|Praying a Novena|
Time Required: A few minutes for nine days or more
How to Pray:
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice
For nine consecutive days, Susan Anthony said a prayer to St. Jude, asking for the saint's intercession in helping her find a job. Each day she prayed a specific prayer in hopes that if it was God's will, her request would be granted.
On the ninth day of her novena a series of prayers said for a special intention Anthony said God answered her prayer: She did not get accepted for a particular position for which she had applied.
That didn't stop Anthony from praying. She applied for another position, prayed another novena to St. Jude, and was hired.
"I believe strongly that these prayers do work," she told The Catholic Voice.
Anthony is not alone in her trust of novenas.
For centuries, Catholics have used this traditional nine-day period of private or public prayer to obtain special graces, implore special favors, or make special petitions. Many novenas are centered around and end on a particular feast day, such as Divine Mercy Sunday or Christmas, while others are directed toward the saints, Mary and Jesus.
Although no official history of novenas has been written, it is known that certain novenas are based on the Roman and Greek traditions of mourning the dead for nine days. Others come from the Middle Ages where Christians in Spain had novenas to prepare for Christmas, as well as novenas to Mary. Novenas of prayer arose in the 17th century, as Catholics turned to the saints with a novena in times of need.
It wasn't until the 19th century that the church formally recommended novenas as ways to obtain indulgences, or the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven. Today, indulgences are attached to more than 30 novenas, all of which are to be made in private or public with the reception of the sacraments. For these usually a daily partial indulgence can be gained, as well as a plenary indulgence at the end of the novena.
Besides drawing the faithful into prayer, novenas help Catholics accept and conform their desires to God's will, said Father Eric Olsen, assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish in O'Neill and St. Joseph in Amelia.
"God wants us to know ourselves, so even though he knows what's best for us, he'll often want to teach us what is best for us," he said.
One of the ways God does this is through prayer. "We ask him for things and they get answered in the affirmative or the negative and that helps us discern what is best for us in our life," Father Olsen said.
For Anthony, a parishioner at St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha, praying novenas is more about knowing God's will than getting a quick answer to a prayer.
"I do know that novenas are sometimes written off as superstition, like if you do this exact number of things then this is going to happen, but actually it is how your disposition is inside," she said. "You don't just do it to get something and then go on with life and forget about it. It's more that God's will be done."
Father Olsen agreed.
"If we come in with the disposition that it is somehow a divine soda machine, and we'll put in our time and at the end, this grace will pop out, then we've demonstrated a lack of faith in the very approach to the prayer," he said. "The novena is there to help develop the habit of prayer."
Like many devotionals in the Catholic Church, novenas involve the communion of saints, showing the unity and cooperation of the Mystical Body of Christ the faithful living and those who have died.
For Anthony, praying for the intercession of saints is a powerful experience.
"I do know that saints very actively involve themselves with us through prayer," she said. "The minute you ask for help from any of them, they will help you and they will support you. They will come to our aid."
This great practice of novenas is a benefit from the church, Father Olsen said. It's another vehicle in which to offer prayers to God.
"It's not necessarily for everybody because God gives the church this whole bouquet of spiritual arsenal in which to approach him," he said. "We can choose the weapons that we want to execute God's will in our life."