Devote yourself to the prayerful reading of the Scriptures - Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Devote yourself to the prayerful reading of the Scriptures - Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum


In the Gospel of St Mark there is a story told in the first chapter which describes the reaction of the people to hearing Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, we are told that “his teaching made a deep impression on them because unlike the scribes he taught them with authority”. There follows an account of a man possessed by an evil spirit suddenly crying out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Jesus’ response is to say sharply, “Be quiet! Come out of him”. The spirit immediately leaves the man. The people are astounded and comment, “Here is a teaching that is new with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him”.

There was evident authority and power in the words of Jesus. We heard in the reading this evening from the Letter to the Hebrews, “the word of God is something alive and active, it cuts like any two edged sword”. The words of Jesus, the words of the Sacred Scriptures, are words that are alive and powerful. We approach the Scriptures as a living word and not just a piece of literature or an historical account. They are even more than moral injunctions. God is a living God. God continues to speak to us. His words are alive and active.

In Dei Verbum the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council have given the Church a document on the Word of God that has had a profound influence on the Church. The Fathers at the end of Dei Verbum prayed that “the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men” (DV 26). I think it is true to say that this document has produced a small revolution in the lives of Catholics. This Dogmatic Constitution has become a stimulus for a renewal in preaching and in catechesis. It has contributed to theological exposition and it has had a profound influence on spirituality. The Scriptures have now become accessible to Catholics in so many ways, not least in the Sacred Liturgy. Catholics now have a strong Scripture-based faith. This document has produced so much good fruit in the Church. Indeed we could say that it has reshaped the expression of the Catholic faith.

Tonight we are honouring the anniversary of the promulgation of this Dogmatic Constitution on November 18, 1965, fifty years ago.

The opening chapter of the Gospel of St John, which we have read tonight (and which concluded with the words, “full of grace and truth” – my motto – gratia et veritas) what older Catholics would remember as the “Last Gospel” always read at the conclusion of Mass, speaks of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity as “the Word who was God”. It is a most interesting description. St John has chosen to begin his gospel by speaking of Christ as the Word. St John was aware that Jesus was the revelation of the Father – “to have seen me is to have seen the Father” (Jn 14:9) he would report in his Gospel. St John understood that he had been uniquely privileged to have known Christ so intimately. In the beginning of his first letter he commented that “something which has existed from the beginning that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes, that we have watched and touched with our hands, the Word who is life”. (I Jn 1:1) St John was aware that he was so blessed to have personally known Jesus Christ.

For us, not able to know Jesus in the flesh, the Sacred Scriptures reveal God to us. The highpoint of this revelation is, of course, the Gospel accounts of life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God reveals himself to us. God wants to reveal himself to us so that we can know him as he is. We are invited to respond. What should our response be?

Our point of departure needs to be a profound reverence for the sacred text as being divinely inspired. The Council Fathers taught, “Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles, holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself”. (DV 11)

Pope Benedict in his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, urged Catholics to learn how to read the sacred text with the attention of the heart. In an approach to reading Scripture that can be traced back to St Benedict he outlines the way of what he calls the “prayerful reading of the Sacred Scriptures”. He explains that there are four steps:  the "lectio": the reading of the biblical text itself listening to what it says, exercising our intellect; then the "meditatio": what the biblical text is saying to us, to our hearts; the "oratio": our prayerful response to what God is saying to us; and finally the "contemplatio": being drawn into deeper union with God and how this calls us to deeper conversion of mind, heart and spirit.

The Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, said, “Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself” and adds, “Let them remember however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture”. (DV 25)

We approach the Sacred Scriptures aware that they are the Word of God, a word that is “alive and active”. Thus, our approach is different to any other reading we do. We do not approach the Scriptures to analyse and dissect, though there is evidently a place for scholarly examination, but our fundamental attitude as Christians is to come humbly to listen, to sit at the Master’s feet as faithful disciples. We come to let God reveal himself to us. We come to be instructed. We come to let God speak what he wants to speak to us.

One of the great early biblical scholars was a man named Origen. He said in a letter, “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”. (Letter to Gregory, quoted by Pope Benedict in Verbum Domini 86)

Tonight we have gathered to commemorate a document that has been an enormous blessing for the Church and for our own lives of faith. We are now a scriptural people. Let us allow this commemoration to inspire us afresh to approach the Scriptures with deep faith and a certain expectation that God, living and true, will speak to our hearts through the Sacred Text.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 14 November 2015