What is a Novena?
A novena (derived from the Latin word novem, meaning “nine”) is a traditional Catholic devotion in which public or private prayer is offered on nine consecutive days for a particular need or intention or in preparation to celebrate a special feast (for example, Christmas, Pentecost, the Feast of Divine Mercy). The first novena took place in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, when the apostles “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14) as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Since the seventeenth century, numerous novenas addressed to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to one of the saints have been composed; novenas to the Sacred Heart, to Our Lady, and to St. Joseph, St. Jude, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux are popular examples. We pray to the saints in Heaven, and they, being closer to God than we on earth, intercede with Him for our needs.
Thus, everyone is welcomed to pray a novena to any of God’s faithful servants. Our Heavenly Father, who commands us to “love one another” (John 13:34), is pleased to answer the prayers of His children in Heaven who petition Him for the needs and concerns of their brothers and sisters on earth. It should be emphasized that a novena is not a magic formula and should not become a superstitious practice. Prayer always presupposes faith, humility, and dependence on God and His divine will. Thus, the novena could also become nine days of practicing a greater openness to the will of God and ultimately of learning to surrender to His providential designs. It should also be remembered that, “according to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2562).
Jesus extolled this virtue in Luke’s Gospel, saying “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find” (Luke 11:9). He’s always listening to each of our prayers, whether or not He gives us the answer we desire, seeking to guide us in doing His will.
Whether you pray directly to God or to Mary and the saints (in which case you’re still praying to Him through them), pray with humility, sincerity and love. Then, if nothing else, our Lord will at least give you the precious gift of His Holy Spirit to help guide you in the midst of your trials and troubles.
As Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the good Spirit to those who ask him?”