What Is A Novena?
When I was a young child, I heard this term being used occasionally but never understood what it meant. What I have since learned on my return to Catholicism is that novenas are a beautiful method of prayer that Catholics make use of to petition God or ask intercession from a brother or sister in Christ now in glory (AKA a saint).
Novena is derived from the latin word novem meaning nine. There was a period of nine days from Jesus' ascension to the Holy Spirit's falling at Pentecost. It was during this period that the fledgling church was instructed by our Lord to wait and pray until the Spirit would come. Even before this the Jews had always observed a nine day period of prayer and mourning after the death of a loved one. (Remembering of course that the early church had access to the Deuterocanonical books and Maccabees made mention of prayers for the souls of the departed.)
Therefore the idea of a series of nine days set aside to seek God, mourn, petition and intercede was not a new concept to the new church spawned on Jewish tradition. Even the pagan Romans had nine days of festal observances. Something that may have been used by pagans doesn't negate its value when adapted in an orthodox fashion by Christianity. This is a charge often leveled at Catholicism.
So, a novena is a nine-day period of private or public prayer to obtain special graces, to implore special favors, or to make special petitions. The novena has always had more of a sense of urgency and neediness. Often a crisis of health or faith will motivate the faithful to start a novena.
Does a novena carry magical power? Will the prayers not be answered if the petitioner misses a day or doesn't recite the prayer in the exact formulaic way? Of course not! Is it wrong for a Christian to think of their novenas in a superstitious way that it will guaranty the desired outcome? Of course! All of our prayers should be prayed with the overarching intention of our Lord in the garden, "not my will but thy will be done."
Now I will illustrate a real-life application of the above. I recently have been burdened over a difficult situation in a good friend's life. I have decided to say a novena for him asking St. Jude to intercede in this situation. St. Jude has a long and successful "track record" of praying effectively for the most dire circumstances. Starting on Sunday, I have decided to pray daily to St. Jude for nine days asking his intercession for the situation for my friend. Do I also pray to Jesus directly? You bet, but nothing wrong with gathering up all the prayer warriors you can get for a tough situation. Remember the elderly lady in your fellowship who was known as a prayer warrior and you always asked her to pray for you? (There's one in every church , hopefully)
Well St. Jude is like that for me, except his fervent prayers are made even more effectual since he is now perfected in Glory before the throne of Grace. Saints are prayer warriors that continue to intercede for us, the power of death being vanquished by Christ's death and resurrection. They are more alive than ever. See this blog post on the Communion of Saints.
Novenas can and should be prayed to Jesus as well , but the main purpose is that we storm the gates of heaven for a period of time of concentrated and specific prayer. Non-Catholic believers do the same thing and as an evangelical, I often put a prayer intention on my bathroom mirror or somewhere that would remind me to pray for a person or issue for a period of time.
I have enclosed a St. Jude Novena for your use if you would like to copy, paste and print.(from EWTN's website)
God bless and happy intercessions!
Most holy Apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honors and invokes you universally, as the patron of difficult cases, of things almost despaired of, Pray for me, I am so helpless and alone.
Intercede with God for me that He bring visible and speedy help where help is almost despaired of.
Come to my assistance in this great need that I may receive the consolation and help of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly,
-(make your request here)-
and that I may praise God with you and all the saints forever.
I promise, O Blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor granted me by God and to always honor you as my special and powerful patron, and to gratefully encourage devotion to you. Amen
May the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, and loved in all the tabernacles until the end of time. Amen.
May the most Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised and glorified now and forever. Amen
St. Jude pray for us and hear our prayers. Amen.
Blessed be the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Blessed be the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Blessed be St. Jude Thaddeus, in all the world and for all Eternity.