Sunday, February 23, 2014

Matins Patristic Readings**

A reader has kindly alerted me to the fact that the book providing the English version of the Patristic readings for the Benedictine Office is once more in print.

The Matins readings

The book, entitled The Lessons Of The Temporal Cycle And The Principal Feasts Of The Sanctoral Cycle According To The Monastic Breviary was originally published by St Meinrad's Abbey in 1941, and is now available in a reprint (you can find it on Amazon here).

It basically provides the Patristic readings for the second and third nocturns of Matins on Sundays and other days with set Gospels (such as during Lent), together with the readings for most first and second class feasts.  Note though that it doesn't contain the commons of saints, nor does it contain the first nocturn Scriptural readings (though it mostly notes what they are).

There are, I'm afraid some differences to the 1962 readings.  First, the book was compiled before the old octaves were mostly abolished, so the readings given cover the octaves, not the newer texts that often substitute on those days.  Secondly some feasts have been added or abolished since then, and a few readings changed.

Nonetheless, this is a very worthwhile book to obtain if you say Matins (unless your Latin is already superb!), or just want to do lectio divina on the readings for Sundays.

Lectio Divina in the mind of the Church

The patristic readings on the Gospels are, I think, and important resource for us to employ when doing Lectio Divina.  There are many advocates, these days, for just opening the Bible (or your Missal or whatever) and reading it unaided.  That might be fine if you already have a very good grounding in theology, but most of us need a bit more help than that, lest we fall into heresy!

In Verbum Domini, for example, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that:

 "Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error." (30)  

In that Exhortation, Pope Benedict argued for the need to employ all four senses of Scripture, and to listen to the interpretations of Scripture provided by the saints:

"The interpretation of sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening 
to those who have truly lived the word of God: namely, the saints.  Indeed, “ viva lectio est vita bonorum ”.  The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation." (48)

The Pope urged us to reappropriate the great Patristic tradition as a guard against individualistic readings of something that is essential a communal property.  Viewing our lectio in the context of the liturgy is one guard against this, but so to is drawing on the tradition of interpretation of Scripture:

"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”. (86)

One of the fascinating survivals of the medieval monastic record are the collections of lectio notes left by so many monks.  Many of them are nothing more than anthologies of the Fathers commentaries on the psalms and other texts, along the lines of St Thomas' Catena Aurea on the Gospels.  Others are more developed commentaries such as those of St Bede, that reflect careful study, meditation and prayer.

The readings especially selected for the Office by the Church are an excellent starting point for our own efforts in this area, so do consider obtaining this book, or investigating other such collections and sound commentaries to guide your lectio efforts!

Lectio divina on the psalms

And by way of postscript on the need for study of Scripture under the guidance of the Fathers, I'd like to draw your attention to the latest (Number 3) in the series of Fr Cassian Folsom's talks on Praying Without Ceasing, which very much goes to the need to study the psalm, particularly for their Christocentric, spiritual interpretation, in order to get the most out of the Office. 


Mark said...

Thank you for the recommendation, Kate! You mention the lectio notes left by monastics of days gone by; if you ever get a chance to write more on that subject, I'd be grateful.

Kate Edwards said...

The Matins book is particularly a useful tool for those who say Matins, and good to see back in print. But if you really want to pursue tools for Lectio, there are a number of other good starting points - the Catena Aurea of St Thomas (available through Preserving Christian publications); the Sunday Sermons of the Fathers series; and the Ancient Christian Commentaries series are all valuable acquisitions.

On medieval lectio methods - I'm not an expert on this subject, and not that up-to-date in my reading on this subject at the moment, but if you can tell me a little of what you are interested in knowing more about, perhaps I can suggest some references in due course?

Mark said...

I think you've answered my questions somewhat, Kate. I was thinking of, you see, of commentaries on the Psalter and the rest of the Old Testament. I'll look into those other two: thanks.

Kate Edwards said...

If you are looking for stuff on the psalter, go and take a look at my Psallam Domino blog:

I've written overview notes on the main patristic commentaries on the psalms, put links to online versions and other resources, and compiled up my own notes drawing on the traditional commentaries.