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A novena is a traditional form of Catholic prayer. Those praying a novena recite a specific prayer or a series of specific prayers with a certain request or intention in mind. This practice continues over the course of nine days or nine hours. A novena is not a magic spell. In other words, praying a novena does not guarantee that a miracle will occur, and the mere words of your chosen novena do not hold any set power alone. It is the act of devotion you display by praying a novena that has spiritual significance. After Jesus ascended to Heaven, Mary, the Apostles, and other devoted disciples prayed constantly for nine days until Pentecost Sunday. Catholics looked to this example and, from it, derived the practice of praying nine-day novenas. As noted already, a novena is not a magic spell that will answer all your needs and wants. Nonetheless, there are spiritual benefits that can be derived from reciting a novena, and these benefits should not be overlooked. Most novenas can be classified within one or more of four categories: mourning, preparation, prayer, and indulgence. Some novenas may fall into more than one category. As previously noted, novenas are prayers recited with a specific intention in mind. Before you begin your novena, get a clear idea of the intention for which you are praying your novena. Since novenas are an act of devotion, reciting them while performing other spiritually significant acts of sacrifice and devotion can further emphasize the seriousness of your intention. For instance, consider fasting or meditating throughout the novena period. Once you decide to start praying a novena, stick with it. While there are no punishments for quitting halfway through, finishing the practice can be spiritually beneficial, regardless of whether or not your original request has been answered by the end of the novena period.
- Meditate. There is some debate regarding whether or not you need to start over from the beginning if you skip a day or hour of your novena. Tradition holds that you should meditate on your reason for skipping and ultimately start over afterward. If the reason was unavoidable, however—like a sudden and dire illness—the decision to start from scratch may not be so clear. Regardless, the issue is a matter of conscience, so the decision is yours to make based on your own circumstances.
- Analyze your intention. Your intention might be an earnest prayer for direction when you reach a crossroads in your life, or it could be something as simple as an expression of great joy or great sorrow.
- Focus. Regardless of what your intention is, you will need to keep it in the center of your thoughts throughout the novena period, even when you are not actively praying.
- Anticipate. Novenas in the mourning category are said in anticipation of a burial or for similar periods of mourning. The prayers are often recited for the sake of the individual who has passed (when applicable) or for the comfort of those grieving.
- Prepare. Preparation novenas are said in anticipation of a Church feast day, Sacrament, or similar spiritual event. The purpose is to prepare the soul for the significance of that day.
- Plea. Novenas of the prayer category, also known as the "petition" category, are among the most common. These novenas are pleas to God asking for intervention, signs, or other help.
- Pray. Indulgence novenas are those prayed for the remission of sins. In other words, these novenas are prayed as an act of penance for previous wrongdoings. Usually, these novenas are done in conjunction with the Sacrament of Confession and church attendance.
- Count. The word "novena" comes from the Latin word for "nine," hence the consecutive set of nine prayers.
- Understand what a novena is. The Catholic Catechism even warns against acts of superstition. When a practice or the performance of that practice is deemed magical in some manner, the individual viewing it as such is only looking at the external aspect of it, not its deeper spiritual significance. Novenas are among those acts that have deep spiritual significance but are commonly treated as superstition.
- Trust God. When you pray your novena, say the prayers with faith in God and trust that God will give you the right answer in the right way. Do not pray a novena in the hopes of manipulating God into an answer.