The novena is an ancient Catholic tradition of prayer by which we dedicate nine days (either consecutively or the same day of nine weeks or months) to prayer. A novena can be prayed either for the living or the dead. There are novenas of mourning, or preparation, and of petition. There are novenas directly to the Lord and novenas through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the angels and saints. Some novenas have a special place in Catholic devotion, such as the Novena of Masses offered on the death of the Holy Father for the repose of his soul and the novenas in preparation for Christmas, Pentecost, and Divine Mercy Sunday. However, there are hundreds of other novenas for dealing with different things in life or through many different saints.
The main Biblical reference for novenas comes from our Lord and the apostles. After His Passion and Resurrection, the Lord Ascended to heaven on the 40th day. The Gospel of Luke records that He told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they receive “the Promise of my Father” and are “clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). St. Luke also wrote, “And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the same place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven, like that of a wind approaching violently, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them separate tongues, as if of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4). There are 9 days in between the Ascension and Pentecost, and on the 10thday, Pentecost, they received the Holy Spirit. Whatever else we’re praying for, in every novena and in every prayer we’re asking the Lord to send us the same Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to pray novenas, even if most of them are fairly short. The biggest challenge I have with praying novenas is actually remembering to pray it every day for nine days. I almost always forget to pray the novena prayers at least one day. Sometimes I’ll get discouraged and quit and sometimes I’ll go on to finish the novena, but if I’m trying to finish by a certain date it can be really annoying. That’s where this app comes in. It has the prayers for hundreds of different novenas, and you can set it to automatically remind you at whatever time you want every day by setting a notification on your phone or tablet. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices, and it’s free, although there is a way to donate to the developer. You can get the app by searching for “Pray Catholic Novenas” in the App store or visiting www.catholicnovenaapp.com.
Novenas, because they’re short, are great for families to pray together, and it gives you a reason to get the family together. You can do the novena prayer before a meal every day for nine days or for nine Sundays in a row (if you have a family dinner on Sunday or some other day).
The Rosary Novena begins Monday, September 28, in preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Wednesday, October 6. You do the novena simply by praying the Rosary for those nine days. I’ll offer this novena and I invite all of you to offer it with me. If you want to do this with your family but don’t have time for the whole Rosary, pray one decade of the Rosary each day. We’ll offer it for those in our families who are most in need of the graces.
Have you ever wanted to find out how far your car can drive after the needle hits empty? The furthest I’ve ever pushed it in my current truck is 40 miles. The problem, of course, is that you get stuck somewhere if you run out of gas. Western culture, the culture that developed in Europe and spread to the Americas, Australia, and a few other places, is running on the fumes of historic Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, and has been for at least decades. There are, of course, quite a few Christians left, but the culture itself is no longer centered around the Church. Instead, it’s centered around consumerism, relativism, nihilism, and many other ‘isms. Eventually, we’re going to run out of gas.
Western civilization is no longer built around Christianity. For example, in 1076 Emperor Henry IV of Germany tried to depose Pope St. Gregory VIII, and in response the Holy Father excommunicated Henry IV and absolved his subjects from their oaths of fealty. Being excommunicated meant the end of Henry IV throne, so he went to the Pope, begged forgiveness, and was absolved and the excommunication lifted. Today, an excommunication would be a badge of honor in many places.
In the height of Christendom, the vast majority of people not only believed in the faith but it affected how they viewed the entire cosmos. They understood all things as being connected, that God was over all things, and that everything in life had meaning and purpose, even if they couldn’t see if in that moment. Now we mostly see life as being governed by the laws of physics. We see a separation between faith and reason, while the ancients and medievals saw them as being allies.
I’m not saying that the Middle Ages were better than today. There were many problems and it could be a truly brutal time. However, people at least knew that they could turn to the Lord, they shared a common view of life, and they believed that God was ultimately in control of everything. Now, we believe that we can control our own lives and even the world around us, so we don’t turn to the Lord in our needs.
In the Middle Ages kings and emperors tried to control the Church in order to control the people, so God sent people like Pope St. Gregory VII to protect the independence of the Church. The Church started to become corrupted by wealth and power so God send people like St. Francis and St. Dominic to show them the power of poverty and absolute trust in God. God is working in the world and in each one of our lives. God wants to use each one of us to speak His truth, to show His love, and to bring people together in Him. God wants us to be saints. It may seem like the world has turned away from God, but He hasn’t turned away from us.
You may have noticed that we recently added a veil, basically a white curtain, to the tabernacle. My mom actually made the veil with material left over from my Marian chasuble and some lace that she made. Aside from being beautiful, why should we have a tabernacle veil? A Vatican document from 1967 tells us the purpose of a tabernacle veil, “Care should be taken that the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is indicated to the faithful by a tabernacle veil or some other suitable means prescribed by the competent authority” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, 57). The idea of the tabernacle veil goes back to the Old Testament, and that history can shed light on the Mass and the Eucharist.
In the book of Exodus the Lord tells Moses how to make the Tent of Meeting, called the Tabernacle, to be a place for the people to worship God and offer sacrifice to Him. The Temples in Jerusalem were copies of this original design. The innermost room was the Holy of Holies and was reserved for the High Priest, who could only enter it once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies. The Ark was a symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness to the people of Israel and was considered to be like a throne for God. The lid of the Ark was called the “Mercy Seat.” There was a veil separating the Holy of Holies. The veil represented the presence of God because this place, the Holy of Holies, was set apart for the Lord God. The entire Temple was God’s house, but the Holy of Holies was the holiest part of the Temple.
At the moment of Christ’s death on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was torn down the middle (Mt. 27:50-51). Why was the veil torn? Jesus Christ is the true Temple (Jn 2:21), the true presence of God on Earth. When Christ gave up His Spirit, the Spirit of God also left the Temple in Jerusalem because the True Temple had been destroyed. The veil was torn as a sign that God was no longer present in the Temple.
However, Christ has been raised from the tomb and has ascended to heaven, and He’s left us the Mass as the memorial of His Cross and Resurrection. In every Mass the Spirit of God descends and changes (through Transubstantiation) the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. After Mass, the consecrated hosts are placed in our own Tabernacle, which houses the True Presence of God. The veil in the tabernacle is a sign that God is truly present there, but that veil is drawn back during every Mass as a sign that faithful followers of Christ will share His presence forever in heaven.
The Vatican Council talks about the Mass as a prayer directed to God while also being meant for our instruction, saying, “Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read ‘which were written for our instruction’ (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace” (SC, 33).
Everything in the Mass is there for a reason and has a meaning. Of course, the readings and homily are meant to teach us about God and His will for our lives, but even the prayers, songs, and the actions of the Mass should lift our minds to God and teach us about the faith. In the readings we hear the written Word of God which prepares us to receive the living Word of God in the Eucharist. The prayers are addressed to God, not to us, but they’re for us. God already knows what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling, so He doesn’t need to hear our prayers to know what we want and need. The prayers are meant to direct us to pray for the graces that God wants to give us.
The things we sing in Mass should also be prayers. In fact, the entire Mass is a song and is set to music so that it can be sung. Singing is a higher form of praying since we’re putting more of ourselves into the prayer when we sing. After the Mass itself, the next most important thing to sing in Mass is the Bible. Every Mass has a set of Bible verses, the antiphons, which are chosen for that Mass and are meant to be sung at the opening, the Gospel, the offertory, and during Communion. After all, what better to sing to God than His own Words? Finally, the hymns chosen for Mass should be designed for the liturgy. Not every Christian song is fitting to be sung at Mass, so the hymns must be chosen carefully so that they help us to enter more fully into the Mass and don’t distract us from it.
Finally, the actions of the Mass have meaning and are directed at helping us to lift our hearts to the Lord. The actions of the priest, like the elevations of the Blessed Sacraments and various genuflections, have meanings, but so do the actions of all the people. When you stand, sit, or kneel, when you make the sign of the Cross, and when you go forward to receive Holy Communion you are uniting yourselves to the prayers and actions of the priest and the entire Church as we offer ourselves as “a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.