In the study of Acts 1:14, we observe the apostles praying in a manner that has been called the first Catholic novena. Below is the background on a what a Novena is and why we might pray one.
The word “novena” comes from the Latin “novem,” which means nine. Thus, novenas always include nine of something: months, weeks, days, hours or even the same prayer repeated nine times.
Novenas are an ancient tradition that goes back to the days of the Apostles. Jesus told His disciples to pray together after His ascension into heaven, so the apostles along with Mother Mary and other followers of Jesus gathered to pray in the Upper Room during the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost. (Thus, the recognition as the “first novena.”)
In the early Middle Ages, novenas were prayed in preparation for major liturgical events such as Christmas and Pentecost and later used as acts of reparation.
When we pray a novena, we focus our attention intently on a special intention in order to receive special graces and either the answer to our prayer or discernment on what we need to do.
Having the right attitude is key to the use of novenas. When we pray a novena, we must take on Jesus’ attitude in Gethsemane the night before He died. “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me; still, not My will but Yours be done” (Lk 22:42).
Novenas help us to open ourselves to God in order to increase our faith and grow in the love of God and neighbor. They aid in inner healing, obtaining special graces, being transformed and growing in virtue and holiness. They bring us peace and joy, regardless of the answer we’ve received to our petition.
Father Mitch Pacwa recommends three essential elements for the use of novenas:
First, the prayers are specific, which helps us make our needs before God specific without telling God how to answer our prayer.
Second, the prayers include an expression of trust and confidence in God’s ability to answer them. “Often we have some doubts, so we pray like the man with the epileptic son,” he said. “‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ Prayers that rouse our trust in God are aids to the graces of faith and hope.”
Third, repeating prayers and repeating them over time is helpful because we often need that length of time to move beyond merely making a request to learning to listen to God as He speaks to us in prayer. The length of time to pray the novena gives us time to consider more aspects of our prayer intention than just receiving the answer. We develop our relationship with God, and that is often more lasting than the actual result we see from praying with faith. The relationship with God Himself is essential, and a novena reminds us that the relationship takes time.
Novenas can be made to God and any of His three Persons in the Trinity. They are also often made to the Blessed Mother or to saints, asking their intercession for our intention, thereby strengthening our petition to God. All of the holy men and women in Heaven (including our faithful loved ones) are good intercessors for any intentions.