September 29, 2019 – Ruminations by Fr. Pat

     Last week we looked at one of the ways that God interacts in our lives, the Reception of Indulgences. Today we will look at another encounter with the Lord, a Novena.

    Novenas are prayers of devotion that are offered for nine days, or for other periods that have a factor of nine. Through these prayers, one is given Grace. They are part of the Devotions and Piety of the Faithful.

    The word “novena” has its origin in the Latin word for the number nine, novem. A Novena’s origin in the West comes from Ancient Roman times as times of prayer for the dead over a nine-day period. They were prayers of mourning and commendation of the soul to the mercies of the gods. The Romans also celebrated their parentalia novendialia, a yearly novena (13 to 22 February) of commemoration of all the departed members of their families. The celebration ended on the ninth day with a sacrifice and a joyful banquet.

    In the early Middle Ages novenas became ways of preparing for great liturgical events, especially Christmas. So, we have the song, O come, O come, Emmanuel. It may be associated to the nine months that the infant Savior remained in his mother’s womb.

    Back in the day before Mass was prayed in Latin, Novenas were popular Parish devotionals. People didn’t necessarily understand the Latin of the Mass, nor – for the most part – participate in Mass. Yes, many people had their Missals, but that participation was only relatively new. The novenas had popular hymns and prayers in the language of the people. They had devotional sermons and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Novenas were very popular because it gave people an avenue to express their Faith. Thus, we have in our Parish the popular Novena of St. Anthony.

    There are Novenas to Christ and the Holy Spirit, for example. Some of these novenas may be that of the Infant of Prague, the Sacred Heart, the Precious Blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Others may include Novenas to the Blessed Mother or to particular Saints.

    Novenas are wonderful expressions of our Faith. However, there are a couple of problems to avoid. One of these problems is making the novena very sentimental, instead of an expression of Faith. Some people, while praying a novena, look to the expression of Faith of their childhood. And that piety is the only thing they are looking at. The person doesn’t necessarily want to think about what they are praying; they just want to feel good (spiritual).

    A second problem is that novenas can lead to superstition. If we say the prayer exactly, and for nine days, God will answer our prayers accordingly. Remember, no prayer – whether it be a novena or anything else – can change the mind of God. God does not need nine prayers to know what we need, or even to act; He knows our hearts and what we need, rather than what we want.

    Novenas can help us develop a habit of praying daily. They remind us that God loves us. They teach us the benefits of praying with others.


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