Sunday, June 18, 2006

The secret to prayer; Lectio Divina (For the feast of St. Romuald, June 19)

Pictured; The Vision of St. Romuald.

St. Romuald saw in a vision, like the prophet Jacob, his monks ascending a ladder to heaven. It brings to mind the classic practice of prayer, known as Lectio Divina; the monastic way of prayer our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI hopes will have something of a renaissance in our time. It is perfectly compatible with the Teresian method of 'mental prayer' - when St. Teresa of Avila writes that she went to prayer with a book, I feel certain she understood this manner of prayer.

The Ladder of Monks, Guigo the Carthusian
On Lectio Divina:

ONE DAY while I was occupied with manual labor
Cum die quadam corporali manuum labore occupatus
I began to reflect on man’s spiritual work,
de spiritali hominis exercitio cogitare coepissem,
and suddenly four steps for the soul came into my reflection:
quatuor spiritales gradus animo cogitanti se subito obtulerunt
[and] contemplation
scilicet meditatio,

THIS is a ladder for monks
by means of which they are raised up from earth to heaven
qua de terra in coelum sublevantur,

It has [only a] few separate rungs, yet its length is immense and incredible:
gradibus quidem distincta paucis, immensae tamen et incredibilis magnitudinis,

for its lower part stands on the earth,
cujus extrema pars terrae innixa est,

while its higher [part] pierces the clouds and touches the secrets of heaven.
superior vero nubes penetrat et coelorum secreta rimatur

JUST as its rungs have various names and numbers,
Hi gradus sicut nominibus et numero sunt diversi

so also so they differ in order and merit;
ita ordine et merito sunt distincti;

and if one diligently searches out their properties and functions
quorum proprietates et officia,

- what each [rung] does in relation to us, how they differ from one another and how they are ranked-
quid singuli circa nos efficiant, quomodo inter se differant et praeemineant, si quis diligenter inspiciat,

he will regard whatever labor and study he expends as brief and simple compared with the great usefulness and sweetness [he gains].
quidquid laboris et studii impenderit in eis breve reputabit et facile prae utilitatis et dulcedinis magnitudine.

Reading is careful study of [Sacred] Scripture,
Est autem lectio sedula scriptuaru

with the soul’s [whole] attention:
cum animi intentione inspectio.

Meditation is the studious action of the mind
Meditatio est studiosa mentis actio,

to investigate hidden truth, led by one’s own reason.
occultae veritatis notitiam ductu propriae rationis investigans.

Prayer is the heart’s devoted attending to God,
Oratio est devota cordis in Deum intentio

so that evil may be removed
pro malis removendis

and good may be obtained.
vel bonis adipiscendis.

Contemplation is the mind suspended -somehow elevated above itself - in God
Contemplatio est mentis in Deum suspensae quaedam supra se elevatio

so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.
eternae dulcedinis gaudia degustans

HAVING assgned descriptions to each of the four rungs,
Assignatus ergo quatuor graduum descriptionibus,

we must see what their functions are in relation to us.
restat ut eorum circa nos officia videamus.

FOR the sweetness of a blessed life:
Beatae vitae dulcedinem

Reading seeks;
lectio inquirit,

meditation finds;
meditatio invenit,

prayer asks;
oratio postulat,

contemplation tastes.
contemplatio degustat

Reading, so to speak, puts food solid in the mouth,
Lectio quasi solidum cibum ori apponit,

meditation chews and breaks it,
meditatio masticat et frangit

prayer attains its savor,
oratio saporem acquirit,

contemplation is itself the sweetness that rejoices and refreshes.
contemplatio est ipsa dulcedo quae jocundat et reficit.

Reading concerns the surface,
Lectio in cortice,

meditation concerns the depth
meditatio in adipe,

prayer concerns request for what is desired,
oratio in desiderii postulatione,

contemplation concerns delight in discovered sweetness.
contemplatio in adeptae dulcedinis delectatione. ( taken from "The Ladder of Monks")


  1. Don Marco9:09 AM

    Oh! What a splendid posting! Thank you!

  2. Don Marco9:20 AM

    Approach the Word of God in lectio divina as you approach the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood in Holy Communion; you will not be disappointed in your hope, nor will you be sent away empty. Come to lectio divina with hunger for the Bread of Life, come thirsting for the living water promised by Christ.
    If you are weak, you will find in lectio divina comfort and strength. If you are weary, you will find refreshment. If you are melancholy, cranky, or depressed, you will find joy, serenity, and good cheer. If you are tempted against purity or disturbed by your passions, you will find in the chaste Word of God a remedy that cleanses and pacifies the heart. If your life has become sterile, you will find in lectio divina the secret of spiritual fecundity. If you are eaten up by jealousy, or poisoned by rancour, or incapable of forgiving someone, eat the Word of God; it is the antidote for all such bitterness and sin. If you have lost your taste for the things of God, you will recover it in the Word of God. If you seem never to have enough time to do things, it is because you give too little time to the Word of God. Consecrate yourself more generously to lectio divina, hold to it unswervingly, and you will find, to your amazement and delight, that you will have time to do all other things besides. Are you are “anxious and troubled about many things” (Lk 10:41)? “One thing is needful” (Lk 10:42): the Word of God.
    “Your words were found and I ate them, and your word was to me a joy and the gladness of my heart” (Jer 15:16). “And I ate them” - the connotation is Eucharistic. The eating and drinking of the Word of God increases in us hunger and thirst for the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. The table of the Word of God compels us to approach the table of the Most Holy Eucharist. All lectio divina, be it done all together liturgically or done individually in solitude, has a Eucharistic finality. There is no hearing, no repetition, no praying of the Word of God that does not send us full of desire to the altar of Christ's sacrifice to complete, by the reception of the Eucharist, the communion begun in the reception of his words.

  3. Don Marco5:36 PM

    Do you know Dom Jean Leclercq's wonderful biography of Blessed Paul Giustiniani, reformer of the Camaldolese? I read it as a young monk and it marked me for life. It was recently republished in English under the title "Camaldolese Extraordinary."

  4. Thank You Don Marco. Thank you. Do yu realize I can feel the effect of your prayers?


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