Sunday, 18 May 2008

Scripture reading plan continued: Leviticus

At this time of the year, the Breviary and the Bible reading plan (you find find the original version here: diverge somewhat, with the plan taking us to Leviticus.

The original plan allocates nine days to it, but I suspect it might take me a little longer.

Why Leviticus

There is a logic to considering Leviticus immediately after Pentecost I think. The book before it in the Old Testament, Exodus, ends with God descending in a cloud and taking possession of the sanctuary set up by Moses. Leviticus is then concerned with the proper forms for the worship of God in his dwelling place amongst the Israelites, and the regulation of everyday life in accordance with God's laws. Pentecost of course records the descent of the Spirit on the assembled disciples. So we too should now be concerned with the proper worship of God whose Spirit dwells in us.

How to read Scripture

Leviticus is a challenging book to tackle and get something out of I think. It contains lots of detailed laws from which at one level we can only be glad that we have been freed! And its definitely not a book to listen to over lunch! However, it is important.

It contains some key messages that are important for us to keep in mind, such as the importance of even the tiniest detail of liturgical action; the value of law for our good; the seriousness with which we should take the worship of God; and the motive for our quest for sanctity, namely God’s holiness.

Most of all though, Leviticus needs to be read symbolically as foreshadowing Christ and his saving sacrifice. It is essential pre-reading for Hebrews in particular, and needs to be read in the light of it.

These days there is a lot of focus on literal readings of Scripture, sometimes not using it as much more than a source of mantras. Take this description from Basil Pennington’s (a proponent of 'Centering Prayer') book Lectio Divina for example:

"1. Take the Sacred Text with reverence and call upon the Holy Spirit.
2. For ten minutes (or longer, if you are so drawn), listen to the Lord speaking to you through the Text and respond to him.
3. At the end of the time, choose a word or phrase (perhaps one will have been “given” to you) to take with you, and thank the Lord for being with you and speaking to you."

You won’t get anywhere with Leviticus if you take this kind of approach!

A good counter to this sort of approach is the very nice article by Robert Wilken on the allegorical reading of Scripture in the March edition of First Things:

The point is that Scripture requires serious thought and study. Dom Delatte, in his commentary on the Rule of St Benedict gives a formula for lectio that I really like: lectio, cogitatio, studium, meditation, oratio, contemplatio (read, think, study, meditate, pray, contemplate). Try it!


As ever, Bibliaclerus is a good source for patristic and magisterial commentary.

Haydock's Catholic Commentary is particularly helpful for Leviticus in that it lists out the Scriptural (and other) cross-references. It can be found here:

It is also worth taking a look at St Thomas on the Old Law, especially questions 101-103:

Happy reading!

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