Tag Archives: Novena

The Novena: Nine days of prayer

May 31, 2019


Descent of the Holy Spirit

A Novena, a Devotional Form of Prayer. A novena is a period of nine consecutive days of intensified prayer. A novena may be offered in preparation for a major feast such as Pentecost, to deepen devotion to Jesus, to honor a particular saint, or to make a request for a special grace or favor. A novena may be offered by the entire Church, a particular community, or by an individual. The term is derived from the Latin word novem which means “nine.”

The Biblical Basis for a Novena. The practice of offering a novena is based upon the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in Jerusalem from the Ascension until Pentecost in prayerful preparation for the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Season is fifty days. Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after the Resurrection (see Acts 1:3), which leaves ten days. Shortly before his Ascension Jesus “enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized by the holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5). Accordingly, “they went to the upper room …. [and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:13,14). They prayed for nine days and on the tenth they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecost Novena. This novena begins on the Friday after Ascension Thursday and continues until the Saturday before Pentecost, the first and last days included. This novena is offered by the entire Church. It is a prayer for readiness to celebrate Pentecost, for greater openness to receive and cooperate with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2), and for renewal within the worldwide Church, a diocese, a special group of people, or within one’s self.

Novenas at Special Times. It is also customary to make a novena in preparation for Christmas and before the memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major on August 5. In some places a Novena of Grace is offered in March. Many religious orders and parishes conduct a novena before their patronal feast.

Novenas Associated with Devotions. Novenas can be offered to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Name of Jesus, or the Blessed Sacrament. There are also novenas to venerate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua, and many other saints.

Novenas for Special Intentions. It is common to offer a novena for a serious need or for a special intention. Historically, novenas have been offered in times of desperation or disaster: to avert a war, to end a war, to end a plague, or to end a drought. It has also been customary to offer a novena to ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction before the selection of a new leader: a Pope, a bishop, a religious superior, a pastor, a university president, or a school principal; or for a civic leader, such as before the election of the president or the governor, or the selection of a judge. It is also common to offer a novena for an urgently desired special request such as the right spouse, a child, or guidance in a career decision. Novenas are also made to request the extra graces needed to make spiritual headway in virtue and holiness: to grow in prayerfulness, faith, hope, charity, joyfulness, peacefulness, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, forgiveness, purity, humility, truthfulness, and compassion (see 1 Cor 13:13; Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:12-15).

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