What is a Novena and why do Catholics pray them?

(From Ask a Carmelite Nun) Novena comes from the Latin Language and means nine. As used by Catholics this means a series of nine prayers. Usually the series refers to a prayer or devotion offered on nine consecutive days, but the series could be a series of devotions for nine consecutive weeks, or months, or – Mother Teresa’s so-called ‘emergency novena’ or ‘express novena’ consisted of reciting nine consecutive Memorares!

Much of the prayer life of the Catholic faithful, liturgical and devotional really owes its origins to our spiritual ancestors in faith, the Jewish people. The Old Testament shows us that the Jews prayed over a series of days in petition, celebration and repentance on numerous occasions – nine seems not to have been an important number for them though. The scriptural nine days of prayer is found in the Acts of the Apostles and consists of the nine days the Apostles spent waiting in prayer in Jerusalem for the coming of Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4, 5).

We probably should not think the custom of praying in a series of nine arose in the Church immediately, but we do have documentary evidence that a series of nine masses immediately following death was already being prescribed in medieval wills. That specific number of nine may have originally come from Roman and other pagan customs, being ‘baptized’ so to speak, by Christians who saw a precedent for it in Acts 1. The novena has simply grown in popularity and variety ever since the Middle Ages, with countless devotional novenas practiced today. The novena has always been more widespread in popular piety than in the liturgy, but I think most of us are familiar with the nine days of mourning and prayer that follow the death of a pope – sometimes called the Pope’s Novena.

If there is any important caveat to mention in connection with the idea of a novena it is simply that we not let the tail wag the dog. Structures for prayer have value insofar as they support and assist our efforts to pray faithfully – which is simply to say – our efforts to seek the will of God and rely on Him to always provide the loaf we need rather than the stone we sometimes ask for. There is no ‘power’ in formulas or structures as such, and the human tendency to lapse into superstition being what it is, it is well that we remind ourselves of this on a regular basis, as well as clearly instructing our children in this regard. That said, you are ever so welcome to say one for me – express or otherwise!

Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots
Unfailing Novena To The Virgin Mary Untier of Knots 

To show us the mission granted to the Virgin Mary by Her Son, artist Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner painted Mary Undoer of Knots with great grace. Since 1700, His painting has been venerated in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Augsburg, Germany. It was originally inspired by a meditation of St. Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon and martyred in 202) based on the parallel made by Saint Paul between Adam and Christ. Saint Irenaeus, in turn, made a compari-son between Eve and Mary, saying:“Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it”.

Immaculate Conception Novena
*This novena begins 9 days before the feast of the Immaculate Conception*

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is an important day for us to reflect on Mary’s life. It is important for us to strive to imitate Mary as the ideal example of the Christian life lived for God.

This novena will give you the opportunity to ask Mary to give you the grace to imitate her profound love of God

Artwork by Anthony VanArsdale for the National Black Catholic Congress

Online Interactive Rosary
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The Mysteries of the Rosary

Joyful Mystery of the Rosary
Monday & Saturday
The Annunciation of the Lord to Mary
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
The Presentation of our Lord
Finding Jesus in the Temple at age 12

Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary
Tuesday & Friday
The Agony of Jesus in the Garden
The Scourging at the Pillar
Jesus is Crowned with Thorns
Jesus Carried the Cross
The Crucifixion of our Lord

Glorious Mystery of the Rosary
Wednesday & Sunday
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven
The Descent of the Holy Ghost
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
Mary is Crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth

Luminous Mystery of the Rosary
The Baptism in the Jordan
The Wedding at Cana
The Proclamation of the Kingdom
The Transfiguration
The Institution of the Eucharist


La Salette Communications Center

As we are reminded during the Advent and Christmas seasons, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” 

Simply put, without Jesus we have no New Testament, no Christian Church, no Christian faith. Understanding this, then what is the proper place of Marian devotion and piety in the Church? Why is it important and how can it strengthen our faith? 

Pope John Paul II, in the introduction to the Vatican’s 2001 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, explains that “Popular piety is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment… Genuine forms of popular piety, expressed in a multitude of different ways, derives from the faith and, therefore, must be valued and promoted. Such authentic expressions of popular piety… predispose the people for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.” Indeed, popular piety is seen as “a true treasure of the People of God” (Directory, #59).

The Directory, in chapter five, discusses extensively “the veneration of the Holy Mother of God, which occupies a singular position both in the Liturgy and popular devotion”. Let us take a brief glance at the history of Marian devotion over the centuries in order to better understand what Pope John Paul II has stated.

The Roots of Marian Devotion

The Scriptures show Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. She is involved intimately in the most important events of Christ’s life. She is blessed in her maternity, as shown in the Annunciation and Nativity. In the Gospel of John she is the model of the believing Church. John also shows her at the foot of the cross where Jesus gives Mary to the Church as mother of all believers (Jn. 19:26).

As the Church’s understanding of Jesus deepened, appreciation of Mary’s importance place also grew. The Fathers of the Church wrote about Mary as the “new Eve,” associated with Christ the “new Adam” (Sts. Justin and Irenaeus). She is referred to as “mother of the living,” and, finally, at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), she is spoken of dogmatically as the “God-bearer,” mother of Jesus-both-human-and-divine. After this most significant event, Marian feast days proliferated in both the East and the West.

During the Middle Ages, Marian devotion celebrated her role as heavenly queen, spiritual mother and all-powerful intercessor. The prayer, Hail Mary, attained its current form only in the 15th Century, in connection with the Psalter of Mary or the rosary.

Consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary was in practice by the 18th Century. Many missionary orders founded during the past two centuries gave prominence to Mary’s role in their apostolate. This is evident in the names of many of the communities. During the same period, Marian devotion flowered due to the great apparitions: La Salette (1846) and Lourdes (1858), both in France; Knock (1879) in Ireland; and Fatima (1917) in Portugal.

The Popes of the 20th Century have consistently encouraged devotion to Mary and defined the dogmas of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption. Pius XII in his encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy, Mediator Dei (1947) declared that Marian devotion should respect the central place of liturgical prayer and Eucharistic celebrations. This was reiterated in the concluding chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from Vatican Council II in 1964, placing Mary within the fabric of the mystery of Christ and the Church.

Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation, Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Marialis Cultus), insured that Church renewal would continue to encourage new or renewed ways of expressing devotion to Mary. His words are straightforward. Mary is “a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians” (MC #20), and always holds “the highest place and the closest to us after Christ” (MC #28).

The proclamation of the Marian Year (1988–1989) by Pope John Paul II expressed his desire “to promote a new and more careful reading of what the Council said about the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.” His emphasis on the proper place of “authentic ‘Marian spirituality,’ seen in the light of Tradition” came from his own deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God (Redemptoris Mater, 48).

Mary – A Woman Immersed in Daily Life

This rich heritage has deepened our appreciation of the role of Mary in our life as believers. We have come to know her as a woman fully immersed in the concerns of daily life and who met the challenges presented there with a deep and lively faith.

She is both the mother of our Savior and an altogether human woman who was painfully misunderstood by the man she loved; who was confused by her child’s behavior; who was not afraid to speak her mind or voice her questions; who stood by courageously while her Son was executed; who was present at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the new Church; and who, indeed, had a role of leadership in that Church.

Renewal of Popular Piety

In continuing to foster devotion to Mary, certain principles should be kept in mind. Number 12 of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy states:

“Popular piety should be permeated by: a biblical spirit, since it is impossible to imagine a Christian prayer without direct or indirect reference to Sacred Scripture; a liturgical spirit if it is to dispose properly for or echo the mysteries celebrated in the liturgical actions; an ecumenical spirit, in consideration of the sensibilities and traditions of other Christians without, however, being restricted by inappropriate inhibitions; an anthropological spirit which both conserves symbols and expressions of importance or significance for a given nation while eschewing senseless archaicisms, and which strives to dialogue in terms redolent with contemporary sensibility. To be successful, such a renewal must be imbued with a pedagogical awareness and realized gradually, always taking into consideration time and particular circumstances” (#12).


Marian Devotions

The National Black Catholic Congress, Inc.

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