What is a Novena?

With a name derived from novem, the Latin word for nine, a novena is a series of public or private devotional prayers conducted for nine successive days, either for a particular intention or to honor a particular saint. The popularity of novenas got underway in the Middle Ages, in France and Spain, during Christmas time, in honor of the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. In time, other liturgically connected novenas came about, such as the novena that precedes the feast of Pentacost. This novena calls to mind the nine days that the disciples waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ Ascension, and it has been suggested as the origin of novenas. The perpetual novena is public novena services held on a specified day each week all through the year. It can begin and end any time during the year. A private novena can be undertaken by a family or an individual at any time.

No fixed rules are needed for the making of a novena beyond that of persevering in prayer through nine days. Some of the most beloved novenas focus on the Holy Spirit, Christ the King, the Immaculate Conception, the Queen of Peace, the Seven Sorrows, the Sorrowful Mother, St. Joseph, St. Ann, St. Jude, and the souls in Purgatory. Similar to the practice of novenas is the practice of devoting to the Sacred Heart of Jesus the first Friday of each month for nine successive months. Observing first Fridays is based on the private revelations of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

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