In Acts 1:4, Jesus told His disciples in Jerusalem to “wait for the promise of the Father.” Between the time of His Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus’ Apostles spent nine days devoted to prayer. After this time of prayerful preparation, the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them with supernatural grace, giving them the courage and faith to fulfill Christ’s divine mandate.
A tradition developed to imitate the Apostles’ prayer in the Upper Room by praying for a particular intention for nine days. This devotion was called a novena. The word novena comes from the Latin word novem which means nine.
A novena prayed well increases our faith and helps us grow in virtue through nine consistent days of prayer. (Some “novenas” are shorter, some longer, as various novena devotions have developed over time.) The repetition of certain prayers over multiple days keeps the specific devotion fresh in our minds, helps us grow in patience and perseverance, and can open our hearts to receive any special graces Our Lord may want to give us during that time.
While there are many different types of novenas, over the centuries a few standards have come about. Many novenas also include prayers and reflections for each day, focusing on particular virtues or petitions.
The most popular time to pray a novena is during the days leading up to a special feast day. These special feast days include Pentecost, Christmas, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Our Lady Undoer of Knots, among many others!
If you have a special devotion to a saint, it’s common to pray a novena leading up to that saint’s feast day, or simply any time you have a specific intention that falls under the patronage of that saint. Some popular novenas to saints and angels include St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Jude, St. Rita, and St. Michael the Archangel.
For a step-by-step guide on how to pray a novena. Check out Mike Aquilina and Regis J. Flaherty’s The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Told You, sold here.