What Is A Catholic Novena Prayer?

Praying is one of the central acts of Christian faith. It’s how we talk to God to ask for forgiveness, praise his goodness, and make petitions. It’s no wonder there are plenty of sacred prayer traditions in the Church. 

One of these is the Novena, a set of prayers that you say over nine days. It’s most common in the Catholic Church. Read on to learn what a Catholic Novena prayer is and how to go about praying a Novena. 

What Is A Novena and Where Did It Come From?

What Is A Novena and Where Did It Come From?

Novena comes from the latin word for nine – novem. A Catholic novena prayer consists of a prayer or a set of prayers that are said daily for nine consecutive days. 

There are variations where some people will say prayers for nine hours or just nine times. But traditionally, a novena is prayed over nine days.  

The tradition of novena prayers is likely to have originated from early Greek and Roman traditions. After the death of a family member, they set aside nine days of mourning and finished with a feast. 

The Romans also held an yearly novena called dies parentales, which was a nine-day festival in remembrance of ancestors.  

There are also stories of Romans holding nine days of prayers to avert wrath from the gods or after a wonder had been predicted.

Like many Christian traditions borrowed from paganism (e.g. certain funeral rituals and certain aspects of Easter and Christmas), early Christians adopted novena prayers from pagans. 

Soon, people started making connections between novenas and the Bible. The biggest link is that the disciples – along with Mary, Jesus’ brothers and several women – prayed for nine days before the Holy Spirit came upon them on the Pentecost. 

Novenas in honor of saints became common in the middle ages. Christians would hold nine days of prayer before the feast of a particular saint. 

Christians would often use that opportunity to ask for certain favors or make petitions through the saint. 

It was Pope Pius IX who officially approved novenas in the Catholic Church.  

What Is The Purpose Of A Novena?

A novena is just like any other prayer in that the goals are similar. The main difference is that novenas are more intense, and so they are typically used in important occasions (e.g. death of a loved one or before a major christian celebration) or when one is in dire straits (e.g. sickness, loss of a job etc.). 

Like fasting, a novena is an act of deep devotion. It opens up your heart to God in a way that regular prayer doesn’t. It strengthens your faith and helps you draw closer to God. 

You can pray a novena to ask for graces, make petitions to God (typically through a saint), or ask for favors. 

So you can pray a novena for financial success, good health or to petition for the soul of a departed loved one. 

You can also pray a novena to ask for forgiveness, to give thanks to God, to ask for wisdom, or to honor a particular saint. 

Types of Novenas 

Types of Novenas 

Here are the most common types of Catholic novenas. 

  • Novenas for mourning – these are the earliest types of novenas, dating back to the Romans. Public and private novenas for mourning are still held today following someone’s death. Mourning novenas consist of prayers to comfort the bereaved as well as to pray for departed souls that go to purgatory. 
  • Novenas for preparation – these are novenas held in preparation for a special occasion, usually some kind of christian feast or celebration such as Easter, lent, Christmas or a saint’s feast. These prayers help you prepare your heart for that occasion. 
  • Novenas for petition – these are the most common types of Catholic novenas. You can pray a petition novena to ask for a favor from God such as a job, a car, good health and so on. Most catholics will pray petition novenas through a saint who is related to their petition. For instance, Saint Raphael and Saint Anthony of Padua are often invoked in novenas for healing. 
  • Novenas for indulgences – going to confession spares you from the eternal consequences of sin. But it does not remove all temporal punishment for sin, which can send your soul to purgatory when you die for purification. One way to remove temporal punishment for sin is to pray an indulgence novena. 

There are numerous individual novena prayers that fall into the above categories. Some of these prayers overlap. 

For instance, you may find some preparation novenas that are also novenas for indulgences.

How To Pray A Novena? 

Praying a novena is nothing complicated. You don’t need anything special nor do you need permission from the priest or anyone else. 

Also, anyone can pray a novena. You don’t need to be baptized or even Catholic to pray a catholic novena. But remember that the state of your faith and sin can affect the effectiveness of your prayers. The Bible confirms this.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Mark 11:22-23 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

A novena is like any other prayer, just that you repeat it over nine days and it’s usually for a specific reason (mourning, indulgence, petition or preparation). 

The first step is identifying what you want to pray for. It’s best to have just one main prayer item to help you focus on it. 

You can pray for anything – a family member who has died, stronger faith, financial breakthrough, a better relationship in your marriage, or in preparation of an upcoming Church celebration. 

Once you identify your prayer item, find the right novena for it. There are tons of ready novenas available online and in Catholic prayer books. Just find one that’s in line with what you are praying for. 

The easiest way to find a novena is to identify which of the above novena categories your novena falls in. If you are praying for career success, then you need a novena for petition. 

Just search ‘novenas for petition’ online and choose the best one. You can also narrow it down and search for novenas for job promotion or job interview. 

You can also create your own custom novena prayer using your words. Feel free to include an intercessory to a saint who is related to your prayer item. 

Start Praying 

Once you find the right novena, you are ready to start your prayer journey. Here are some tips. 

  • You can pray the same novena each day for nine consecutive days. 
  • You can also choose nine different novenas for the nine days of prayer. 
  • Pray the novena at the same time each day. Set a reminder so you don’t forget. 
  • Depending on what you are praying for, you can pray a novena individually or in a group. Your local parish may also have specific novenas that they ask the congregants to pray. These have set dates. 
  • There’s no limit to how many novenas you can pray in a year. If you want, you can follow up a novena with another one. After all, there’s plenty to pray for and about and God doesn’t get tired of listening to us. Having continuous or frequent novenas can help us stay in a state of prayer and devotion. 
  • For easier planning, there are apps dedicated to novenas. They include novenas for different kinds of prayers and will even send you reminders for daily novenas. 
  • You can use a rosary as a prayer aid during a novena, but it is not necessary. Other optional prayer aids include votive candles, a cross, prayer rope, medallions and icons. Note that certain novenas like ‘Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Novena’ require a rosary.
  • Don’t worry if you forget and miss a day of novena. You can say two prayers the next day or extend your novena by one day. 

The most important thing to remember is that a novena prayer is not magic. Don’t expect an immediate answer during or after the novena. 

God answers prayers in many different ways, some of which can be difficult to notice. Some his answers will be ‘no’ or ‘wait’. 

Ours is to pray with faith and leave the rest up to God. 

Does A Novena Have To Be Nine Days

The nine days of a novena is not a hard and fast rule that’s in the Bible. In fact, the Bible doesn’t say anything about novenas. 

It’s just a tradition that Christians have adopted to help them devote themselves to prayer. So you can certainly adjust the traditional nine days of a novena. 

If, for instance, you have a great and pressing need you can decide to pray a novena nine times in one go. Or say it each hour for nine hours. 

I don’t know what effect this will have on your prayers, but God hears all prayers as long as you have faith and your heart is right. 

It’s also okay to go over the usual nine days. There are novenas that are held for 30 days and there’s even a 54-day rosary novena.   

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