Answering Ron

| | Comments (7)


Lectio Divina

Ron, a reader of Vultus Christi, asked about the discipline of adhering to the liturgical Lectionary in one's personal lectio divina. He wonders if one might not also read other passages from Sacred Scripture chosen more subjectively. I will attempt to answer Ron's questions based on my own experience.

Obedience to the Lectionary

The liturgical Lectionary given us by the Church is the most effective means of exposing oneself objectively, consistently, and fruitfully to the Word of God. The Bible is like an immense botanical garden with an amazing variety of plantings, trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, and fruits; by means of the Lectionary, Mother Church takes us by the hand and, in the course of the liturgical year, guides us along its paths and byways. She invites to contemplate the sights set before us, to inhale the vast variety of its fragrances, and to taste its fruits.

The Word in the Midst of the Church

Obedience to the discipline of the liturgical Lectionary assures a Catholic hearing/reading of the Scriptures. The fullest and richest resonances of the Word of God are heard only when that Word is proclaimed and received in medio ecclesiae, in the midst of the Church and in the company of her Fathers, Doctors, saints, and mystics. One who make a subjective choice of texts for lectio divina risks reading only those passages that appeal to his sensibility, while avoiding those that challenge him and those that reveal their meaning only after a sustained effort of the mind and heart.

Sunday Lectionary

The Sunday Lectionary revolves over a three year (A, B, C) cycle. The semi–continuous reading of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Year A; Mark, Year B; Luke, Year C) commands the choice of the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm. The Gospel of Saint John is read during Lent and Paschaltide. The sixth chapter of Saint John, the discourse on the Bread of Life is inserted into Year B, immediately following Saint Mark's account of the multiplication of the loaves . The Second Reading is an independent, semi–continuous reading of the Epistles of Saint Paul and the other books of the New Testament.

Weekday Lectionary

The Weekday Lectionary in the Time Throughout the Year revolves over a two year cycle. The synoptic Gospels are read in a semi–continuous fashion over a one year cycle; the First Reading is also read in a semi–continuous fashion over a two year cycle with a corresponding Responsorial Psalm chosen for each day. During the privileged seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Lent, and Paschaltide, the same readings and psalms appropriate to the season are repeated each year. Solemnities and feasts have their own proper readings. Memorials may celebrated with the occurring ferial readings or with proper readings as suggested by the Ordo Celebrationis or by pastoral need.

Sapiential Knowledge of the Scriptures

One who remains faithful in his lectio divina to the discipline of obeying the liturgical Lectionary will, over time, become familiar with the mystery of Christ that unifies the Scriptures from the first page to the last, and begin to acquire a sapiential knowledge of the Bible. On days of retreat or whenever one disposes of more time the liturgical lectio divina may be supplemented by lectio divina in particular book of the Bible, or by searching out a particular thematic.

Doing More

Cistercians have the tradition of praying the entire Psalter, beginning with Psalm 1 and proceeding numerically through Psalm 150 at least once a year in suffrage for the faithful departed. During retreats I often return to the Canticle of Canticles, to the Gospel of Saint John, or to the Epistles of Saint Paul. This kind of lectio divina is, nonetheless, subordinate to that determined by the liturgical Lectionary.

The Four Movements

I further recommend that one follow the rhythm in our movements described by Guigo the Carthusian:

1. lectio, i.e. reading the Word in order to hear it. It is helpful always to read the text aloud or, at least, to murmur it audibly.

2. meditatio, i.e. repeating the word heard so that by dint of repetition it descends from the mind into the storehouse of the memory and into the heart.

3. oratio, i.e. reformulating as a Word directed to God, that is as prayer, the word heard in lectio and repeated in meditatio.

4. contemplatio, i.e. the Word heard, repeated, and prayed becomes the indwelling Word uniting the soul to the Blessed Trinity in the silence of love and of adoration.

Beginning and Ending

I have always found it helpful to follow our traditional monastic practice of beginning lectio divina on my knees, imploring the Holy Spirit to show me the adorable Face of Christ concealed and revealed on the sacred page. I then kiss the open Bible and pursue the rest of my lectio. At the end I pray a Gloria Patri and entrust to the Blessed Virgin Mary the Word that I have heard, repeated, and prayed, that I may keep it in my heart as she kept it in hers.


As a protestant convert, I very much concur with everything you say above.

Let me add my personal testimony that following the lectionary is fruitful. The harmony of the old testament reading and new testament readings is profound, and is a great treasure.

Our protestant brethren, the sola scriptura kind, sometimes talk about letting "scripture interpret scripture". I have, ironically found nobody has a grasp of the links between the Old Testament and the new that is anywhere close to the depth of what flows gently from the liturgical Lectionary (daily mass) readings.

Secondly, there is a humility that is necessary to understanding the scripture. We come to the scripture as the bride comes to the bridegroom. There is a beauty in our submissive attitude to Christ, and to the Scriptures, that is lost if we do not adhere to a humble attitude towards scripture.

In the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary), the office hours usually open with something like this:

Lord, Open My Lips
And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
God, come to my assistance.
Lord make haste to help me.

These are noble intentions, but most importantly, they are taken from psalms, and are a beautiful way to enter into an authentically Jewish and Christian spirit of prayer, centered in the Psalms.

If the mass readings aren't enough, the Liturgy of the Hours is my next suggestion. It contains of course not only scripture, but wonderful spiritual reading and prayers, and is centered in the psalms, which are a treasury of prayer that the devout people of God have relied upon for many thousands of years.


Dear Warren, The Divine Office is the context, the daily setting for the practice of lectio divina. Nothing can replace the regular chanting or recitation of the Psalter, be it distributed over one week (monastic rite) or four (Roman rite). Psalmody, itself a Word from God and to God, disposes the heart to hear, repeat, and pray the Word.

Dear Father:

Do you chant (or recite) the whole psalter each week? If so, would you mind giving us the order of the psalms for recitation in this manner?

Your reflections on this site are really exceedingly helpful, and I thank you for taking the time to post them for us.

Wishing you all the best,
Woody Jones


Get the "Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours" (1 volume) and it will contain that (the weekly psalter) and much more, in the normative format as used by priests and religious, and which the Church also heartily encourages the laity to participate in also!


Dear Woody and Warren:

A clarification: The Roman Liturgy of the Hours used by most priests, religious, and laity distributes the Psalter (150 Psalms) over a 4 week cycle. The Monastic Liturgy of the Hours distributes the Psalter (150 Psalms) over one week or two weeks. Monks and nuns following the Rule of St. Benedict are bound to a more ample round of psalmody than that given in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours.

You can find the distribution of the Psalter (Schema B) that we use here at Santa Croce at:

Fr. Mark

Thank you so much for this post, it was very helpful. As a former Protestant, I was used to simply opening the Bible and reading with little discernible pattern. Your point about using the lectionary readings both as a discipline, but more, as a way of grounding one's reading and prayer in the Church is key. Also, the importance of gaining sapiential knowledge is one I had not fully considered, but is also key.

I am sorry for not commenting sooner, but I wanted to take a bit of time to fully absorb your posts on lectio; I do appreciate your insights.


Dear Fr. Mark

How do we contemplate the face of Jesus in the Bible? Thanks

Andres nombrado

Leave a comment

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory