A novena (from Latin: novem, "nine") is an ancient tradition of devotional praying in Christianity, consisting of private or public prayers repeated for nine successive days or weeks. During a novena, the devotees make petitions, implore favors, or obtain graces by honoring the statue of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, or the saints of the faith. In some Christian communities, the popularity of novenas has waned, in others such as in Africa, Latin America and Philippines, novena traditions are popular and include devotional rituals such as congregational prayers, statue decoration, hymn singing with music, as well as community fiesta events over beverages, refreshments or processions.
Novenas are most often prayed by members of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as by members of the Anglican Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. In addition, novenas have also been used in an ecumenical Christian context, such as those promulgated by Premier Christian Radio in an effort to pray for Church renewal.
The prayers are often derived from devotional prayer books, or consist of the recitation of the rosary (a "rosary novena"), or of short prayers through the day. Novena prayers are customarily printed in small booklets, and the novena is often dedicated to a specific angel, saint, a specific Marian title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or it invokes one of the personages of the Holy Trinity.
Within the Roman Catholic discipline, novena prayers for public use must have an Imprimatur, Nihil Obstat, and Imprimi potest. These ecclesiastical sanctions are usually granted by a bishop or any ranking prelate for publication and approval.
The word Novena is rooted in the Latin word for nine. The practice of the novena is based in early Christianity, where Masses were held for nine days with devotional prayers to someone who has died. The practice may trace its origins to an early Greek and Roman custom performed by families, consisting of nine days of mourning after the death of a loved one, followed by a feast, which originally prompted Catholic writers such as St. Augustine, Pseudo-Alcuin and John Beleth to warn Christians not to emulate the custom.
Over time, members of Roman Catholic faith began to associate novena with Christian themes such as the nine months Jesus spent in the womb, the giving up of His spirit at the ninth hour, and the event which occurred in the Upper Room with Twelve Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary when they prayed for nine days until the Holy Spirit descended on the Feast of the Pentecost. In the New Testament, this biblical event is often quoted from Acts of the Apostles, 1:12 – 2:5. The Church Fathers also assigned special meaning to the number nine, seeing it as symbolic of imperfect man turning to God in prayer (due to its proximity with the number ten, symbolic of perfection and God).
The practice of novena grew by the middle ages to include pious prayers for nine days before a feast in honor of a saint identified on a liturgical calendar. By the 11th century, the novena practice had become a means in Christianity of praying to petition spiritual or personal favor to a saint, such as Virgin Mary. After the Reformation and Counter-reformation era, the Catholic Church formally approved novenas, in particular through the papal approvals of a large number of novenas by Pope Pius IX.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are four recognized categories of novenas which belong to more than one of these categories:
- Mourning, or in anticipation of a Burial
- In anticipation of a Church Feast or ending in Vespers (often requires Church attendance)
- Individual or Group Petition (Expiatory)
- Indulgence for the remission of Sins (often requires Sacrament of Confession or Church attendance)
By standard liturgical norms, novenas are performed in church, at home, or anywhere where solemn prayers are appropriate, though some indulgenced novenas require church attendance. Sometimes, a special candle or incense is lit at the beginning of the novena which burns during the nine days of prayer. The first chapter of the General Principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium, #13 is often cited as a guideline regarding the implementations of public novenas.
Novena has been a widespread practice in Catholic history. Novena prayers are also practised by Lutheran, Orthodox and Anglican Christians, who hold close or similar beliefs regarding its pious practice. In addition, novenas have also been used in an ecumenical Christian context, such as those promulgated by Premier Christian Radio, in order to pray for Church renewal.
A novena is a ritualistic devotional worship where one or more Christian devotees make petitions, implore favors, or obtain graces by honoring the statue of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary or the saints of the faith who are believed to empower divine intervention. According to Fenella Cannell – a professor of Anthropology specializing in Christianity, a Novena is "a supplicatory act of worship".
In Christian communities of Philippines and Latin America, novena traditions include devotional rituals in front of an altar, with nine levels where the Holy Cross is placed at the top. These are lit up with candles, decorated with flowers and other ritual items. Additionally, the space may have many statues decorated, and these statues typically include those of Virgin Mary, Apostles and saints of regional significance. The first day, the votive candles are placed on level one, and with each day the candles are raised by one level towards the Holy Cross. Further, each day includes congregational prayers, hymn singing with music, private and public devotionals. Some novenas include, sometimes on the last day, community fiesta events over beverages, refreshments or processions.
Rosary Novena is linked to religious death rituals. Among the Filipino Catholic Christians, the Rosary Novena has been a prayer practice for nine days starting the day when someone dies, with formal funeral services timed to the ninth day. Elsewhere, the day of funeral service or when the body is interred is timed to local customary practices, while the nine day novena is held at the home of the deceased as elsewhere.
Various denominations of Christianity in Africa have introduced regional novena practices that offer devotional prayers, clapping, waving, singing and shouting together in front of statues. However, some practices are unique to Africa. For example, the novena devotionalism in Ghana includes on each of the nine nights, after the loud prayers, the blood-covering of Jesus, where the devotees stain themselves considering it to be symbolism for the blood of Christ.
Among the coastal West African Christian communities, novena is a means of petitioning God through worship and fasting, along with traditional rituals. Syncretic new age religious practices in Nigeria have adopted the nine day of novena prayer ritualism. In Zimbabwe, according to Lawrence Daka – a professor and a Zimbabwean Jesuit,
Their [Catholic clergy] healing sessions are theatric, hysterical, loud and really engaging to the extent that some people fall to the ground and others feel the power of God piercing through their bodies. Some of the strong willed Catholics have taken up Novena after Novena seeking divine intervention in a sickness or misfortune. In short, there is a great yearning and thirsting for a religion that delivers quick answers to people’s problems which range from misfortunes to dealing with illness and death.— The Church and the Challenges of the Healing Ministry in Zimbabwe, May 2015
Novena practices were introduced into communities by Christian missionaries in their colonial era and postmodern era proselytization efforts in Africa, as well as new world plantation colonies where African slaves were settled such as in Brazil. These initiatives brought a sense of socioreligious community.
Europe and North America
Devotional and paraliturgical novena have been common in Europe as well as European settlers in North America. These have included public worship such as Mass and private praying with religious items such as rosary and images particularly related to Virgin Mary. According to James M. O'Toole – a professor of History specializing in American Catholic history, the period between World War I and mid 1950s were the "heyday of American Catholic devotionalism". This period witnessed novena devotionalism along with popularity of sodalities, confraternities, devotion to saints, meatless Fridays, holy cards, rosary, cross and eucharistic practices. These provided a sense of communal identification, states O'Toole, particularly in a time of mass migration. The novena had strong roots in ethnic neighborhoods, and devotional worship had sociopolitical links, offered a sense of communal security through religious symbols in a period of uncertainty and fear. As economic prosperity and a sense of national solidarity grew in and after the 1960s, the novena ritualism waned and the participation in church worship services fell.
In Eastern and Central Europe, novena practices continue. For example, novena among the faithfuls in Czech Republic includes nine hour prayers dedicated to the Infant Jesus of Prague, where the devotee can plead personal urgent needs before the statue of Child Christ if he or she wants to, and on May 27 every year, the statue is ceremoniously paraded through the streets of Prague with prayer songs. During the communist era, the devout orthodox Christians in the former Yugoslavia organized the Great Novena under the statue of Virgin Mary, to resist the state enforced atheism, to maintain the freedom to practice religion as a faithful feels appropriate, and to re-assert the Christian legacy of the region, particularly in Croatia.
In Catholic Ireland, states Gladys Ganiel – a professor of Religion, devotional practices such as novenas have been popular. The cultural acceptance of devotional worship has been historically high, and those Irish who themselves do not perform novenas, nevertheless respect those who do. Some of their Catholic ritual practices were repressed by the British state during the 18th and 19th centuries, but repression and criticism only increased the resolve of the Irish to persist in their ways of practicing their faith.
In North America, annual novena are observed in some regions such as in Montreal Canada, where between March 10 and 19 the annual novena ends in a feast of Saint Joseph. A religious survey published in the 1921 Bulletin of the University of Notre Dame, states that novena prayers were popular, and particularly common among students during examinations and during illness or after the death of a fellow student. The Novena-Seance remain popular in many regions of the United States, such as among the Roman Catholics of Louisiana where novenas are dedicated to St. Jude and the Virgin Mary. These novenas are prayers believed to create a contact between the saint and the devotee, and thereby invoke divine intervention in whatever problem or anxiety is important to the devotee.
Novena has been an important part of Christianity in the Caribbean and Latin America, both among the native Indian communities who converted to Christianity under the colonial Spanish or Portuguese rule, as well as the diverse communities that formed anew from millions of slaves and indentured laborers brought to the Americas from different parts of Africa and Asia. The devotional prayers are dedicated to idols of Jesus Christ, Madonna and various saints. They are also a part of velorio (wake) after the death of someone, which includes nine nights of novena (rezos de los nueve días).
According to Patrick Taylor and Frederick Case, the attendance to Christian religious services have been low, except after the death of a loved one or a significant socio-political individual, and during novena services during the times of difficulty such as epidemics or a drought. Many perform devotional worship with rosaries within their home before images of Christ and the Christian saints in a small dedicated altar within their living spaces. Like proselytism in Africa and Asia, missionaries of various denominations of Christianity, including Protestantism, have championed novenas in Hispanic-Latino communities as a part of their efforts to attract new converts to their ministries.
Philippines and Melanesia
Novena has been a popular devotional practice in Philippines. It is observed, for example, for nine days every year culminating in the Christian procession of the Santo Niño de Cebú (Holy Child). The first nine days mark prayers, petitions and singing. On the day of procession, the statue of the Santo Nino is taken through the streets of Cebu City, with many people carrying their own replicas of the same statue over their heads, decorated to their own tastes. In Luboc, the most popular novena is dedicated to a Black Madonna statue, with each service called the gozos including a chanting of praises to the Virgin in Spanish and Vizayan languages, dancing, choir recitals and a feast with fireworks on the last day.
In Manila, there are three popular novenas every year, one dedicated to Black Nazarene (black Jesus Christ), another to St Jude, and a third to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Black Nazarene novena marks the journey of Christ with the cross to his crucifixion. The St Jude novena marks the period between Ascension and Pentecost, and St Jude is considered as the Patron Saint of the Impossible. The Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is observed on nine consecutive Wednesdays. These novenas have all been approved by the Holy See, each is directed to certain church, and they include prayers, confessions, petitioning and seeking special favor. Some organization have begun offering on-line ritual services to devotees.
In 19th century Melanesia, the Christian clergy linked the end of epidemics such as the measles of 1860, and credited the survival of the communities after major disasters to the dedicated and great outburst of prayers to Christian icons, to "fervent novena". Similarly, the Black Madonna novenas in Luboc started after similar crediting by the Christian clergy that the island community survived after a severe epidemic of cholera because they made devotional prayers to the Madonna statue during their time of suffering.
The novena and associated devotional practices have a large following. In 2011, over six million Catholic devotees flocked to the Black Nazarene procession in Manila alone.
- Marian devotions – Miraculous Medal novena
- Novenas in anticipation of Christmas: Las Posadas, Simbang Gabi, Novena of aguinaldos
- Novena of Grace
- Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
- "Novena: nine days of prayer with Premier". Premier Christian Radio. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
Novena is an ancient tradition of prayer for nine days between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday. Premier is resourcing a Novena to invite the Holy Spirit to bring fresh renewal to the Church and calls on churches across the UK to take part in an ecumenical act of unity and prayer.
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- "Novenas" at EWTN
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- "What is a novena?". Catholic Community of St. Matthew & St. Bernard Church. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
Though the novena is primarily a devotion used by members of the Catholic Church, it is also practiced by some Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran Christians.
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- Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph F. Stedman, The New Revised 'Triple' Novena Manual, Confraternity of the Precious Blood, 1975.
- Barbara Calamari & Sandra DiPasqua, Novena, Penguin Studio, 1999. ISBN 0-670-88444-8.
- List of Novenas at EWTN
- "Novena for the repose of the soul of John Paul II", United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)