Friday, December 02, 2011

Lectio Divina: A Year-Long Cycle According to the Traditional Roman Liturgy


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About to start my own Castello di Monte San Giovanni Year-Long Biblical Retreat

I recently made the resolution to read Scripture this coming year.  I mean, all of it, in one year.  I have read a lot of the Bible in the past, especially in the form of short texts as they appear throughout the liturgical year.  I've also read continuously the main narrative-historical books of the Old and New Testaments according to Jeff Cavins' "The Great Adventure" Bible reading plan, which consists of (at least) 14 books that tell the whole history of salvation (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Josue, Judges, 1-4 Kings, 1-2 Esdras, 1 Maccabbees, Matthew, and Acts).  And I've also taken a few college and graduate Scripture courses, and have taught a couple myself at the high school level.  So I know Scripture relatively well--for a layman, at least--and feel very comfortable opening any page and locating the historical context, the characters and the main story.  But I cannot say that I have read the whole Bible.  And my primary role model, St. Thomas Aquinas, not only read it, but literally memorized it in his two year imprisonment in the Castello di Monte San Giovanni Campano (pictured above).  Not only that: his official title at the University of Paris was that of Magister in Sacra Pagina (basically, "master exegete"), and produced some of the most lucid biblical commentaries in history.  So I have a lot to live up to as a faithful disciple of St. Thomas.  I am very aware that I cannot master the Summa and think I've reached the apex of Thomism.  I have to master Scripture (if such a thing is possible), and it's very clear to me that I've got to start by reading it, the whole thing.  The questions is how, and in what order.

Now, in pondering an answer to this question, the Roman Liturgy has given me a very good idea.   Since we are on the first week of Advent, which is also the first year of the liturgical year, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to read the Bible according to the order proposed to us by Holy Mother Church in her traditional Divine Office, specifically in the lessons of the first nocturn of matins.  That way I not only read the Bible, but live it liturgically.

One of the simplest ways of doing this is just to read the first nocturn lessons of matins every night.  This is very nice, but the only problem is that it would give you a sampling of Scripture, at best.  In fact, that is exactly what I've been doing for the last few months, but I've become disappointed by the lack of continuity and completeness of the readings (see why below).

Here are the books of the Bible that are read in each season of the liturgical year (taken from the article "Breviary," from Catholic Encyclopedia):




The following is the table of lessons from the Bible. In its essential features, it goes back to a very venerable antiquity: 
- Advent — Isaias, and St. Paul's Epistles. 
- Christmas, Epiphany — St. Paul, following this very ancient order: Epp. To Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews. 
- Septuagesima and Lent — Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch. 
- Passiontide — Jeremias. 
- Easter and Paschal Time — Acts of the App., Apocalypse, Epp. Of St. James, St. Peter, St. John. 
- Time after Pentecost — Books of Kings.- Month of August — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus. 
- Month of September — Job, Tobias, Judith, Esther. 
- Month of October — Machabees. 
- Month of November — Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets.


As you can see, this list contains most, but not all, of the books of the bible.  Under Septuagesima and Lent, the article lists "Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch," but in reality only most of Genesis and some of Exodus are read.  As FishEaters' forum member "Paul" notes, the Divine Office "leaves [out] these books: Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Paralipomenon, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Psalms, Canticles, Baruch, and the four Gospels."  Of course, Psalms are being constantly recited in the Divine Office (all of them every week), and the Gospels are constantly being read at Mass.  But they are not recited or read in order.  I want to read them in order, in order to see their continuity and inner logic--something for which Aquinas' commentaries are simply the best resource, by the way.  And then, of course, Josue, Judges, and 1 and 2 Esdras, which are such crucial episodes in the history of salvation, are entirely left out.

Moreover, if you read all of the lessons in the first nocturns of matins every single day of the liturgical year, you would end up reading only parts of (most) books of the Bible, but rarely will you read all of any book.  

Also, every time a liturgical feast pops up (at least in the 1910 breviary, which is the one I use) you have to substitute the feast's Scripture reading for the one assigned for the feria, and doing this makes you mess with the arrangement above.  So you would not even be reading all of the selections prescribed for ferias.  If you wanted perfect continuity, you would have to do the readings for ferias only.

Now, since what I want to do is read all of Scripture (yes, I am rather obsessive about continuity and completeness), I have decided to follow the order prescribed in the Breviary only in broad outline.  So rather than reading exactly that which is prescribed in the Divine Office, I am going to read every book of the Bible at the time in which the Divine Office prescribes selections from that book.  Also, in order to cover all of the books that the Divine Office does not prescribe, I will follow our friend Paul's advice, to read "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, and Judges from Septuagesima through the IV Week of Lent, one per week. Add Ruth to September, and Paralipomenon and Esdras to the weeks of Pentecost, after Kings. Canticles can go with the other Wisdom books, in August, and Baruch with Ezechiel and Daniel, in November. You could read the Psalms each day, repeating them twice in the year, or read half during the Easter Octave and half during the Octave of Pentecost. Or read two Gospels each week, or read a portion throughout the year."

The result is the following, which is adapted from Paul's list.  The books not prescribed in the Breviary, which I have added to Paul's list, are in CAPS:

Advent: Isaias
Christmastide: Romans
I Week after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians
II Week after Epiphany: 2 Corinthians
III Week after Epiphany (Sun-Wed): Galatians
III Week after Epiphany (Thu-Sat): Ephesians
IV Week after Epiphany (Sun-Mon): Philippians
IV Week after Epiphany (Tue-Wed): Colossians
IV Week after Epiphany (Thu-Fri): 1 Thessalonians
IV Week after Epiphany (Sat): 2 Thessalonians
V Week after Epiphany (Sun-Mon): 1 Timothy
V Week after Epiphany (Tue-Wed): 2 Timothy
V Week after Epiphany (Thu-Fri): Titus
V Week after Epiphany (Sat): Philemon
VI Week after Epiphany: Hebrews

Septuagesima: Genesis (Adam) - GENESIS
Sexagesima: Genesis (Noe) - EXODUS
Quinquagesima: Genesis (Abraham) - LEVITICUS
I Lent: Genesis (Isaac) - NUMBERS
II Lent: Genesis (Jacob) - DEUTERONOMY
III Lent: Genesis (Joseph) - JOSUE
IV Lent: Exodus (Moses) - JUDGES
Passiontide: Jeremias
Triduum: Lamentations

Easter and Octave: none (Gospel Homilies) - GOSPELS
I and II Weeks after Easter: Acts
III Week after Easter: Apocalypse
IV Week after Easter: James
V Week after Easter (before Ascension): 1 Peter
V Week after Easter (after Ascension): 2 Peter
VI Week after Easter (Sun-Tue): 1 John
VI Week after Easter (Wed-Thu): 2 John
VI Week after Easter (Fri): 3 John
VI Week after Easter (Sat): Jude

Pentecost and Octave: none (Gospel homilies) - 1-2 Kings
I-IV Weeks after Pentecost (if before August): 3-4 Kings
V-VI Weeks after Pentecost (if before August): PSALMS
VII-VIII Weeks after Pentecost (if before August): 1-2 PARALIPOMENON
IX-XI Weeks after Pentecost (if before August): 1-2 ESDRAS

I Week of August: Proverbs
II Week of August: Ecclesiastes
III Week of August: Wisdom
IV-V Weeks of August: Ecclesiasticus, CANTICLES

I-II Weeks of September: Job
III Week of September: Tobias
IV Week of September: Judith
V Week of September: Esther, RUTH

I-III Weeks of October: 1 Maccabees
IV-V Weeks of October: 2 Maccabees

I-II Weeks of November: Ezechiel, BARUCH
III Week of November: Daniel
IV Week of November (Sun-Mon): Osee
IV Week of November (Tue-Wed): Joel
IV Week of November (Thu): Amos
IV Week of November (Fri): Abdias
IV Week of November (Sat): Jonas
V Week of November (Sun): Michaeas
V Week of November (Mon): Nahum
V Week of November (Tue): Habacuc
V Week of November (Wed): Sophonias
V Week of November (Thu): Aggaeus
V Week of November (Fri): Zacharias
V Week of November (Sat): Malachias

Many thanks to Paul for making such a valuable list!

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