attention to the Scriptures which will be proclaimed at Sunday Mass means we must have readers who proclaim them well and with a good grasp of their meaning. We need homilists to realize that when they preach at Mass they are standing on the holy ground that is the intersection of this community’s life and the Word of God. Ball score bonhomie and trite generalities are not enough.
But these are good challenges to have.
We live in an instant gratification society, something that Liturgy flies in the face of. Liturgy is slow and the stakes it is most concerned with are very, very long term. That doesn’t mean there are no immediate returns to be gained from going to Mass. But I think we need to cultivate an ability to enter the liturgical action deeply, and this is a multi-faceted task including disciplines of prayer and the practice of our faith in everyday life.