St. John Damascene wrote that prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God. It’s recognizing the Lord’s presence, responding to Him, and entering into conversation with Him. There are many different devotions that we can use to help us start that conversation and one ancient example is to pray novenas. They are usually short, pretty simple, and a helpful reminder to keep returning to the Lord with your intentions – since they’re traditionally nine days long.
The word “Novena” actually comes from the Latin word meaning nine. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, forty days after Easter, he asked the apostles to pray in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent down, and “Pentecost” actually comes from the Greek word meaning fiftieth. So, the apostle’s time in prayer was nine days long leading up to Pentecost. That’s why this pattern of nine days of prayer is the basis for the novenas we pray today. It’s how we pray all of our novenas at PrayMoreNovenas.com in our book, Pocket Guide to Novenas.
It’s also the reason why we often pray novenas leading up to a feast day, a solemnity in the Church, or an important date — like a wedding or a job interview. But, novenas can be prayed at any time, and they’re a great way to deepen your spiritual life.
One way that novenas can help you more fully enter and live out your faith is by leading you through the different liturgical seasons and feast days.
The liturgical calendar creates a rhythm for our lives – seasons of feasting and fasting, and entering into prayer with a novena leading up to a feast day within those seasons can help us to encounter these feast days in a more active way.
For instance, during Advent, you can pray the Christmas Novena leading up to Christmas day, meditating on Jesus’ coming. At the end of Lent, you can pray the Divine Mercy Novena leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday, reflecting on Jesus’s Resurrection and endless mercy. In both instances, praying a novena leading up to those days gives you the chance to pray about and prepare for those feast days, hopefully helping them to become more meaningful for you.
Similarly, praying novenas can help us learn more about the saints — the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) — that we can look to for inspiration and encouragement. If you have a patron saint, you can pray a novena through their intercession leading up to their feast day or an important day in your life. Many novenas usually include some details about the saint’s life, so it’s a great way to learn more about them and their lives and to ask for their prayers for you.
You can also look at the Liturgical calendar at upcoming feasts and choose to pray a novena to a saint that you have something in common with – like someone who shares the same vocation, the same job or same interests. Or, you can pick a saint that you’ve never heard of before by seeing that their feast day is coming up. There are so many saints that you can find someone who would be a great intercessor for any intention you might have. Pope Benedict XVI said that seeking the saints’ intercession brings us closer to Christ, so it’s good to meditate on their lives and to seek their intercession.
Praying novenas also gives you the chance to actually pray like the saints – to pray the words and prayers they prayed or wrote themselves. The Divine Mercy Novena and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Novena were both written by nuns (St. Faustina and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque) after they experienced apparitions of Jesus, asking them to write these prayers. And since then, some saints have even been known for their devotions to praying these novenas. For instance, it’s been said that Padre Pio had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Novena and that he prayed it every day. Mother Teresa is also known to have prayed novenas with her community. So praying novenas gives us a chance to pray the same prayer these great saints had devotions to, and in that same way, to grow closer to them and to the Lord.
Novenas also give us the chance to focus on Christ and to intercede and pray for others. Saint Paul tells us in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray, and we can do the same for others – we can pray a novena for our friends and family and their intentions.
Whether you’ve never prayed a novena before or you pray them frequently throughout the year, they’re a great way to become more persistent in your prayers, to deepen your spiritual life, and to “pray without ceasing.”