Verbum Domini EN 69

e) The exclusive use of biblical texts in the liturgy

69 The Synod also clearly reaffirmed a point already laid down by liturgical law,[242] namely that the readings drawn from sacred Scripture may never be replaced by other texts, however significant the latter may be from a spiritual or pastoral standpoint: “No text of spirituality or literature can equal the value and riches contained in sacred Scripture, which is the word of God”.[243] This is an ancient rule of the Church which is to be maintained.[244] In the face of certain abuses, Pope John Paul II had already reiterated the importance of never using other readings in place of sacred Scripture.[245] It should also be kept in mind that the Responsorial Psalm is also the word of God, and hence should not be replaced by other texts; indeed it is most appropriate that it be sung.

[242] Cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 57.
[243] Propositio 14.
[244] Cf. Canon 36 of the Synod of Hippo, in the year 399:
DS 186.
[245] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus (4 December 1988), 13: AAS 81 (1989) 910; Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, InstructionRedemptionis Sacramentum (25 March 2004), 62: Enchiridion Vaticanum 22, No. 2248.

f) Biblically-inspired liturgical song

70 As part of the enhancement of the word of God in the liturgy, attention should also be paid to the use of song at the times called for by the particular rite. Preference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s word. We would do well to make the most of those songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition which respect this criterion. I think in particular of the importance of Gregorian chant.[246]

[246] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium,
SC 116; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 41.

g) Particular concern for the visually and hearing impaired

71 Here I wish also to recall the Synod’s recommendation that special attention be given to those who encounter problems in participating actively in the liturgy; I think, for example, of the visually and hearing impaired. I encourage our Christian communities to offer every possible practical assistance to our brothers and sisters suffering from such impairments, so that they too can be able to experience a living contact with the word of the Lord.[247]

[247] Cf. Propositio 14.

The Word Of God In The Life Of The Church

Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture

72 If it is true that the liturgy is the privileged place for the proclamation, hearing and celebration of the word of God, it is likewise the case that this encounter must be prepared in the hearts of the faithful and then deepened and assimilated, above all by them. The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops frequently spoke of the importance of pastoral care in the Christian communities as the proper setting where a personal and communal journey based on the word of God can occur and truly serve as the basis for our spiritual life. With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus”.[248]

Throughout the history of the Church, numerous saints have spoken of the need for knowledge of Scripture in order to grow in love for Christ. This is evident particularly in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Jerome, in his great love for the word of God, often wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?”.[249] He knew well that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers”.[250] His advice to the Roman matron Leta about raising her daughter was this: “Be sure that she studies a passage of Scripture each day… Prayer should follow reading, and reading follow prayer… so that in the place of jewellery and silk, she may love the divine books”.[251] Jerome’s counsel to the priest Nepotian can also be applied to us: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach”.[252] Let us follow the example of this great saint who devoted his life to the study of the Bible and who gave the Church its Latin translation, the Vulgate, as well as the example of all those saints who made an encounter with Christ the centre of their spiritual lives. Let us renew our efforts to understand deeply the word which God has given to his Church: thus we can aim for that “high standard of ordinary Christian living”[253] proposed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, which finds constant nourishment in attentively hearing the word of God.

[248] Propositio 9.
[249] Epistula 30, 7: CSEL 54, p. 246.
[250] Id., Epistula 133, 13: CSEL 56, p. 260.
[251] Id., Epistula 107, 9, 12: CSEL 55, pp. 300, 302.
[252] Id., Epistula 52, 7: CSEL 54, p. 426.

Letting the Bible inspire pastoral activity

73 Along these lines the Synod called for a particular pastoral commitment to emphasizing the centrality of the word of God in the Church’s life, and recommended a greater “biblical apostolate”, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work”.[254] This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes or dioceses, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities, in parishes, associations and movements, to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ, who gives himself to us in his word. Since “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”,[255] making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach will lead to a greater awareness of the person of Christ, who reveals the Father and is the fullness of divine revelation.

For this reason I encourage pastors and the faithful to recognize the importance of this emphasis on the Bible: it will also be the best way to deal with certain pastoral problems which were discussed at the Synod and have to do, for example, with the proliferation of sects which spread a distorted and manipulative reading of sacred Scripture. Where the faithful are not helped to know the Bible in accordance with the Church’s faith and based on her living Tradition, this pastoral vacuum becomes fertile ground for realities like the sects to take root. Provision must also be made for the suitable preparation of priests and lay persons who can instruct the People of God in the genuine approach to Scripture.

Furthermore, as was brought out during the Synod sessions, it is good that pastoral activity also favour the growth of small communities, “formed by families or based in parishes or linked to the different ecclesial movements and new communities”,[256] which can help to promote formation, prayer and knowledge of the Bible in accordance with the Church’s faith.

[253] John PaulII, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001),
NM 31: AAS 93 (2001), 287-288.
[254] Propositio 30; cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, DV 24.
[255] Saint Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri, Prol.: PL 24, 17B.
[256] Propositio 21.

The biblical dimension of catechesis

74 An important aspect of the Church’s pastoral work which, if used wisely, can help in rediscovering the centrality of God’s word is catechesis, which in its various forms and levels must constantly accompany the journey of the People of God. Luke’s description (cf. Lc 24,13-35) of the disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus represents, in some sense, the model of a catechesis centred on “the explanation of the Scriptures”, an explanation which Christ alone can give (cf. Lc 24,27-28), as he shows that they are fulfilled in his person.[257] The hope which triumphs over every failure was thus reborn, and made those disciples convinced and credible witnesses of the Risen Lord.

The General Catechetical Directory contains valuable guidelines for a biblically inspired catechesis and I readily encourage that these be consulted.[258] Here I wish first and foremost to stress that catechesis “must be permeated by the mindset, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contact with the texts themselves; yet it also means remembering that catechesis will be all the richer and more effective for reading the texts with the mind and the heart of the Church”,[259] and for drawing inspiration from the two millennia of the Church’s reflection and life. A knowledge of biblical personages, events and well-known sayings should thus be encouraged; this can also be promoted by the judicious memorization of some passages which are particularly expressive of the Christian mysteries. Catechetical work always entails approaching Scripture in faith and in the Church’s Tradition, so that its words can be perceived as living, just as Christ is alive today wherever two or three are gathered in his name (cf. Mt 18,20). Catechesis should communicate in a lively way the history of salvation and the content of the Church’s faith, and so enable every member of the faithful to realize that this history is also a part of his or her own life.

Here it is important to stress the relationship between sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as it is set forth in the General Catechetical Directory: “Sacred Scripture, in fact, as ‘the word of God written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as a significant contemporary expression of the living Tradition of the Church and a sure norm for teaching the faith, are called, each in its own way and according to its specific authority, to nourish catechesis in the Church today”.[260]

[257] Cf. Propositio 23.
[258] Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory (15 August 1997), 94-96; Enchiridion Vaticanum, 16, Nos. 875-878; John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (16 October 1979), CTR 27: AAS 71 (1979), 1298-1299.
[259] Ibid., 127: Enchiridion Vaticanum 16, No. 935; cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (16 October 1979), CTR 27: AAS 71 (1979), 1299.
[260] Ibid., 128: Enchiridion Vaticanum 16, No. 936.

The biblical formation of Christians

75 In order to achieve the goal set by the Synod, namely, an increased emphasis on the Bible in the Church’s pastoral activity, all Christians, and catechists in particular, need to receive suitable training. Attention needs to be paid to the biblical apostolate, which is a very valuable means to that end, as the Church’s experience has shown. The Synod Fathers also recommended that, possibly through the use of existing academic structures, centres of formation should be established where laity and missionaries can be trained to understand, live and proclaim the word of God. Also, where needed, specialized institutes for biblical studies should be established to ensure that exegetes possess a solid understanding of theology and an appropriate appreciation for the contexts in which they carry out their mission.[261]

[261] Cf. Propositio 33.

Sacred Scripture in large ecclesial gatherings

76 Among a variety of possible initiatives, the Synod suggested that in meetings, whether at the diocesan, national or international levels, greater emphasis be given to the importance of the word of God, its attentive hearing, and the faith-filled and prayerful reading of the Bible. In Eucharistic Congresses, whether national or international, at World Youth Days and other gatherings, it would be praiseworthy to make greater room for the celebration of the word and for biblically-inspired moments of formation.[262]

[262] Cf. Propositio 45.

The word of God and vocations

77 In stressing faith’s intrinsic summons to an ever deeper relationship with Christ, the word of God in our midst, the Synod also emphasized that this word calls each one of us personally, revealing thatlife itself is a vocation from God. In other words, the more we grow in our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the more we realize that he is calling us to holiness in and through the definitive choices by which we respond to his love in our lives, taking up tasks and ministries which help to build up the Church. This is why the Synod frequently encouraged all Christians to grow in their relationship with the word of God, not only because of their Baptism, but also in accordance with their call to various states in life. Here we touch upon one of the pivotal points in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which insisted that each member of the faithful is called to holiness according to his or her proper state in life.[263] Our call to holiness is revealed in sacred Scripture: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lv 11,44 Lv 19,2 Lv 20,7). Saint Paul then points out its Christological basis: in Christ, the Father “has chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ep 1,4). Paul’s greeting to his brothers and sisters in the community of Rome can be taken as addressed to each of us: “To all God’s beloved, who are called to be saints: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” (Rm 1,7).

[263] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, LG 39-42.

a) Ordained ministers and the word of God

78 I would like to speak first to the Church’s ordained ministers, in order to remind them of the Synod’s statement that “the word of God is indispensable in forming the heart of a good shepherd and minister of the word”.[264] Bishops, priests, and deacons can hardly think that they are living out their vocation and mission apart from a decisive and renewed commitment to sanctification, one of whose pillars is contact with God’s word.

[264] Propositio 31.

79 To those called to the episcopate, who are the first and most authoritative heralds of the word, I would repeat the words of Pope John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis. For the nourishment and progress of his spiritual life, the Bishop must always put “in first place, reading and meditation on the word of God. Every Bishop must commend himself and feel himself commended ‘to the Lord and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up and to give the inheritance among all those who are sanctified’ (Ac 20,32). Before becoming one who hands on the word, the Bishop, together with his priests and indeed like every member of the faithful, and like the Church herself, must be a hearer of the word. He should dwell ‘within’ the word and allow himself to be protected and nourished by it, as if by a mother’s womb”.[265] To all my brother Bishops I recommend frequent personal reading and study of sacred Scripture, in imitation of Mary, Virgo Audiens and Queen of the Apostles.

[265] No. : AAS 96 (2004), 846-847.

80 To priests too, I would recall the words of Pope John Paul II, who in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, stated that “the priest is first of all a minister of the word of God, consecrated and sent to announce the Good News of the Kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith and leading believers to an ever increasing knowledge of and communion in the mystery of God, as revealed and communicated to us in Christ. For this reason the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic and exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him – ‘the mind of Christ’ (1Co 2,16)”.[266] Consequently, his words, his choices and his behaviour must increasingly become a reflection, proclamation and witness of the Gospel; “only if he ‘abides’ in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then then will he know the truth and be set truly free”.[267]

In a word, the priestly vocation demands that one be consecrated “in the truth”. Jesus states this clearly with regard to his disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jn 17,17-18). The disciples in a certain sense become “drawn into intimacy with God by being immersed in the word of God. God’s word is, so to speak, the purifying bath, the creative power which changes them and makes them belong to God”.[268] And since Christ himself is God’s Word made flesh (Jn 1,14) – “the Truth” (Jn 14,6) – Jesus’ prayer to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth”, means in the deepest sense: “Make them one with me, the Christ. Bind them to me. Draw them into me. For there is only one priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself”.[269] Priests need to grow constantly in their awareness of this reality.

[266] No. PDV 26: AAS 84 (1992), 698.
[267] Ibid. PDV 26
[268] Benedict XVI, Homily at the Chrism Mass (9 April 2009): AAS 101 (2009), 355.
[269] Ibid., 356.

81 I would also like to speak of the place of God’s word in the life of those called to the diaconate, not only as the final step towards the order of priesthood, but as a permanent service. The Directory for the Permanent Diaconate states that “the deacon’s theological identity clearly provides the features of his specific spirituality, which is presented essentially as a spirituality of service. The model par excellence is Christ as servant, lived totally at the service of God, for the good of humanity”.[270]From this perspective, one can see how, in the various dimensions of the diaconal ministry, a “characteristic element of diaconal spirituality is the word of God, of which the deacon is called to be an authoritative preacher, believing what he preaches, teaching what he believes, and living what he teaches”.[271] Hence, I recommend that deacons nourish their lives by the faith-filled reading of sacred Scripture, accompanied by study and prayer. They should be introduced to “sacred Scripture and its correct interpretation; to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition; in particular to the use of Scripture in preaching, in catechesis and in pastoral activity in general”.[272]

[270] Congregation for Catholic Education, Fundamental Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons (22 February 1998), 11: Enchiridion Vaticanum 17, Nos. 174-175.
[271] Ibid., 74: Enchiridion Vaticanum 17, No. 263.
[272] Ibid., 81: Enchiridion Vaticanum 17, No. 271.

b) The word of God and candidates for Holy Orders

82 The Synod attributed particular importance to the decisive role that the word of God must play in the spiritual life of candidates for the ministerial priesthood: “Candidates for the priesthood must learn to love the word of God. Scripture should thus be the soul of their theological formation, and emphasis must be given to the indispensable interplay of exegesis, theology, spirituality and mission”.[273]Those aspiring to the ministerial priesthood are called to a profound personal relationship with God’s word, particularly in lectio divina, so that this relationship will in turn nurture their vocation: it is in the light and strength of God’s word that one’s specific vocation can be discerned and appreciated, loved and followed, and one’s proper mission carried out, by nourishing the heart with thoughts of God, so that faith, as our response to the word, may become a new criterion for judging and evaluating persons and things, events and issues.[274]

Such attention to the prayerful reading of Scripture must not in any way lead to a dichotomy with regard to the exegetical studies which are a part of formation. The Synod recommended that seminarians be concretely helped to see the relationship between biblical studies and scriptural prayer.The study of Scripture ought to lead to an increased awareness of the mystery of divine revelation and foster an attitude of prayerful response to the Lord who speaks. Conversely, an authentic life of prayer cannot fail to nurture in the candidate’s heart a desire for greater knowledge of the God who has revealed himself in his word as infinite love. Hence, great care should be taken to ensure that seminarians always cultivate this reciprocity between study and prayer in their lives. This end will be served if candidates are introduced to the study of Scripture through methods which favour this integral approach.

[273] Propositio 32.
[274] Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25 March 1992),
PDV 47: AAS 84 (1992), 740-742.

c) The word of God and the consecrated life

83 With regard to the consecrated life, the Synod first recalled that it “is born from hearing the word of God and embracing the Gospel as its rule of life”.[275] A life devoted to following Christ in his chastity, poverty and obedience thus becomes “a living ‘exegesis’ of God’s word”.[276] The Holy Spirit, in whom the Bible was written, is the same Spirit who illumines “the word of God with new light for the founders and foundresses. Every charism and every rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it”,[277] thus opening up new pathways of Christian living marked by the radicalism of the Gospel.

Here I would mention that the great monastic tradition has always considered meditation on sacred Scripture to be an essential part of its specific spirituality, particularly in the form of lectio divina. Today too, both old and new expressions of special consecration are called to be genuine schools of the spiritual life, where the Scriptures can be read according to the Holy Spirit in the Church, for the benefit of the entire People of God. The Synod therefore recommended that communities of consecrated life always make provision for solid instruction in the faith-filled reading of the Bible.[278]

Once again I would like to echo the consideration and gratitude that the Synod expressed with regard to those forms of contemplative life whose specific charism is to devote a great part of their day to imitating the Mother of God, who diligently pondered the words and deeds of her Son (cf.
Lc 2,19), and Mary of Bethany, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened attentively to his words (cf. Lc 10,38). I think in particular of monks and cloistered nuns, who by virtue of their separation from the world are all the more closely united to Christ, the heart of the world. More than ever, the Church needs the witness of men and women resolved to “put nothing before the love of Christ”.[279] The world today is often excessively caught up in outward activities and risks losing its bearings. Contemplative men and women, by their lives of prayer, attentive hearing and meditation on God’s Word, remind us that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (cf. Mt 4,4). All the faithful, then, should be clearly conscious that this form of life “shows today’s world what is most important, indeed, the one thing necessary: there is an ultimate reason which makes life worth living, and that is God and his inscrutable love”.[280]

[275] Propositio 24.
[276] Benedict XVI, Homily for the World Day of Consecrated Life (2 February 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 133; cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), VC 82: AAS 88 (1996), 458-460.
[277] Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium (19 May 2002), 24: Enchiridion Vaticanum 21, No. 447.
[278] Cf. Propositio 24.
[279] Saint Benedict, Rule, RB 4, 21: SC 181, 456-458.
[280] Benedict XVI, Address at Heiligenkreuz Abbey (9 September 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 856.

d) The word of God and the lay faithful

84 The Synod frequently spoke of the laity and thanked them for their generous activity in spreading the Gospel in the various settings of daily life, at work and in the schools, in the family and in education.[281] This responsibility, rooted in Baptism, needs to develop through an ever more conscious Christian way of life capable of “accounting for the hope” within us (cf. 1P 3,15). In theGospel of Matthew, Jesus points out that “the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the Kingdom” (Mt 13,38). These words apply especially to the Christian laity, who live out their specific vocation to holiness by a life in the Spirit expressed “in a particular way by their engagement in temporal matters and by their participation in earthly activities”.[282] The laity need to be trained to discern God’s will through a familiarity with his word, read and studied in the Church under the guidance of her legitimate pastors. They can receive this training at the school of the great ecclesial spiritualities, all of which are grounded in sacred Scripture. Wherever possible, dioceses themselves should provide an opportunity for continuing formation to lay persons charged with particular ecclesial responsibilities.[283]

[281] Cf. Propositio 30.
[282] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), CL 17: AAS 81 (1989), 418.
[283] Cf. Propositio 33.

e) The word of God, marriage and the family

85 The Synod also felt the need to stress the relationship between the word of God, marriage and the Christian family. Indeed, “with the proclamation of the word of God, the Church reveals to Christian families their true identity, what it is and what it must be in accordance with the Lord’s plan”.[284] Consequently, it must never be forgotten that the word of God is at the very origin of marriage(cf. Gn 2,24) and that Jesus himself made marriage one of the institutions of his Kingdom (cf. Mt 19,4-8), elevating to the dignity of a sacrament what was inscribed in human nature from the beginning. “In the celebration of the sacrament, a man and a woman speak a prophetic word of reciprocal self-giving, that of being ‘one flesh’, a sign of the mystery of the union of Christ with the Church (cf. Ep 5,31-32)”.[285] Fidelity to God’s word leads us to point out that nowadays this institution is in many ways under attack from the current mentality. In the face of widespread confusion in the sphere of affectivity, and the rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual differentiation, the word of God re-affirms the original goodness of the human being, created as man and woman and called to a love which is faithful, reciprocal and fruitful.

The great mystery of marriage is the source of the essential responsibility of parents towards their children. Part of authentic parenthood is to pass on and bear witness to the meaning of life in Christ: through their fidelity and the unity of family life, spouses are the first to proclaim God’s word to their children. The ecclesial community must support and assist them in fostering family prayer, attentive hearing of the word of God, and knowledge of the Bible. To this end the Synod urged that every household have its Bible, to be kept in a worthy place and used for reading and prayer. Whatever help is needed in this regard can be provided by priests, deacons and a well-prepared laity. The Synod also recommended the formation of small communities of families, where common prayer and meditation on passages of Scripture can be cultivated.[286] Spouses should also remember that “the Word of God is a precious support amid the difficulties which arise in marriage and in family life”.[287]

Here I would like to highlight the recommendations of the Synod concerning the role of women in relation to the word of God. Today, more than in the past, the “feminine genius”,[288] to use the words of John Paul II, has contributed greatly to the understanding of Scripture and to the whole life of the Church, and this is now also the case with biblical studies. The Synod paid special attention to the indispensable role played by women in the family, education, catechesis and the communication of values. “They have an ability to lead people to hear God’s word, to enjoy a personal relationship with God, and to show the meaning of forgiveness and of evangelical sharing”.[289] They are likewise messengers of love, models of mercy and peacemakers; they communicate warmth and humanity in a world which all too often judges people according to the ruthless criteria of exploitation and profit.

[284] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), FC 49: AAS 74 (1982), 140-141.
[285] Propositio 20.
[286] Cf. Propositio 21.
[287] Propositio 20.
[288] Cf. Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (15 August 1988), MD 31: AAS 80 (1988), 1727-1729.
[289] Propositio 17.

The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and “lectio divina”

86 The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina.[290] The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality. The Synod Fathers thus took up the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture”.[291] The Council thus sought to reappropriate the great patristic tradition which had always recommended approaching the Scripture in dialogue with God. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God”.[292] Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced, in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love. In his Letter to Gregory, the great Alexandrian theologian gave this advice: “Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’. By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’”.[293]

In this regard, however, one must avoid the risk of an individualistic approach, and remember that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God. While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church. Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church. In effect, “a communal reading of Scripture is extremely important, because the living subject in the sacred Scriptures is the People of God, it is the Church… Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God inspired by God himself, is always the same, and therefore the word is always alive in the living subject. As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium”.[294]

For this reason, the privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst. In some sense the prayerful reading of the Bible, personal and communal, must always be related to the Eucharistic celebration. Just as the adoration of the Eucharist prepares for, accompanies and follows the liturgy of the Eucharist,[295] so too prayerful reading, personal and communal, prepares for, accompanies and deepens what the Church celebrates when she proclaims the word in a liturgical setting. By so closely relating lectio and liturgy, we can better grasp the criteria which should guide this practice in the area of pastoral care and in the spiritual life of the People of God.

[290] Propositiones 9 and 22.
[291] No.
DV 25.
[292] Enarrationes in Psalmos, 85, 7: PL 37, 1086.
[293] Origen, Epistola ad Gregorium, 3: PG 11, 92.
[294] Benedict XVI, Address to the Students of the Roman Major Seminary (19 February 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 253-254.
[295] Cf. Id., Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007), 66; AAS 99 (2007), 155-156.

Verbum Domini EN 69