A Novena ( from the Latin “novem”), as described by the Catholic Church, consists of praying for nine consecutive days to God for a specific intention or a particular grace. This traditional type of prayer, highly encouraged by the Church, since the Middle Ages, generally has recourse of the intercession of the Virgin Mary or a saint.
Today, the nine days that make up a novena are generally associated with the nine days that separate the feast of Ascension from the feast of Pentecost. In the Bible, this period for the disciples and the mother of Jesus was a period of waiting, lived in prayer where at the end they received the Holy Spirit. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14). This shows that we too can use the time of a novena as a period of waiting for a particular grace.
By nature a novena isn’t more efficient than any other form of prayer. What makes it more efficient is that it gives us more “quality time” to prayer. When you have a profound desire to open your heart completely to God and live in His divine presence, by abandoning yourself into His hands, it gives Him the opportunity to take action and make your desires compatible with His. Your prayer becomes “efficient” because you have become much closer to God and have discovered the true joy that can only come from Him.
Praying a novena is a privileged way of praying because it allows you to take time in prayer : you take the time to let go of your troubles and lay them before the feet of Jesus. With devotion you entrust a particular intention, and at the same time prepare your heart to receive blessings and welcome the Holy Spirit to help you discern.
The Catholic Church believes that saints “never stop interceding for us before the Father and their brotherly concern is of more help for our infirmities” (Lumen Gentium 49). Our suffrances, our trials and our limitations can be carried by the saints : from Heaven they intercede for us before the Father and take action with Him in our lives. Do not forget the words of St. Teresa of Lisieux that are written on her tomb : “I want to spend my time in Heaven doing good on Earth”. So many miracles can be attributed to her since her death! St. Dominic, on his deathbed, reassured his brothers : “Don’t cry, I will be more useful for all of you after my death as I will be able to help you more efficiently than during my life”.
You can now better understand why the intercession of saints is often requested in Catholic prayers. Traditionally, novenas are for very precise reasons. For example,the very popular novena to St. Rita is considered very “efficient”. St. Rita is the patron for desperate cases, for couples and for healings! With so much responsibility, it isn’t surprising that she is constantly solicited!
Like any prayer, the fruits of a novena are sometimes what you expected and sometimes not. However, as the Gospel states several times, God answers all prayers that are addressed to Him in the name of Jesus, “ You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:14).
Sometimes the fruits of a novena are very concret : from the undoing of a complicated situation to a veritable miracle! Testimonies are abundant! In other situations, the fruits aren’t so visible but they aren’t any less : for example great inner peace, the strength to face a trial, enlightenment about a situation, rediscovery of the beauty of prayer, etc. Sometimes, you can even finish a novena by thinking that your prayers have not been answered, or that the Lord has totally ignored you! In these situations, only an act of faith consists of continuing to believe that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8: 28) can allow you not to despair! The Lord surely will answer you, but sometimes it takes months and even years to understand what His intention was at that time in your life.
There is no need to wait on a specific date to start a novena. The best time to start is when you deeply feel the need to! Every important prayer intention and any major decision are all good reasons to begin praying a novena.
However, in addition to the novenas that you can pray at any moment in the year, depending on your needs, tradition recommends that you pray a novena before the feast day of a saint or an important Christian feast day. In these situations, the novena starts 8 days before the feast day, so that the last day of the novena falls on the feast day. Two of the most popular yearly novenas are for St. Joseph, and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the feast of Pentecost.
Before starting a novena, you can choose the starting date as well as the time of day and place that it is to be said. These little decisions will help you to start and stick to praying your novena till the end! You can also light a novena candle on the first day that will burn itself out by the ninth day.
It is equally important to choose a support for the novena. The easiest way is to choose an existing novena either in a book or on the internet. Hozana has numerous novenas available throughout the year and they can all be done whenever you feel like it. For example:
The contents of each novena are different, but most of them offer a daily meditation, usually based on a Bible passage or a spiritual book, and a prayer to God with the intercession of a saint. Before starting, it is a good idea to make the sign of the Cross and a verse and then conclude with an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory be.
Using the contents of an existing novena is just a way of helping you to experience an authentique time of prayer. The main objective of the novena is to help you open up your heart to the Lord and be receptive to the many blessings that He wants to pour out upon you. You don’t have to follow the novena word for word. It is important to feel free to leave the framework of the novena at anytime, since prayer is ultimately “an intimate meeting with God” and Jesus Himself asked us not to “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7). Make your novena more lively by adding moments of silence, a spontaneous prayer or a time of adoration. You can also adapt its contents to your likings: reading the psalms, reading your favorite Bible passage, or saying a prayer that touches you and meditating upon it. Don’t hesitate to add or delete from the novena to help make your time of prayer nourishing for your soul and relationship with God.
Some of us love praying the Rosary and luckily the Rosary and the novena aren’t incompatible! The most popular novena “Mary the Undoer of Knots” consists of offering our prayers to Mary for a particular intention or trial by meditating on the Rosary. We can also pray the Rosary for any other novena. For example, it is common to end each day of your novana by saying ten Hail Marys.
As we said earlier, the occasions to pray a novena are multiple and depend on the personal needs of each of us. You can decide to start a novena for a particular intention, for the making of a decision, for the preparation of an important event, or to honor your favorite saint!
In the course of life, we will experience hardship. Luckily for us, as Christians, we believe that Christ, who suffered Himself, is there with us, giving us His support during each hardship. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). If Jesus Himself invites us to unload our burdens upon Him, why deprive ourselves? Here are some examples of difficulties that can be entrusted to God by praying a novena:
You can also make a novena to pray for others : a close friend, priests, the souls of purgatory, or for your country!
“So give your servant a discerning heart to ...to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1Kings 3:9). Doing God’s will is only possible by confiding your future decisions in prayer. For this, you should ask God to be part of your intelligence and intuitions, to guide your reasoning, and to give you “the ability and lucidity to understand and interpret” events with wisdom (St. Thomas of Aquinas). Having patience and detachment are the essential graces needed in making choices that are in accordance with God’s will.
You should not hesitate in praying a novena as it gives God the necessary time and space to speak to your heart and mind when making either small or big decisions. You can also pray a novena before making a decision such as marriage or where to go on vacation.
The Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church is quite dense, and each feast is the occasion for us to rejoice and to anchor our faith in our day to day life. The liturgical feasts rhythm the year and give us the occasion to remember that the Lord is present and that He accompanies us as the days, weeks, months and years go by. However, the events that usually give us the most joy are those that we have been waiting for and that we have taken the time to prepare for. Just look at the joy of parents at the birth of a new-born that they have been waiting on for 9 months, or a child that discovers their gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning after 4 long weeks of waiting. In the same way, as an important Christian feast day approaches, a novena is a great way to prepare our hearts and rejoice fully.