What is Lectio Divina?
Prayerful Reading of Scripture
Lectio Divina, or “divine reading” is a traditional way of listening and talking with God through Scripture. The Holy Spirit prompts thoughts about what you read, and helps you talk to God about these thoughts. In this way, God speaks directly to our most personal concerns. That is prayer!
The four traditional “modes” of lectio divina are
(1) lectio (reading), (2) meditatio (meditation), (3) oratio (prayer), (4) contemplatio (contemplation). The 4R’s mean the same thing and are a lot easier to remember: Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest.
The order given (Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest) is considered “best practice” or traditional order and is a guide and not meant to be a rigid rule. It’s really up to you and what feels right for you.
For example, you might prefer beginning with ‘Rest’ because you find it helpful to quiet your mind before reading scripture. You have complete freedom in determining what works best for you.
The 4 Steps
- Quiet yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer.
- To help you know that God is with you, even before you start praying, say whatever brings that to your mind. Use your own simple words: “God, you’re HERE!” “Thank you for always being with me God.” If you prefer something more formal, pray a psalm, or recite a memorized verse or prayer. For example, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:10)
- Or spend a few minutes in silence.
Read a short scripture selection. Less is more with Scripture prayer. Digest it slowly. “Listen with the ear of your heart” (St. Benedict) for a word, phrase, or verse that stands out to you—perhaps ever so slightly. Even if something bothers you or just raises a question, note it. God catches our attention in many ways.
Tip: Consider reading more than once, and/or read out loud.
Think about whatever grabbed your attention. Ponder that word or phrase. Ask questions about that word.
If nothing stands out, try summarizing the passage or recount what happens in your own words. When you go back to the text, try to notice what you missed the first time. Or, imagine yourself in the scene to aid your reflection. Notice where your thoughts lead: questions that arise, comfort received, promises to claim, commands to obey, examples to follow, errors to avoid, sins to forsake, or praises to sing.
Talk to God about this passage as you would to any person. If it helps, think of God as a parent, sibling, or trusted friend. He is your Father, Jesus has called you his friend, and with him, we are beloved children of God.
Express your heart and mind to God and ask questions. If the Holy Spirit leads you to any resolution or application for your life, write it down to help you remember. Ask the Lord to help you to live it out. If you’re comfortable with intercessory prayer, ask our Blessed Mother or some other saint to pray that you will be able to live out anything God asks.
Rest in God’s presence for a few minutes of silence. This allows the Lord to work on you in unseen ways.
Do not worry about trying to accomplish anything in these few minutes. When you are spending time with a loved one, not every moment is filled with saying something or doing something. Sometimes you’re simply being with each other, comforted by each other’s presence. “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:11).
Choose a Plan that Works for You. Experiment with Different Ones.
Choose passages that are relatively short. The goal is not to cover a lot of material, but to listen “with the ear of our heart.” – St. Benedict
- List of 30 Scriptures to get you started:30-day-kick-start-10-25-16
- Gospel of the Day – USCCB NABRE
- Psalms (for example: 1, 19, 27, 40, 130, 139)
- Slowly work through a Gospel or epistle, such as Matthew, Philippians, James, or 1 John.
- Pray as You Go prayer app and website. This audio resource guides you through contemplating one of the daily Mass readings and fits perfectly into your 1% time slot.
Quotes & Inspiration
Pray through these Scriptures or Teachings of the Church for Motivation:
- “If you continue in my word, you truly are my disciples” (John 8:31)
- “For the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)
- “I would like in particular 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. If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.” – Benedict XVI, on the 40th Anniversary of Dei Verbum
- “There is no doubt that this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God…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.” – St. John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 39
- “The Church forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) ‘by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.’ (St. Jerome)’ . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles’ (St. Ambrose)”‘4 –Dei Verbum 25 (Vatican II)
- “When we read the words of Scripture it should not be in agitation, but in calm, not hurriedly, but slowly; a few [words] at a time, pausing in attentive reflection […] Then the reader will experience the ability to kindle the ardor of prayer” – St. Ambrose
- “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8)
- “For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them . . .” – Dei Verbum 21 (Vatican II) see previous citation note on documents of Vatican ii.
- “[t]he Church desires that in the ministry of the word, Sacred Scripture should have a pre-eminent position. In concrete terms, catechesis should be “an authentic introduction to lectio divina, that is, to a reading of the Sacred Scriptures done in accordance with the Spirit who dwells in the Church.” – from the Congregatio pro Clerics, Directorium generale pro catechesis (15 August, 1997), 127: Enchiridion Vaticuanum 16, Bologna 1999, p. 794
- “There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 152
- “We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us…‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 146
- “With your imagination anointed with holy oil, you again open your New Testament. At one time you are the publican: at another time, you are the prodigal…at another time, you are Mary Magdalene: at another time, Peter in the porch…Till your whole New Testament is all over autobiographic of you” – Alexander Whyte, quoted in Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 30
- “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear” (Isaiah 50:4)
- “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27)
- “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy” (Psalm 34:6)
- “When you open the Holy Gospel, think that what is written there — the words and deeds of Christ — is something that you should not only know, but live. Everything, every point that is told there, has been gathered, detail by detail, for you to make it come alive in the individual circumstances of your life. God has called us Catholics to follow him closely. In that holy Writing you will find the Life of Jesus, but you should also find your own life. You too, like the Apostle, will learn to ask, full of love, “Lord, what would you have me do?…” And in your soul you will hear the conclusive answer, “The Will of God!” Take up the Gospel every day, then, and read it and live it as a definite rule. This is what the saints have done.” – St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge, 754