The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts 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” (St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah)” (Dei Verbum, 25).
Benedict XVI on Scripture
Pope Benedict XVI — then Cardinal Ratzinger — observed in this Vatican II statement, a definitive shift in the Church’s spirituality:
Bible-reading is placed in the centre of Christian life, which gives to Catholic piety a new orientation. The prayer life of the Catholic Christian hitherto, apart from participation in the liturgy, had been determined chiefly by the various forms of devotion — rosary, stations of the Cross, veneration of the Sacred Heart, etc. — which had arisen since the late Middle Ages and during more recent times. Private reading of Scripture played no important role and even for meditation and for preaching was not considered of prime importance. It may thus be regarded as an event of special importance for the development of the spiritual life, when our text gives a central place to the personal acquaintance with Scripture as a fundamental form of the relation to God…. It is important to see that the Council…means the reading of the Bible as prayer, as entering into that dialogue with the Lord, for the living realization of which in faith, in prayer, the pages of Scripture are, as it were, waiting. It is fair to say that Catholic piety has still largely to discover the Bible properly….” (From “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Commentary on Documents of Vatican II, Volume III, XVI, pages 270-271, Joseph Ratzinger).
John Paul II on Scripture
John Paul II, who concerned himself with the pastoral implementation of the decrees of the Vatican II Council, noted in his Apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Church’s progress in this evangelical movement toward Scripture:
Ever since the Second Vatican Council underlined the preeminent role of the word of God in the life of the Church, great progress has certainly been made in devout listening to Sacred Scripture and attentive study of it. Scripture has its rightful place of honor in the public prayer of the Church. Individuals and communities now make extensive use of the Bible, and among lay people there are many who devote themselves to Scripture with the valuable help of theological and Biblical studies. But it is above all the work of evangelization and catechesis which is drawing new life from attentiveness to the word of God. Dear brothers and sisters, this development needs to be consolidated and deepened…. It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the Biblical text the living word which questions, directs, and shapes our lives.
The ancient practice of lectio divina, meaning “divine reading”, is the prayerful reading of the Bible, with the intention of engaging in a sort of divine dialogue. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “We speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.” In our own pastoral efforts, we have found fostering strong individual habits of lectio divina to be among the surest ways to enliven not only the faith of individuals but also of entire Christian communities.
It is beautiful to witness God’s word transform and invigorate individuals and communities as devotion to the sacred text spreads. If you want to renew your own spiritual life or that of your parish, we can think of no better place to begin than the fostering of strong habits of daily prayer and Bible reading.
Order a Lectio Divina Journal. We have two. Journey Into God has selected verses that follow a topical progression, and Light for My Path can be used with your own reading plan.