What is the difference between “Meditating the Passion of the Lord” (MP) and practising Lectio Divina (LD)?
MP is taking one of the four accounts of the Passion, reading it, pondering, praying on it. It is therefore based on the Sacred Text like LD. It’s immediately obvious, too, that on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday our LD and MP coincide. In fact, during the Palm Sunday Mass and during the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, we have as a Gospel reading the entire account of the Passion.
Equally significant is that both LD and MP are said to be powerful. Also, both rely on a reading of the Sacred Text. In a way, therefore, they seem very similar. How is this relationship derived?
The relationship between LD and MP is in fact complex. Both are fundamental forces: vital, powerful and therefore unavoidable. Let us see in which sense they are so:
1- LD is listening to God and putting his Word into practice. In this sense it encompasses the core of the message of the Gospel. It is the core of any prayer: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).
2- MP can be said to perform the Ephphata, that is, the opening of our inner capacity of hearing God’s Word. It is on the Cross and through His Passion that Jesus saves us and therefore opens what was closed by the disobedience of the first Adam. With the Passion, everything starts to make sense in our life because it is the starting point of our new life in Christ. So, in this sense, MP opens the way for LD.
It is necessary to be aware, too, that Isaiah 53 has a central place in the New Testament. It is a prophetical text, given many centuries before the Lord’s Passion, but was perceived by the Apostles and authors of the New Testament as talking about Jesus, and describing his Passion. This perception is the pure gift of the Grace of God, an opening in the mind performed by the Holy Spirit, allowing us to “see” in this text Jesus during his Passion (see Luke 24:44-47). This unique experience that only the believers have (see St. Paul below) is the corner stone of the New Testament. We can’t stress this point enough (see also Acts 8:26-40).
St. Paul states that only faith removes the veil that stops us from seeing Christ in the Old Testament: “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant. It has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed. And even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord [by Faith], the veil is taken away.”(2 Co 3:13-16)
3- The account of the Passion of the Lord is the core of the Bible. It contains the most dense and powerful pages. It is the Holy of the Holies of the New Testament and of the entire Bible. Some exegetes even stated that some Gospels (think of Mark’s) are like a long introduction to the Passion and the Passion.
It is in the Passion of the Lord that the maximum point of the Love of God is manifest. Isaiah 53 exemplifies in fact the core of our piety and paradoxically the summit of the manifestation of God’s love for each one of us. When St. Paul contemplates the Cross, he says: “he loved me and died for me” (Ga 2:20)!
4- It is still important to underline the fact that each week can be said to be a holy week that leads to Sunday, i.e. the Resurrection. Some mystics lived the Passion every week, showing us the deeper spiritual meaning of each week and what happens in it. They reveal its ascending movement: from the Passion and Death to the Resurrection of the Lord. The application of the Salvation realised by Christ 2000 years ago is happening everyday. This is why St. Paul says: “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).
5- In Lent and mostly during Holy Week, we are called to practise MP, live the Passion and benefit from its powerful grace.
6- The wisdom of the Church makes her decide not to centre the entire Liturgical year exclusively around the Passion. So, throughout the year we have all the other Mysteries of Christ (Advent, Christmas, Easter…): hence we are not in Lent throughout the year. Hence the rich variation in the daily readings. Hence LD. LD is focused on the daily readings that follow the different phases of the Mysteries of Christ's Life. In each tide of the Liturgical year we face a different facet of Christ Mysteries. Each one shows his great love, compassion, mercy and the joy and pain at times which they bring.
7- When we read the Passion and meditate upon it, whenever we feel a word or a verse is touching us, we stop and dwell in it, so it has time to touch us, and communicate to us the Power of Salvation. The Passion then becomes actual or real for us; we see Our Saviour saving us, we receive His Love and Salvation, Mercy and Forgiveness. We become contemporaries of the Passion. We might weep over our sins or just out of the unbearable love Jesus is giving us. Isn't this a powerful LD? (MP is a particular form of LD.) MP is where Jesus acts directly in us, where the Words of the Passion touch our substance and burn us, heal us. We are filled by the grace of God almost without our collaboration other than just going through His Passion. Aren't we in it? Part of it?
8- If LD is the most powerful type of Prayer, what is then MP??! If LD is the most powerful type of prayer, the Passion is the most powerful LD.
So, as we see, we can't separate LD from MP. MP is an LD. MP opens the way for LD. All LD is a contact with the Holy Spirit through whom Jesus communicates Himself. The Passion is that communication at its most intense.
On Meditating the Passion of the Lord: