Category Archives: Sacred Scripture

Scripture Study: A Catholic’s love

St Jerome.jpgSaint Jerome once said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. Therefore it is not a stretch to say that an authentic, believing Catholic studies and prays the Bible.

But what do we believe about the Bible? Catholics hold that Scripture is the inerrant Word of God and is authoritative for understanding Christ’s teaching; it is the basis for all Church teaching. Further, it is the Holy Spirit who provides a guide to understanding Christ’s teaching which is called Tradition. In fact, it was Church who, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration that the Scriptures were written. With Tradition assisting us, nothing can replace an intimate familiarity with the Word of God through study and prayer (personal & communal). As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said that we are to, “[hear] the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith.”

In 1965, the Church gave us a pivotal document on Scripture, Dei Verbum, which outlines its place in the life of every Christian. For many Dei Verbum is a middle way for biblical interpretation which lies between Protestant fundamentalism and secular rationalism. I recommend that you consider each word of this document. If you think Catholics find Scripture irrelevant you will find the following astonishing :

Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.”

It devolves on sacred bishops “who have the apostolic teaching” to give the faithful entrusted to them suitable instruction in the right use of the divine books, especially the New Testament and above all the Gospels. This can be done through translations of the sacred texts, which are to be provided with the necessary and really adequate explanations so that the children of the Church may safely and profitably become conversant with the Sacred Scriptures and be penetrated with their spirit.

If you are looking for a fine review of what Dei Verbum has meant to us 35 years later I tend to think this essay of Archbishop Charles Chaput of 2000 as helpful. Additionally, you will find a wealth of information for biblical study at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology directed by Scott Hahn. Hahn’s section on biblical studies is found in this internet library.

You may be short of time so I have drawn together a set of booklets on some aspects of Scripture published by the Catholic Information Service that are quite fine. Here are 8 online resources about sacred Scripture and the faith that will help know the fundamentals which will assist your personal study and prayer life:

About the Bible

God’s Story of Creation

Some Lessons from Genesis

The Ten Commandments

Revelation: A Divine Message of Hope

Q& A about the Catholic Faith

An underestimated chain of scripture is the gift of the Rosary. I would venture to say that no serious Catholic can resist the Rosary as form of prayer especially if he or she wants to know the Lord and to decapitate the head of sin. The Scriptural Rosary for Peace makes it clear the intimate connection between Scripture and the rosary

If you are looking for a primer on the Faith, then I would recommend reading and/or listening to the 30 booklets that address the various elements of our salvation in Jesus Christ in the Hart series. This series carries the reader through a systematic study of what Catholics believe and how Catholics worship and live.

One last point: pray the Divine Office. The sacred Liturgy of the Church comprises the praying the Divine Office (at the hinge hours of Morning and Evening Prayer) and praying the Sacrifice of the Mass. In a real sense one can’t divorce the Divine Office from the Mass as they form a unit. So if one conceives of the Liturgy as merely the Mass and makes no connection to the Divine Office, then that person has deficient view of the sacrifice of praise the Church continually offers to God. And what is the Divine Office and Mass? Pure Scripture; pure praise of the Blessed Trinity. Once you discover that the Liturgy (the Office & Mass) is the Church’s prayer speaking the Word of God and God speaking to us, or say it another way, the Mass is the face of the Word of God today and into eternity.

The Revised Grail Psalter & Conception Abbey

 



psalms.jpgThe Revised Grail Psalter

 

The life of a Benedictine monk hinges upon the motto ora et labora, which is Latin for “pray and work”. Specifically, St. Benedict intended his followers to be deeply rooted in the psalms, drawing upon their richness in writing his holy Rule and expounding at length upon how they should be prayed. For nearly 1,500 years now, Benedictines have carried on the tradition of their founder, and the Order is well known for its dedication to the liturgy. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy wanted a new translation of the psalms for use in the liturgy, they approached Conception Abbey‘s own Abbot Gregory Polan to undertake a revision of the 1963 Grail Psalter.

 

What are the Grail Psalms?

 

In the years leading up to Vatican II, when the liturgy was still in Latin but moving toward
Joseph Gelineau.jpggreater lay participation, the psalm responses of the Mass were permitted to be sung in the vernacular. A French Jesuit by the name of Joseph Gelineau prepared a French translation of the psalms which was very rhythmic and worked well with a particular set of psalm tones. In response to his work, a community of lay women formed a secular institute called The Grail (of England) and undertook an English translation of Fr. Gelineau’s work. They employed scholars and musicians to work on the project and they began to release the fruits of their work in a series of books, each containing a few psalms, throughout the 1950s. The full version with all 150 psalms was released in 1963.

 

Just like the French Gelineau psalm tones, the 1963 Grail Psalter proved to be very well-suited for choral recitation, singing and chanting. It was soon incorporated into the Liturgy of the Hours.  While the lectionary in the United States used the psalms of the New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version, the 1963 Grail Psalms were also permitted for use as the Responsorial Psalm at Mass.  GIA Publications of Chicago featured these Responsorial Psalms in their Worship III Hymnal.

 

Why was a new translation needed?

 

The 1963 Grail Psalms made a wonderful transition from Latin into English because they were so easily understood, they had a clear poetic rhythm and they could be recited and sung with ease. All of these things were important objectives when the Ladies of the Grail set about their work. And while the 1963 Grail Psalter was very successful in this regard, there are places where the adherence to a set rhythm necessitated a paraphrase of the original Hebrew as opposed to a more authentic translation, taking into consideration the sometimes irregular rhythm of the Hebrew Psalms. Since Vatican II, however, we have seen a move to preserve sacred texts’ fidelity to their original sources.

 

Secondly, since the 1950s when most of these psalms were composed, “Much has happened in the area of biblical scholarship to enable us to understand better both the structure of Hebrew poetry and some of the more problematic texts,” Abbot Gregory said. He continued, “This scholarship will make a more accurate translation possible.”

 

Additionally, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam insists that a consistent translation be used in all the texts of the liturgy, which is currently not the case as far as the psalms are concerned. The Revised Grail Psalter will be the official translation used in the Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the texts for all books of the Sacraments, etc.

 


Conception Abbey.jpgWhy Conception?

 

Obviously, a project of this scope is quite the undertaking. But why were monks of Conception chosen to bring this work to fruition? As mentioned above, the mere fact that Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery is already a tally mark under the “pros” column. However, it is the combination of the scholarly pursuits of Abbot Gregory Polan that made the initial request from the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy in June of 1998 the first and obvious choice.

Abbot Gregory would tell anyone (and he told the Bishop’s Committee) that he is first and foremost an abbot. Next on the list, though, you’ll find “Scripture Scholar” and “Musician”. After working on a translation of a section of the book of Isaiah in the Revised New American Bible, the staff at the Bishops’ Conference–knowing also his musical background–rightly assessed that his combination of abilities especially suited him to the task of revising the Grail Psalter which, like the 1963 Grail Psalter, needed to be suitable for choral recitation, singing and chanting. When Abbot Gregory agreed then, mentioning that he was first an abbot though, the bishops were happy to communicate that they just wanted it done right.

 

So, Abbot Gregory began the project, enlisting the help of other monks of Conception
Abbot Gregory Polan.jpgAbbey, and after four years an initial draft was completed. This draft was then brought before a November meeting of the Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship where it was approved to undergo the rigorous process to deem it an acceptable translation. And acceptable it was as the USCCB approved its widespread use in a 203-5 vote at their meeting of November 11, 2008. It is now awaiting approval from the Vatican.

 

What does this mean for the Church?

 

For the Faithful who attend any liturgy in English, the Revised Grail Psalter means consistency in what they’ll hear across the board. For musicians and those who use the psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation which is well suited to these uses without sacrificing the integrity of the translation. All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified catechesis.

 

For Conception Abbey, the Revised Grail Psalter is another way that they, in their 135 years since their founding, have been able to respond to the needs of the Church.

 

Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus

 

 

The copyright for The Revised Grail Psalms is held jointly by Conception Abbey and The Grail (England).  GIA Publications serves as the international literary agent for this new version of The Grail Psalms.

 

Copies of the Revised Grail Psalter will not be released until the recognitio is received from Rome. For more information you may contact:

 

Jarrod Thome
Director of Communications
Conception Abbey

communications@conception.edu

Why the tetragrammaton (YHWH) is not allowed in the Liturgy

On August 10th I posted an article on the Pope’s prohibition of the use of tetragrammaton in the sacred Liturgy. You can read the original posting here.

 

A recent reflection on the restoration of this practice follows.

 

Why “Yahweh” Isn’t Used in Catholic Liturgy

Biblical Expert Says It Reflects Jewish Tradition

JERUSALEM, NOV. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org) – To understand the Vatican directive reiterating that the name of God revealed in the tetragrammaton YHWH is not to be pronounced in Catholic liturgy, it helps to know the history behind the Jewish tradition, says a biblical expert.

Father Michel Remaud, director of the Albert Decourtray Institute, a Christian institute of Jewish studies and Hebrew literature, explained to ZENIT that the message published in June by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments reflects current Jewish practice.

The Vatican note explained: “The venerable biblical tradition of sacred Scripture, known as the Old Testament, displays a series of divine appellations, among which is the sacred name of God revealed in a tetragrammaton YHWH — hwhw.

YHWH.jpg“As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: ‘Adonai,’ which means ‘Lord.'”

Father Remaud said that “until almost the year 200 B.C., the divine name was pronounced every morning in the temple in the priestly blessing: ‘The Lord bless and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you'” (Numbers 6:24-26).

He said this blessing originated out of the context of the next verse in Numbers: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Left unsaid

Furthermore, the priest said that the Mishna, the Jewish law codified toward the end of the second century, “specifies that the name was pronounced in the temple ‘as it is written,’ while another denomination (Kinuy) was used in the rest of the country. After a certain period, the divine name was no longer pronounced in the temple’s daily liturgy.

“The Talmud leads one to understand that the decision was taken to avoid a magic use of the name by some.”

 

According to Father Remaud’s sources, ever “since the death of the high priest Simon the Righteous, about 195 B.C., the divine name was no longer pronounced in the daily liturgy.”

The expert compared the Talmud’s testimony with the Book of Sirach, which mentions Simon the Righteous in Chapter 50. Chapters 44-50 remember all “godly men” since Enoch, including Abraham, Moses and David.

 

Father Remaud said the seven-chapter passage ends with the high priest Simon pronouncing the divine name: “Then Simon came down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his mouth, and to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing of the Most High” (Sirach 50:20-21).

Yom Kippur.jpgFrom the time of Simon the Righteous until the temple’s ruin, the name was only heard “as it is written” during the Yom Kippur liturgy at the temple of Jerusalem, where the high priest pronounced it 10 times, continued Father Remaud.

 

“On hearing the explicit name from the mouth of the high priest, the ‘cohanim’ [Aaron’s descendants] and the people present in the atrium knelt down, prostrated themselves with their face on the ground saying: ‘Blessed be the glorious name of his Kingdom forever.'”

The Mishna does not say that the high priest pronounced the divine name, but that the name “came out of his mouth,” he clarified.

A whisper

 

Moreover, continued Father Remaud, it seems that toward the end of the period of the second temple — 70 A.D. — the high priest now only pronounced the word in a whisper. This was explained in a childhood memory of Rabbi Tarphon (1st-2nd centuries), who recalls that even straining to hear, he could not hear the name.

 

The biblical scholar also noted that the formula of Exodus — “This is my name forever” (Exodus 3:15) — through a play of words in Hebrew is interpreted by the Talmud of Jerusalem as “This is my name to remain hidden.”

 

“Today, the divine name is never pronounced,” continued Father Remaud. “In the Yom Kippur office of the synagogue, which replaces the temple’s liturgy by the recitation of what took place when the temple existed, the people prostrated themselves in the synagogue when recalling — though not pronouncing — that the high priest pronounced the divine name.”

 

The Catholic priest noted that the first Christians called “Jesus by the term ‘Lord’ (Kyrios),” by which they “deliberately applied the term used in Greek to translate the divine name.”

 

“In Judaism’s liturgical tradition, this divine name was only pronounced in the liturgy of forgiveness of sins, on the day of Kippur,” he continued. “One might see an allusion to this tradition and to the purifying power of the Name, in this verse of the First Letter of St. John: ‘Your sins are forgiven for his names’ sake’ (1 John 2, 12).”

Lectio Divina

This article by Jesuit Father John Belmonte on lectio divina is helpful for coming to know the Lord. Lectio is a place of encounter with the Lord and it is in lectio we come to know and love Him in whom and by whom we are saved.

 

Talk show host Jay Leno has a very funny segment on his “Tonight Show” where he interviews the “man on the street,” testing people’s knowledge in a given subject matter. Rare is the person who does well. On one occasion, he asked questions about a topic that keenly interests me: the Bible. While the survey was hardly scientific, the questions were very basic. No historical-critical method here. “Name one of the Ten Commandments,” Jay asked. “Freedom of speech,” a man unhesitatingly responded. “Name the four Gospels,” Jay asked. With a befuddled look, a woman was unable to answer. “Name the four Beatles,” Jay asked. Without any hesitation and a relieved smile, the woman responded, “John, Paul, George, and Ringo.” My personal favorite was the man whom he asked, “In the Old Testament, who was swallowed by the whale?” He looked directly into the camera and, as serious as death, said, “Pinocchio.”

 

As someone who has taught Scripture to high school students, these answers did not surprise me. Religious educators and biblical scholars regularly decry a growing lack of familiarity with Scripture. Catholic ignorance of the Bible is proverbial. A study of 508 teenagers by the Princeton Religion Research Center confirmed that Catholic young people are much less familiar with Scripture than their Protestant counterparts. Even more distressing is the finding that thirty percent said that they never even opened the Bible. If Saint Jerome’s axiom, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” is true, then those of us who are full members of the Catholic Christian community have a serious situation on our hands. Isn’t it incumbent upon us to pass on the tradition, to introduce others to the living God, to dispel ignorance of the Word of God? If not us, then who?

monks1.jpgEven amid the decline in elementary biblical knowledge, help is on the way. Vatican II did much to help revive interest in Scripture, and one method that may help bridge the gap Mr. Leno so cleverly pointed out is the ancient monastic method of reading the Bible called lectio divina. The Latin expression lectio divina does not translate into English with great accuracy. Literally, it means “holy reading within the monastic tradition, and in Saint Benedict’s rule in particular, its meaning is obvious. Lectio divina is an attentive and in-depth reading of the sacred Scriptures intended not simply to satisfy one’s curiosity but to nourish one’s faith. Benedict’s monks were to nourish themselves with the divine food of Scripture in order to have sufficient resources for the journey of faith. In the Rule of Saint Benedict, the monk is exhorted to listen carefully and willingly to holy readings, the lectiones sanctae. The reading is holy because its object is the word of God. Scripture is approached not for scientific or technical reasons but in order to deepen one’s personal commitment to God and God’s Son. 

Lectio Divina from the Monastery to the Marketplace

 

All quarters of the church, from official pronouncements to informal movements, have in recent times repeatedly affirmed the need for and effectiveness of lectio divina. There are many ways in which one can encounter God through the biblical word. Yet, the rich history, significant connection to tradition, genuine spirituality, and pastoral applicability of lectio divina make it a particularly attractive method.

St Ignatius & Paul III.jpgLectio divina is one instrument of grace by which we encounter Christ in the Scriptures. When practiced every day, lectio divina fosters the kind of contact with God’s word that, over the course of a lifetime, promises a life of prayer lived out in faithful love. To suggest that a specific method for lectio divina might be necessary carries with it a risk. In our practice of this method, we might be tempted to follow rigidly the proposals offered as rules and not as suggestions. To do so would be a mistake. What lectio divina demands in the first place is an openness to the Spirit, which any master of the spiritual life would see as a prerequisite to prayer. Ignatius of Loyola’s instruction in his Spiritual Exercises to those who intend to pray is a good example. He suggests that believers must always pray “with great spirit and generosity toward their Creator and Lord.” Balance and flexibility are very important as one begins to practice lectio divina. We should always avoid rigidity, excessive formalism, or forcing things. My intention is not that the suggested schema that follows be realized as a fixed program; lectio divina is a way to encounter God, and we should always feel free to utilize it according to our own rhythms, gifts, and desires. 

Having pointed out the importance of some prerequisites to lectio divina, such as balance,

Monks2.jpgopenness, and flexibility, a word is in order about the structure or steps that this ancient practice usually takes. Much has been written about these steps, but the most exhaustive and perhaps best-known example comes from Guigo II (1115-1198), the Cistercian prior at Chartres from 1173 to 1180. In his “Letter on the Contemplative Life,” also known as Scala Claustralium, Guigo gives the classic four-part expression to the lectio divina: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Since Guigo’s text has become a nearly obligatory point of reference for someone considering lectio divina, it seems appropriate to reproduce here a brief summary citation from the letter: 

One day during manual labor, as I was beginning to reflect on the spiritual exercise of man, suddenly four spiritual steps appeared to my mind: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. This is the ladder of the monks by which they are elevated from the earth to heaven and even though it may be formed by only a few steps, nevertheless it appears in immense and incredible greatness. The lower part rests on the earth; however, the higher part penetrates the clouds and scrutinizes the secrets of the heavens.

 

Now the reading consists in the attentive observation of the Scriptures with one’s spirit applied. The meditation is the studious action of the mind, which seeks the discovery of hidden truth by means of one’s own intelligence. The prayer consists in a religious application of the heart of God in order to dispel evil and obtain favors. The contemplation is an elevation into God, from the mind attracted beyond itself, savoring the joys of eternal sweetness….

 

Reading seeks the sweetness of the blessed life, while meditation finds it. Prayer asks for it and contemplation tastes it. Reading, in a certain way, brings solid food to the mouth, meditation chews and breaks it up, prayer obtains its seasoning, contemplation is the same sweetness which refreshes and brings joy.

 

Guigo sets down a four-part method, but for our purposes we will reduce that structure to three: lectio, meditatio, and oratio. The reason for collapsing the final two steps into one is simple. Prayer is at the core of the way the two final steps are conceived. By collapsing them into a third phase, we respect the progression that naturally develops from the first two steps. However, we leave open the possibility of expanding on the process of prayer by adding three more steps: discretio, deliberatio, and actio. Some critics object to any tinkering with the traditional structure of lectio divina. Even so, a brief look at the historical development of the method over the centuries shows that one can understand Guigo’s four steps as an expression of the monastic world of his time. Our minor change should be viewed in the same light.

 

The Practice of Lectio Divina

 

The first thing necessary to practice lectio divina should be obvious: time. As with anything worth doing or any relationship worth maintaining, the practice of lectio divina must be worth spending time doing. While we should avoid the kind of rigidity described above, the spiritual life does demand a certain amount of healthy discipline. Whether we want to fix a regular time, a certain period, or the most effective time, regularity is important. Our time is a precious thing, and offering it to God is a very simple and concrete first step toward our meeting God in prayer.

St Jerome.jpgEqually obvious but also quite necessary to consider is which text to use for lectio divina. Our emphasis in lectio divina remains squarely with the biblical text. It is possible to substitute other texts for biblical texts; however, we should not lightly forfeit the surpassing value of reading, meditating, and praying with what the Fathers called the sacra pagina. Jerome himself reminds us that “the text presents itself simply and easily in words, but in the greatness of its meaning, its depth is unfathomable.” 

Related to our emphasis on the biblical text itself is the presupposition that lectio divina is a continuous reading of the whole Bible. In our practice of lectio divina, we should avoid the temptation to select texts well suited to topics chosen in advance. By attending to the whole of Scripture, as the liturgy does in the lectionary, we preserve the context of biblical revelation, both the Old and New Testament. We must avoid the risk of allowing the lectio to “overflow the riverbanks of the tradition and the church,” as Cardinal Martini has written. Practicing lectio divina within the context of the whole of biblical revelation emphasizes the unity of Scripture and our belief in the Bible’s inspiration by God. Moreover, emphasis on the unity of Scripture allows us to avoid the temptation of placing Scripture at the service of ideology or subjectivism.

bible3.jpgTime set aside for God should take on a dimension different from the rest of one’s day. To help mark that moment, most spiritual masters suggest that the person who sets out to pray begin by making some kind of epiclesis, which is an invocation or “calling down” of the Holy Spirit to consecrate. In the Eucharist, we call down the Spirit upon the bread and wine to transform them into the body and blood of Christ. As we begin lectio divina, we should remind ourselves that it is through the work of God in the Spirit that the written word is transformed in our lives into the living word.

The Four Steps of Lectio Divina: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Actio

 

Having set aside the time, “selected” the text, and invoked the Spirit, we are ready to begin the first formal step of lectio divina, called the lectio. This is the moment in which we read and reread a passage from the Old or New Testament, alert to its most important elements. The operative question is, What does the text say? Patient attentiveness to what the text has to say characterizes our stance before it. We should read the text for itself, not to get something out of it, like a homily, a conference, or a catechism lesson. The word of God should be allowed to emerge from the written word.

 

In lectio, each person’s experiences and talents before the text come into play. The more experience or education one has, the more one will potentially bring to the text. Knowledge of biblical languages or an understanding of theology can also enrich one’s reading. Consultation of available biblical commentaries or dictionaries can be especially helpful as we attempt to expand our understanding about what the text is saying. Paying attention to grammar, the usage of words, and the relationships of verbs to nouns or of subjects to objects can make the text begin to take on new and unexpected significance.

contemplation.jpgThe second step, called the meditatio, is equally important. We leave behind the specifics of the text and focus instead on what is behind it, on the “interior intelligence” of the text, as Guigo puts it. The meditatio is a reflection on the values which one finds behind the text. Here, one must consider the values behind the actions, the words, the things, and the feelings which one finds in a particular scriptural passage. Anyone who honestly seeks God and one’s authentic self in prayer will hear the echoes of joy, fear, hope, and desire coming from the sacred page. The operant question for this stage doesn’t stop at what the text says, but asks, What does the text say to me? We seek to make emerge from history and context the specific message of the text. The shift from external forms to internal content makes this stage an important one.

 

The meditatio is an activity that engages our intellect. As we pass from the second to the third stage of lectio divina, we move more into the realm of religious emotions. Remaining on an intellectual level can be safe and comfortable, but the goal of prayer is not knowledge about God, but God himself. In the oratio, our imagination, will, and desires are engaged as we seek union with God. Oratio in its most fundamental sense is dialogue with God. Gregory the Great called it “the spontaneous meeting of the heart of God with the heart of God’s beloved creature through the word of God.”

 

When we progress from meditatio to oratio, an immediate experience of infused mysticism is hardly to be expected. Mystical union with God is not necessarily an ordinary part of Christian life. Nevertheless, the passage from meditatio to oratio is the vital and decisive moment of Christian experience. The more deeply we enter the oratio, the more we move beyond the text, beyond words and thoughts. The lectio is useful and the meditatio is important since they lead us to the oratio, which is life in its fullest sense, the life of Christ that he lives in the one who contemplates him. Oratio is the passage from the values behind the text to adoration of the person of Jesus Christ, the one who brings together and reveals every value. Unlike the lectio and meditatio, there is no operant question in the oratio. At its core, oratio is the silent adoration of the creature before the Creator, a rare and miraculous gift.

 

When the person who practices lectio divina reaches the level of oratio, it would seem that that moment would be conclusive. However, the dynamism of prayer that began during the epiclesis before the lectio is not interrupted here. To the contrary, it naturally continues and the oratio, as we are proposing it here following Cardinal Martini’s insight, possesses its own steps, called discretio, deliberatio, and actio. These three steps represent the way lectio divina is lived out in daily life. Given the growing dissociation of the faith from daily life, these three successive moments take on great significance.

 

Since the meditatio intends to put one in contact with the values of Christ, to encourage our identification with those things that are important to Christ, we naturally come to moments of decision. The discretio is the capacity that the Christian acquires through grace to make the same choices as Christ. Cardinal Martini describes discretion like this: “It is the discernment of that which, in a determined historical moment, is best for oneself, for others, and for the church.”

 

The second moment of the oratio is called the deliberatio. It is an interior act by which one decides in favor of the values of the gospel. One chooses to associate oneself with Christ and everything that association represents–in a word, discipleship. If the discretio is described as the capacity of a person to choose, then the deliberatio is the choice itself.

 

The final moment is called actio. In this final step, the choice we make in the deliberatio is given form and substance. Prayer becomes something more than simply setting aside time for God or an attempt to better ourselves. Our lives begin to take shape from the choices we have made as a result of prayer. The actio is the integration of a kind of apostolic consciousness that informs our choices so that we have made and lived our choices from our encounter with the living God.

Christ washing the feet.jpgSome critics would leave these last steps, particularly the actio, out of any proposed lectio divina. The addition of an extra step suggests perhaps overzealousness or even the influence of an “ideology of efficacy” regarding one’s prayer. Too often we feel we need to make prayer into something. However, in the face of a modern world in which the outward signs of the mystery of God are ever more difficult to recognize, where a daily experience of gospel or even  transcendent values becomes harder to find, and where choices besiege one’s conscience and stifle rather than uplift the Spirit, this criticism is unconvincing. If anything, the connection between prayer and our life choices should become more explicit, not less. The faith, hope, and love made manifest in the choices our lives become must be nourished by contact with the word of God. 

Conclusion

Daily Bread.jpgLectio divina is one graced instrument to bridge the gap that exists between our hearts and God’s. As the faith risks being further dissociated from daily life, the simplicity and potential of a method like lectio divina take on greater significance. Firmly rooted in the church’s tradition, it presumes careful attention to what biblical specialists are thinking and teaching. Rigorous study is complemented by disciplined meditation and prayerful contemplation of the word of God. Far from being an objective or rigid technique whereby one produces religious experience, lectio divina represents daily contact with God’s word that occurs within a lifetime’s engagement with the Living God. The principal aim of such engagement is to foster living prayer in faithful love. Lectio divina unfolds more than it proceeds; progresses and develops more than it advances.

Dedicated practice engages the whole person–the intellect as well as the imagination, the will as well as the affect. It promises contact with God that is the normal fulfillment of prayer. Lectio divina is open to every person and not the exclusive property of a select few. Those who practice lectio divina reaffirm the belief that the proper place for the word of God is in the hands of the faithful.

 

Wouldn’t Geppetto have been pleased if, instead of his firm response, “Pinocchio,” that young man had looked into Jay Leno’s TV camera and answered with conviction, “Jonah”?

 

Reprinted from Chicago Studies 39 (2000): 211-19.

New Grail Psalms get positive vote by bishops; wait for the Holy See’s approval

This vote of the US bishops is long in coming. Kudos to Abbot Gregory and the monks of Conception Abbey. I look forward to using the psalter.

Bishops choose Revised Grail Psalter for liturgical use in U.S.

BALTIMORE (CNS) — The U.S. bishops chose the Revised Grail Psalter produced by the monks of Conception Abbey in Missouri over the Revised New American Bible translation of the Book of Psalms for liturgical use in the United States. The vote at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12 was 203-5 in favor of accepting a recommendation of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship to adopt the Grail Psalter for use in all liturgical settings. The decision also must be confirmed by the Vatican. There was little debate before the vote and no amendments could be made to the translated psalms. Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, said the Revised Grail Psalter also had been recommended over the Revised New American Bible version by the Committee on Doctrine’s Subcommittee on the Translation of Scripture Text and by the now-defunct music subcommittee of what was then called the Committee on the Liturgy.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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