Lectio Divina: The Eucharist of the Intelligence

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September 30
Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

2 Timothy 3:14-17
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 13: 47-52

Meditating Day and Night

The liturgy presents Saint Jerome today as the “man who meditated on the law of the Lord day and night” (Ps 1:2). Thus did he bring forth “fruit in due season” (Ps 1:3). The “law of the Lord” in today’s Entrance Antiphon is the Word of God, “alive and active” (Heb 4:12). It is the Word that springs to life, rising from the pages of Sacred Scripture, so often as we listen to it proclaimed (lectio), repeat it (meditatio), pray it (oratio), and remain with it in an adoring silence (contemplatio).

Fecundity

Psalm 1 links the ceaseless meditation of the Word of God to fruitfulness. “He shall be like a tree planted near running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season” (Ps 1:2). The fruit promised in the psalm is fulfilled in the mystery revealed by Jesus while at table with his disciples on the night before he suffered: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (Jn 15:8). Lectio divina is the secret of supernatural fecundity. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (Jn 15:7).

Vitality

The fruits of the Holy Spirit — the evidence of a thriving, healthy inner life — flourish wheresoever the Word of God is proclaimed (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio). It is an irrefutable fact of monastic history, demonstrated by our dear old friend, Dom Jean Leclercq, that whenever lectio divina was neglected, monastic life fell into a sterile decadence, losing its vitality; it is also an irrefutable fact of history that whenever lectio divina is practiced with generosity, devotion, and zeal, monastic life brings forth the fruits of holiness in abundance.

Rule of Saint Benedict

It struck me that today’s Entrance Antiphon is the very same text given us as the Communion Antiphon on Ash Wednesday. Did you notice that? It is more than a mere coincidence. Such liturgical resonances are important and, very often, contain teachings that we cannot afford to overlook. In the Benedictine tradition, Lent is the season par excellence of lectio divina. In Chapter 48 of the Rule Saint Benedict changes the daily timetable and breaks into the customary routine in order to make more time during Lent for the reading, repetition, and praying of the Scriptures. In Chapter 49 he tells us that the life of a monk ought to have at all times a Lenten character. It is above all the primacy given to lectio divina that is characteristic of Saint Benedict’s Lent; that, and the joy of spiritual desire (cf. RB 49:7) that is its fruit. By relating today’s Entrance Antiphon to the Communion Antiphon of Ash Wednesday, Saint Jerome emerges as a model of monastic holiness. If you would be fruitful, immerse yourself in the Scriptures. Make room, always more room, in your life for the Word of God.

The Eucharist of the Intelligence

Lectio divina is the eucharist of the intelligence. It is a holy communion with Christ, in every way as real as our communion in the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood. Listen to Saint Jerome: “I say the word of Scripture is truly the body of Christ and His blood; it is divine doctrine. If at any time we approach the Sacrament — the faithful know what I mean — and a tiny crumb should fall, we are appalled. Even so, if at any time we hear the word of God, through which the body and blood of Christ is being poured into our ears, and we yield carelessly to distraction, how responsible are we not for our failing? . . . The divine word is exceedingly rich, containing within itself every delight. Whatever you desire is found in it, just as the Jews recount that when they were eating the manna each one tasted the kind of food he liked. . . . We, in the flesh of Christ, which is the word of divine doctrine, received manna in accordance with and in proportion to our desire” (Jerome, On Psalm 147:12-20).

Lectio and Holy Communion

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.
The Two Tables

The Communion Antiphon of today’s Mass is taken from the prophet Jeremiah, but the Church, with the freedom in the Holy Spirit that characterizes her liturgy, places the prophet’s words in the mouth of Saint Jerome: “You 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.

Sent to the Altar

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. Today’s Prayer Over the Offerings has us ask “that by following the example of Saint Jerome in meditating your word, we may more eagerly draw near to offer the saving Victim to your majesty.”

The Best Preparation for the Eucharist

Lectio divina is the best preparation for the Eucharist; the Eucharist, in turn, illumines lectio divina with a divine brightness. May Saint Jerome obtain for us today the grace of lives made fruitful by the Word and wholly eucharistified by the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.

2 Comments

My question is, if Christ's body and blood can be partaken of through lectio divina, what need is there for the Real Presence in the Eucharist? I ask this in all sincerity and perplexity as I am studying late-medieval heretics who seem happy to substitute the a version of the former for the latter. I would much appreciate more discussion on this topic. Rgds,

Dear Stephen, Nothing can replace sacramental Holy Communion. The Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the summit toward which every other mode of "communion" tends, and the wellspring from which they derive. When the Fathers of the Church speak of the Word of God being a real Communion with Our Lord, or even, a participation in the chalice of His Blood, they are speaking by way of analogy. Lectio Divina should normally lead to a "spiritual communion" — this spiritual communion increases one's hunger and thirst for sacramental Holy Communion, and for the abiding real and substantial presence of Our Lord in the mysteries of His Body and Blood. See Luke 24, where the burning experience of the Word in the heart leads to, and culminates in, the Breaking of the Bread.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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