May 19, 2019 – Ruminations by Fr. Pat

If you have been attending Mass during the week, you will have noticed that we are praying a novena in honor of St. Anthony. So let’s look at what novenas are.

A novena is a ritualistic devotional worship where one or more Christian devotees make petitions, implore favors, or obtain graces by honoring the statue of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary or the saints of the faith who are believed to empower divine intervention.

The word Novena is rooted in the Latin word for nine. The practice of the novena is based in early Christianity, where Masses were held for nine days with devotional prayers to someone who has died. The practice may trace its origins to an early Greek and Roman custom performed by families, consisting of nine days of mourning after the death of a loved one, followed by a feast.

Over time, the Church began to associate a novena with Christian themes such as the nine months Jesus spent in the womb, the giving up of His spirit at the ninth hour, and the event which occurred in the Upper Room with Twelve Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary when they prayed for nine days until the Holy Spirit descended on the Feast of the Pentecost. In the New Testament, this biblical event is often quoted from Acts of the Apostles, 1:12 – 2:5. The Church Fathers also assigned special meaning to the number nine, seeing it as symbolic of imperfect man turning to God in prayer (due to its proximity with the number ten, symbolic of perfection and God).

So the structure for the novena developed over time as a means of devotion. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that any type of ritualistic must not develop into what I call “Holy Magic.” Ritualistic prayer is great. How we use it may not be so. When we think of novenas or any type of formal prayers, we cannot “force” the saint, or even God, to give us what we want. Do not turn these prayers into Superstition.

Keep any prayers that you use as prayers. Don’t turn them into holy magic. When we pray Good Saint Anthony, come around; I lost my [lost item], and it must be found, are we genuinely asking St. Anthony to help us, or are we actually using it in a superstitious manner, trying to control what St. Anthony does? God or the Saints are not people to be controlled; they help us because we are part of a family, and family helps each other.

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