Prayer, affirmation, declaration, and intention, increasing numbers of people are opening themselves to forms of devotion such as these. All represent the desire or will for a specific result or change. Although the power of prayer may be fully understood only by those who experience it, the purpose of prayer is to open a channel to the divine and, in faith, to give our troubles to God.
A novena is a prayer repeated to obtain a requested intention or spiritual grace. Frequently said when one is in a desperate or hopeless state, when all else fails, recitation of a novena and adherence to its rules of repetition can be the act of sacrifice necessary to invoke a power greater than our own. It can express one’s willingness to accept divine intervention in the solution of a problem. The repetition of the prayer helps to gradually clear the mind of all distraction in order to put its focus on the requested intention. Not only is it a spiritual sacrifice, but it is also a way to allow the subconscious to face a real problem and to consider solutions for it.
The word “novena” comes from the Latin word novem, or nine, that is why novenas are usually based in some way on the number nine. Most novenas are said nine times in a row for nine days in a row. If ten is the mystical number of God and perfection, then nine is the number nearest perfection, though not perfect. Both the Pythagoreans and early Christian monks considered nine to be the number of humanity. The tradition of setting nine days aside predates Christianity. Both the Greeks and Romans dedicated nine days after a death to prayers of mourning for the deceased. On the ninth day a special feast was held, completing the funeral rites. The Romans also had yearly novenas dedicated to departed relatives.
Catholics consider the very first novena to have been created by Jesus Christ himself. Before Christ rose into heaven he instructed his apostles to spend nine days praying for divine guidance as they awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit. After the apostles spent this allotted time in prayer, the Holy Spirit appeared to them in the form of tongues of fire coming from the sky. These tongues rested on each apostle, giving them the gift of many languages and the burning desire to spread the story of Jesus Christ. It is thought that the nine—day tradition of prayer comes from this first novena. The novena of the Holy Spirit was written in the Middle Ages to commemorate this event, and so it is presented as the last and most important novena in this book. Invoking the saints for help in healing illnesses and stopping plagues became very common by the first millennium. As the cult of saints grew from early times to the Middle Ages, their legends and relics became more revered. Because it was thought that these people lived the most Christ—like lives, they were honored for their sanctity and their bodies were considered more than human, inviolable by death and invested with divine healing powers. That is why the bodies of many of these early saints were cut up and distributed to churches in various locations to be venerated and used in blessings. It was thought to be a physical way for the average person to share in the divine presence. In seventeenth—century Spain the Christmas novena was instituted. For nine days preceding Christmas Day, each symbolizing a month the infant Jesus spent in the womb, a special novena was said. Many towns in France and southern Italy began doing nine—day novenas in preparation for their local saint’s feast day. It became customary to invoke the saint for a requested favor that would be granted in this time of celebration. Fearing that novenas would be used in superstition, the Church began to recognize them only in the mid—1800s. Of the many novenas, only thirty—two are officially recommended, mainly in honor of a feast day. Personal novenas for individualized intentions continue to be a very private form of prayer. Most of the novenas in this book are addressed to a particular saint and request that he or she intervene with God on our behalf. Many of our immediate problems, being material in nature, are thought to be best understood by saints who have endured a human existence. While it should never seem foolish and frivolous to ask God for help in dealing with an unfaithful spouse or credit card debt, the saints, having been human, might have made similar errors in judgment themselves. Not only do they understand out problems, but they are also open to guiding us on a clearer path, committed in life and in death to raising our spiritual level. They help us realize that God is intimately involved in our daily lives. The saints all have differing fields of expertise based on the earthly lives they led. Novenas are said to certain saints to help us deal with problems similar to those they suffered. Saint Rita of Cascia had a terrible marriage and is invoked for marital stability; Saint Peregrine suffered with cancer and is invoked for a cure; Saint Joseph has the responsibility of protecting and supporting the Holy Family and so he is invoked to find work. The mystical essence of the saints is also part of their attraction. Some represent an attribute, such as fierce devotion, Saint Agatha or Saint Jude, for example. Others offer a sweet welcome, such as Saint Anthony of Padua or Saint Therese of Lisieux. There are at least eleven official novenas to the Virgin Mary, and we have included six of them in our collection. In all of those included she takes on the role of the universal mother. She can be frightening and severe, as she is in Fatima; the most loving and open of mothers, as she is at Guadalupe; or she can be the refuge of God himself, as she is in Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Considered the most perfect example of the human race ever born, Mary is exalted above all saints and angels.
The novenas compiled in this book can be used as a jumping—off point, to start a dialogue, and do not have to be strictly adhered to. The topic index in back of this book contains a general listing of subjects and which saint to invoke for health, emotional or material problems. The most popular novena saints are Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Rita of Cascia and Saint Jude. If you have never done a novena before, it is best to familiarize yourself with the images and stories accompanying the prayers. Any saint or angel who feels familiar and sympathetic to you can be asked to intercede for anything. Generally, the saints are invoked for more material or health—related problems while the angels are invoked for more universal problems or to change a life path. The Madonna can be invoked for anything but is most effective for those in distress of the soul, the guilt—ridden, and those troubled by family discord. The novenas directed towards God himself are the most spiritual and intense. Bear in mind that the only prayer that can be guaranteed to be answered is “Thy Will Be Done”. In praying we participate in God’s unfolding will for the world and ourselves. The repetition of the prayer for nine times for nine days seems like a simple formula but it can be more difficult to keep than one thinks. The novena should not be looked upon with superstition. If one skips a day of prayer it does not mean that the problem will not be solved or that the other days in prayer have been nullified. The novena can be used merely to develop a habit of addressing a higher power.
Novenas are said to be the most honoring of a saint when said nine days before a particular saint’s feast day, the last day of the novena coinciding with the saint’s feast day. While praying to a saint, invoke him or her with all your heart. The saints are there to help you. Why do novenas work? Is it the willingness to open to the miraculous? Or is it simply setting aside time to address a problem that is crucial? Perhaps by repeating a request for a solution over and over, we are taking the fear out of a problem. Or is it that we open to grace? Prayer brings grace, and grace lightens the spirit and makes the day go easier. The more grace infuses us and the less the material world seems to bother us, the closer we are to our pure essence in spirit. Novenas are not magic. They are just another form of prayer. Yet the discipline required in this form of devotion assures us of spending time with a higher level of being, bringing divine blessing and grace into the world.