On the First Sunday of Advent, we began a new liturgical year. It is a change that impacts the readings that will be used at the Sunday and weekday Masses. The collection of scriptural readings from the Bible to be read during Mass is called the Lectionary. The Lectionary is divided into two major parts, one for Sundays and one for weekdays. The Sunday cycle of readings is divided into three years, labeled A, B, and C. We just finished Year C, and the new liturgical year is Year A.
Each year is linked to a specific Gospel. In Year A, the Gospel of Matthew is read; the Gospel of Mark is read in Year B; in Year C, we read the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of John is read during the Easter season in all three years, and some Sundays during Year B. The first reading is usually taken from a book of the Old Testament; the second reading is usually taken from one of the epistles. The weekday cycle is divided into two years, Year I and Year II. Year I is read in odd-numbered years, and Year II is used in even-numbered years. The Gospels for both years are the same. For Advent, Christmas, and Lent, readings are chosen that are appropriate to the season. The Church also provides the option to choose specific readings for feasts of the saints, Marian feasts, weddings, funerals, etc.
Advent is a time of twofold preparation: As the Church, we prepare for the parousia, the second coming of Christ. We also prepare our hearts for a solemn celebration of the Nativity of Christ. One way we can prepare our hearts and grow closer to Christ this season of Advent is through daily prayer with sacred Scripture. Saint Paul says that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) The word of God is living and effective (cf. Heb 4:12) and can console, heal, strengthen, and guide us.
Good communication is essential for the good health of all relationships. Through communication, we get to know the other person better. We also get to express our concerns, our joys, our fears, and so on. By praying with Scripture, we communicate with God, we hear His word and respond to it. And as we do so, we grow in our relationship with Him. One of the methods of praying with Scripture that is sanctioned by the Church is lectio divina, the Latin phrase for “divine reading.” The practice of lectio divina traces its roots back to the early centuries in the Church. Although lectio divina was mostly practiced by religious, this great treasure of the Church is now widely practiced by lay people.
The method of lectio divina follows four steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). Before going to the first step of lectio divina, it is recommended to invoke the Holy Spirit to come and guide us.
- The first step, lectio, consists of reading a passage of Scripture two or three times and listening with the ear of our heart.
- Next, we move to meditatio in which we reflect in silence on one or all of the following questions: what word or words in the scripture passage caught my attention? What in the passage comforted me or challenged me?
- This leads us to the next step, oratio. We bring to the Lord the praise, petition, or thanksgiving that the Word inspires in us. Saint Teresa of Avila compares this step to a conversation between friends in which we react to what was read, heard, experienced, or about the questions that have arisen in the depth of our being.
- The fourth and last step contemplatio is characterized by an openness of the heart, by which we experience God as the One who prays within us, who is leading us by the hand toward a particular direction or a particular something. We rest in God’s presence, asking Him what conversion of mind, heart, and life He is asking of us. We respond to God’s grace and make a concrete plan toward acting on what the Lord is calling us to do.
When we cooperate with the grace of God at work within us, when we accept the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we emerge from our lectio divina time transformed. We may close our lectio divina with an Our Father or another short prayer.
May God bless you abundantly this Advent season as you practice lectio divina,
Fr. Robain Lamba