Rome | In an unprecedented joint initiative, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV, the Vatican publishing house) recently presented three versions of the same book, Pray with the Bible – Meditate with the Word, in English, Spanish and Italian, in conjunction with the American Bible Society (ABS, an inter-faith organization translating, publishing and promoting the Bible) under the auspices of the vicariate general of the Diocese of Mar del Plata, Argentina, whose Vicar General, Fr. Gabriel Mestre, authored the text.
The presentation took place at the Vatican on October 30, 2013, at the Auditorium San Pio X in via della Conciliazione adjacent to the Vatican with a panel of scheduled and unscheduled speakers moderated by Vatican Radio’s director of English language programming, Sean Patrick Lovett. These included Mario J. Paredes, the Presidential Liaison of Catholic Ministries for the American Bible Society; Don Giuseppe Costa, director of Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Fr. Stephen Pisano, SJ, deputy chancellor of Pontificio Istituto Biblico (Pontifical Biblical Institute); Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops; Fr. Gabriel Mestre; Br. Ricardo Grzona, president of the Ramon Pane Foundation and a consultant to the American Bible Society; and John Edgar Caterson, Director of Church Ministries with the American Bible Society.
“In the third century monks developed a prayerful practice called lectio divina, the reading of God: that meant to read the Bible in a prayerful form,” explained Mario Paredes in his brief introduction. In other words, this ancient monastic practice was worked out to help readers draw spiritual help from Scripture, but “as the centuries went by, prayer…became very rational and very intellectual, and so the act of praying with the World of God became really obsolete until very modern times,” he explained. “After Vatican II, the Church clearly indicated that a Catholic person should be engaged with the Word of God”. And “the best way to engage Catholics [with Scripture] is really to discover Lectio Divina,” he said. And this is absolutely essential since, according to research conducted by ABS, more and more people in the United States are becoming unfamiliar with the Bible.
Fr. Pisano, for his part, drew a parallel between lectio divina and the approach to the Scriptures Pope Francis learned as a Jesuit. Both approaches, he said, involve “taking the Bible text for study, reflection and prayer, which leads to discernment”. Father Pisano has also stressed the book’s insistence on Sacred Tradition, which is inseparable from Sacred Scripture, quoting what was written by Fr. Mestre: “The experience of encounter with God is not confined to events recorded in the Bible. There is also what we call Tradition, which consists in the perception of the message of God, in every age, which the Church identifies and presents to her faithful”. The formation of the Gospels in fact took place in three stages: at first there were the events experienced by the apostles with their Master, then came the traditions preserved from the earliest Christian community, and lastly everything that today we read in the Gospels was put in writing. Tradition, therefore, is not only what comes after the Scripture, but also something that precedes it: Tradition is important in the formation and transmission of the biblical text.
The other intervention with a theological slant was that of Msgr. Frezza, who focused his presentation on the topic of lectio divina as consisting of five stages: lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio and actio (reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, action). He showed that in the book there is a significant sign of convergence between the council’s fathers and the synod’s fathers, and therefore Dei Verbum and Verbum Domini. The monsignor also recalled that the Bible must be read in the Holy Spirit, even in light of what Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, in the third chapter, and according to what St. Jerome taught—namely, that it must be read and interpreted by means of the very Spirit in which it was written. If one considers seriously the fact that the Bible is the Word of God in human language, then what is true of the words of men is also true for the Holy Scriptures: they always contain information, expressions, and desire for relationship. Until half a century ago, it was by no means obvious how to pray with the Bible; today it has also become a published program. Or better, the first result of what is probably poised to be a series, in the words of Fr. Costa, who stressed the importance of this first joint publication by the LEV and the ABS, to be followed by other publishing initiatives in due course.
Be as it may, the lectio divina approach is all the more topical today, for the very simple reason that Pope Francis’ morning Mass homilies “are the result of lectio divina”, as pointed out by Fr. Mestre, the author of the book. This is the result of the Holy Father’s experience, for in the course of his priestly ministry he has introduced many groups and individuals to such lectio divina. Fr. Mestre said the homilies offer a glimpse into the Pope’s process of reading the text, meditating on it, praying with it and reflecting on what it is calling him and other Christians to do. Therefore, this new manual is a useful tool for both individuals and communities that desire to sincerely dedicate themselves to the exciting world of the prayerful reading of the Bible.
And this is of paramount importance to prompt laypeople and beginners who want to learn what are the Bible and lectio divina. Although Br. Grzona told the audience that in most of the developed world, “the Bible has pretty much arrived everywhere” and that “it’s hard to find a home without one,” it’s regrettably likewise true that “most people don’t read it, and don’t know how to pray with it and apply it to their lives”.
The book presentation was graced by music interludes by the string quartet “Pessoa”, who for the first time played an unpublished composition for violins and violas written by Msgr. Giuseppe Liberto, former director of Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina (Sistine Chapel Choir) from 1997 to 2010.