February 1, 2008

Nine-day period of prayer has its roots in sacred Scripture

By Fr. Jonathan Meyer (Special to The Criterion)

A novena is traditionally a nine-day period of prayer that has its roots in sacred Scripture.

In the New Testament, we read that, following Christ’s Ascension into heaven, his disciples remained in the upper room in prayer for nine days while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:1-14).

This nine-day period of fervent prayer that the disciples practiced has been copied by thousands of Christians in the centuries since, and is known as a “novena.” The word “novena” comes from the Latin word “novem,” which means nine.

A novena can be prayed in several ways. There can be a formal prayer that is said every day, a rosary or a spontaneous prayer for a single petition for nine consecutive days.

Sometimes you will hear of a person praying a shortened novena. This would consist of praying a certain prayer on the hour, for nine consecutive hours in one day.

Lastly, there was the traditional custom of Wednesday Night Novenas that some of our more experienced Catholics might remember. These novenas were nine weeks long.

All these numbers, days and prayers may sound a bit odd and superstitious, but they are not.

A novena is a means to encourage prayer and devotion. It is not magical and superstitious.

A novena encourages an individual to pray, to be like the disciples who begged for the Holy Spirit to be poured upon them.

Asking for blessings and favors from our Lord is never a bad thing.

(Father Jonathan Meyer is the archdiocesan director of youth ministry and associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.)†

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