Lectio Divina and Christmas
One of the oldest practices of prayer and meditation in the Christian tradition is lectio divina. Lectio divina, Latin for “divine reading,” is a practice which originated in the monasteries of Saint Benedict in the 6th century. The practice of lectio divina continued throughout the centuries until the present day. It has evolved from a monastic practice to a spiritual practice commended for Christians in all walks of life.
Dei Verbum, the Catholic Church’s dogmatic constitution on the divine revelation of Scripture, promotes the practice of lectio divina for members of the clergy, religious, and laity, as it states, “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…And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI affirmed this in his 2005 address commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dei Verbum. He recommended for the faithful “to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart.”
Even if you are not Catholic, lectio divina still offers a wonderful way to encounter God’s revelation in Scripture in a prayerful manner. Lectio divina continued to be upheld as a powerful form of prayer by the Reformers, including John Calvin. During this Christmas season, lectio divina invites us to meditate and pray on the events of the Nativity of our Lord as told in the Gospels.
In the 12th century, lectio divina was formalized into four steps: lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio (read, meditate, pray, contemplate). Before beginning with the first step, the reading of Scripture, one is encouraged to spend a few moments in prayer to calm the mind and cultivate spiritual tranquility. For example, some pray the line from Psalm 46,”Be still and know that I am God.” Once you feel ready, you read your selected passage of Scripture. For the Christmas season, Matthew 1, Matthew 2, and Luke 2:1-20 are excellent passages for lectio divina. As you read, you want to read silently and slowly, and read the passage multiple times. Focus on what Scripture is saying and pay attention to the small details.
In the second step, meditation, you ponder on what you read. You can visualize it as you read it: the wise men, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, the shepherd, baby Jesus swaddled in cloths. Imagine yourself witnessing the angelic host, arriving at the stable, falling down on your knees in front of that babe in a manger. The meditation is not a time for you to analyze the passage, but rather a time to listen to what God is speaking to you through his Word.
The third step, prayer, invites you to speak to God freely and openly after you have reflected on Scripture. Your concern here should not be what exactly to say to God, but rather let prayer flow freely from your heart. Since prayer is a dialogue with God, give yourself time here to listen as well. This step helps you discern what God is saying through Scripture.
The fourth and final step, contemplation, emphasizes silence in God’s presence. This silent prayer expresses love for God and further opens the heart to attentively and obediently receive his will. As you reflect on the Nativity stories, contemplate God’s unfailing love, the mystery of infinity dwindled into infancy, the awe of the shepherds, great kings kneeling before a lowly babe, and the faithfulness of a young virgin mother. Listen to God, who calls you too to kneel before the paradox of the all-powerful God become a baby in a manger.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)View Sources
 Pope Paul VI, Dei Verbum, 25 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html.
 Pope Benedict XVII, “Address to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum.” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050916_40-dei-verbum_en.html