Updated: Dec 16, 2021
In simple terms you pray a Novena for nine continuously days to obtain special graces, favors, or make a special petition. I personally pray a Novena to Saint Padre Pio to intercede on my behalf for any requests I may have. A priest I know says that Padre Pio always answers his phone, meaning he always answers a Novena prayer!
The word Novena comes from the Latin word novem, meaning nine. A Novena has a sense of urgency and neediness when you have an important request such as an intersession for someone who is sick, a prayer for someone going through a difficult time in their life, help finding employment, even for the immediate sale of a home.
Although there is no mention of a Novena in the Old Testament or a nine-day celebration among the Jewish people, it is mentioned in the New Testament at the Ascension scene. This is when Jesus gives the Apostles the Great Commission and tells them to return to Jerusalem and to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles it recounts, “After they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet near Jerusalem – a mere Sabbath’s journey way. Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer” (Acts 1;12,14). Nine days later, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Perhaps this “nine-day” period is the basis for the novena.
But if you go further back in history, even long before Christianity, the ancient Romans celebrated nine days of prayers for various reasons. History records nine days of prayers in Mount Alban to avert evils affecting a town, and families also held a nine-day mourning period upon the death of a loved one. The Roman also celebrated parentalia novendialia, an annual remembrance of departed family members. I remember in Spain our family offered a novena of prayers nine days before Christmas, signifying the 9 months our Lord spent in the womb of our blessed Mother. Even today there are popular novenas prayed for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Joseph, and St. Jude, to name a few.
Sometimes intentions can be considered “whoppers” and Novenas turn longer than just nine days. So, if you have a massive intention where you need to pull out the big guns try these: 25 days Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, 30 days Saint Joseph Novena, 54 days Rosary Novena, 9-month Novena for impossible requests
When we pray a Novena, we either pray the same prayer for all nine days or follow a list of prayers to be prayed for each day. Every Novena is a bit different in the intention, formation of the prayer and practice.
Say the daily prayers with a sincere heart but remember that Novenas are not magical incantations that guarantee desired results. God is not a genie in a bottle. Whatever good intentions we pray, we must accept the fact that God knows what is best for us.
Can you pray the same intention for all nine days, or can I mix it up? You can do either. What matter most is how you come to the lord with that intention – with a sincere heart that is open to God’s will.
You may also wish to request the intersession of a specific saint to help reach out to Jesus and grant favors. As I said, I personally reach out to St. Padre Pio for my intentions, you may also reach out to a specific saint that is known to help in your request.
Catholics have a lot of tools at their disposal, from the rosary, devotions, and sacraments. Why not tap into the power of Novenas to access divine intervention from our Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, our Blessed Mother and all the Saints and Angels in heaven?