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What is a Novena?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In the Roman Catholic tradition, a novena is a series of prayers that are said over the course of nine days. The goal of going through the series is to ask for grace, and to deepen one's spiritual connection with God. Although the practice originated in the Catholic community, similar prayers are also said in other Christian sects.

A novena may be said for oneself, usually as a request for assistance of some form or another, or on behalf of someone else. A classic example is a prayer asking for a sick relative to be healed. In devout communities, people may say novenas for strangers, or say “I'll make a novena for you” upon hearing of someone else's troubles.

Some people use the rosary when praying novenas.
Some people use the rosary when praying novenas.

The term comes from the Latin word for “nine.” The number nine has classically been associated with sorrow in the Christian Church, and the first novena is believed to have been said by the Virgin Mary on behalf of her Son while He suffered on the cross. Several Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures also associated symbolic meaning with the number nine and with making prayers in sets of nine, and this tradition may have been incorporated into the Christian faith by converts who clung to old beliefs.

The Virgin Mary, who said the first novena.
The Virgin Mary, who said the first novena.

Typically, people pray to specific saints when they make a novena. Someone who has lost something might pray to Saint Anthony, for example, asking for assistance with finding the item again. People can also pray to the Virgin Mary or to God. There are hundreds of novenas published in various collections of Catholic prayers and meditations, and people can also make up their own prayers. The prayer may be said at home or in Church, and some people meditate on the rosary as they say their novenas.

A common novena prayer is for the improved wellness of a sick relative.
A common novena prayer is for the improved wellness of a sick relative.

Some novenas are public, in which case the whole church prays together with the permission and guidance of the priest, while others are conducted for private purposes. People can use them as a simple form of prayer, but they can also say them during periods of mourning, or in preparation for a major holiday such as Easter. Novenas are said to ease the passage of souls through purgatory, and some people say them to gain an indulgence, a forgiveness from sin. One of indulgence may be said on behalf of someone who has died so that he or she will not have to spend as much time in purgatory.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


Oh it doesn't matter at all that people have signed on here to nay-say. I'm not even Catholic, but I have been praying a Novena myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for healing for my son and grandson. Focused prayer is very comforting. I've found that the power of prayer can be amazing.

Nothing bad can be said for putting good and positive vibrations out into the world. If you think it's superstitious, don't do it. Personally, I believe that if some practice brings you to a point where you feel closer to God, and it doesn't hurt you or anybody else, then feel free to do it. I've always broken the rules, though. Novena's are not just for Catholics. A Novena is a way to connect to a higher power, which for me, is the Holy Trinity.

A Novena doesn't have to be only 9 days long either! Even though Novena means 9, who cares? I pray the same Novena almost every single day! Make your own rules. Just don't hurt anybody.


To all you fellow Christians out there who want to bash the Catholic Church and claim to know what scripture says, you need to do a little bit of study into the history of the Bible, because most if not all of you use a Protestant Bible which is not the true Bible. The Catholic Bible is all the world had for 1200 years until Martin Luther thought he had the right to remove certain books which he did not. No man has that right.


Jesus commanded us to pray only through His name and it is only Him that ones prayers can be heard by God.I think the apostles of Jesus were the right people to teach the church about how to pray since they were taught by Jesus Himself.Did they ever taught the church to say any prayers through any saint's name? Or, did they ever prayed in the name of any saints prior to them? Read Acts 4:12; Acts 3:6-7; John 14:13; John 16:23-24, etc.


Beneath the statues of Saints there are holes for sure to put money in. It means the Catholic Church is actually worshiping money, not God or the saints, either.


St. Jude really does answer prayers for those who think the situation is almost without hope. After I lost my job, I prayed to have my job restored, but I really did think it was hopeless. This company has never given anyone a decent referral and all potential jobs who contacted this company then decided not to hire me. I was sure that my working life was at an end and that I would lose everything I had, including my family.

However, thanks to St Jude and his intercession, I am now back at work and my family is once again provided for. Pray the Novena for nine days without fail and he will answer your prayers too!


How could the first Novena been done by Mary while Jesus suffered on the Cross? Jesus didn't suffer on the cross for nine days.


The souls of babies and young children who pass away go directly to Heaven. Adults who die without having accepted the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ go to the other place. There is no in-between stopping off point. It's one place or the other.

To pray to a saint is bestowing deity on a mere (dead) human being because it implies that they are like God, omnipresent and omniscient, and able to hear all prayers being said to them at once. Only God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit can hear all the prayers of all the world at once.

Remember what the Lord said, "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me."

We can go directly to the throne of grace, directly to the Father, because of the price that Jesus paid with his shed blood on Calvary.

To pray to and through anyone but Jesus is an insult and affront to our precious Lord.


My brother passed away on Easter Sunday and was buried on Thursday (saddest day of my life). We begun our novena the next day and will continue for the nine days. I'm Catholic and we believe it eases the soul's passage through the purgatory, although my baby brother was young and suffered with cancer, so I am sure he went directly to heaven. We still pray for him and all other souls. God bless all of us.


@anon246710: Protestants are not haters! Maybe you just met the wrong people who are not in love with the Lord and they just know about Him.

Because those who truly love him will not seek out to argue against other believers, Catholic or Protestant.

I'm so sorry about the others but to me, if you truly love Christ, you will just focus on him. He said to love all -- neighbors and enemies.


@lisalucille: You're a wonderful person to research something you were first averse to. Thanks for going the extra mile to know a fellow Christian. As you stated so nicely, we Roman Catholics are Christians too, and we live our faith through the Sacraments that was given to us by God.

I'll have to admit that in getting kicked around by other our fellow Christians, I decided to learn my faith in order to kick back, but I quickly learned they're only haters, not believers, and all they want to do is point out the differences in our faiths and not the similarities.

The haters can be ignored because the devil will push them back to Jesus if they don't change their ways. Personally, I reasoned, there is no winning in hating your fellow brethren and that's what these haters do. God bless you all.


Catholics do worship Mary, and they conjure up word games and semantics to try and argue otherwise.

Mary requires no reverence in the form of prayer. We know this because the Bible narrates in multiple cases where pious people and/or God's angels told others not to bow down to them but to bow down to the One who created them.

In the Book of Revelation, for example, John says he fell down at the feet of an angel who was showing him a number of revelations. The angel then exclaimed, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (Revelation 22:9).

If Catholicism's worldview was correct, the angel would have permitted John to fall at his feet. But this didn't happen. The angel pointed directly to God. And it makes perfect sense. Why go through anyone when you can go to God Himself directly? Is he not everywhere (omnipresent)? Do you need to speak to someone else before getting in touch with your own father? The belief that you require a mortal intermediary to get to know God is asinine. It flies straight in the face of the purpose of everything that Jesus came for. And hence, why Catholics absolutely love speaking in puzzling language, archaic terminology (usually latin) to justify their outright awkward beliefs and escape proper logical scrutiny.

Catholicism can best be regarded as henotheism. Henotheism is a theological belief where a supreme deity (God) and lesser "deities" (saints/angels/etc) are worshiped. Praying to Mary is not a form of reverence, but in fact, is a bastardization of Scripture that results in Mary almost being an equivalent of God. Make no mistake about it - you will find some Catholics calling themselves "Marian Catholics." You will find some Catholics exclaiming "To Jesus through Mary." You will find some Catholics believing in superstitious items such as the Miraculous Medal and the Scapular. Doesn't sound very biblical, does it?

I can't imagine the Apostles placing this amount of emphasis on Mary, and it's best to err on the side of caution and not to follow suite with what amounts to mere traditions of men.


If I may add, you all are displaying pridefulness of your hearts in the way that your Catholic traditions represent the truth and light, not God himself nor your faith in him. Many Catholics try to get around the clear Scriptural principles by claiming they do not worship Mary or saints, but rather that they only honor Mary and the saints. Be mindful of the simple logic that asserting a different word to cover up your faults does not change the nature or concept of your actions.

To honor someone means that you pay your respects to someone. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are to respect anyone other than God. I admit that there is no fault in respecting those faithful Christians who have passed away before us. There is nothing wrong with venerating Mary as the earthly/human mother of Jesus. The Bible describes Mary as highly favored by God. At the same time, there is no instruction in the Bible to revere those whom have gone to Heaven.

When cornered to acknowledge that they do, in fact, worship Mary, many Catholics claim that they worship God through her, not Mary herself, by praising the wonderful creation that God has created. Mary, in their minds, is the most beautiful and wonderful creation of God, and by praising her, they are praising her Creator. For many Catholics, this is analogous to directing praise to an artist by praising his sculpture or painting. The problem with this is that God explicitly commands against worshiping Him through created things. We are not to bow down and worship anything in the form of heaven above or earth below (Exodus 20:4-5). Romans 1:25 could not be more clear, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen."

Yes, God has created wonderful and amazing things. Yes, Mary was a godly woman who is worthy of our respect. No, we absolutely are not to worship God vicariously by praising things (or people) He has created. Doing so is blatant idolatry.

The major way many Catholics honor Mary and the saints is by praying to them. A prayer to anyone other than God alone is anti-Biblical – praying to saints and Mary. Whether Mary and/or the saints are prayed to, or whether they are petitioned for their prayers – neither practice is Biblical. Prayer is an act of worship. When we pray to God, we are admitting that we need His help. Directing our prayers to anyone other than God is robbing God of the glory that is His alone.

Another way you honor Mary and the saints is by creating statues and images of them. Like you, many Catholics use images of Mary and/or the saints as "good luck charms." Any cursory reading of the Bible will reveal this practice as blatant idolatry (Exodus 20:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 John 5:21). Rubbing rosary beads is idolatry. Lighting candles before a statue or portrayal of a saint is idolatry. Burying a Joseph statue in hopes of selling your home (and countless other Catholic practices) is idolatry.

The terminology is not the issue. Whether the practice is described as "worship" or "veneration," or any other term, the problem is the same. Any time we ascribe something that belongs to God, to someone else, it is idolatry. The Bible nowhere instructs us to revere, pray to, rely on, or "idolize" anyone other than God. We are to worship God alone. Glory, praise, and honor belong to God alone. Only God is worthy to "...receive glory and honor and power..." (Revelation 4:11). God alone is worthy to receive our worship, adoration, and praise (Nehemiah 9:6; Revelation 15:4).


I, personally, am not Catholic. Catholicism "used" to offend me, before I did some research and actually spent some time learning about the Catholic faith from Catholics in person, and via their writings and doctrine.

Now, it seems to me that at least theoretically, they're just as Christian as "the next believer" who is Pentecostal, Baptist or whatever, except that Catholicism does have more of a structured base -- a set of guidelines and practices ("rituals" if you will) that are steeped in Church History.

In this day and age, where there is so much emotionalism, so little faithfulness, so little "protocol" or guidance in so many denominations, such that the congregation is left to figure it all out as individuals, what HARM could some of the Catholic "rituals" do?

Jesus himself says to meditate on "these things" (His Word, God's Word), if meditation is often a repetitive focus, as long as it's in fact on God's Word, and Biblically based -- what seems to be the problem?

Lastly, as so many Catholics above have mentioned, I've never heard of Catholics praying *to* Saints, only that they solicit the prayers to God, in Jesus' name via the Saints, even some "regular Christians" don't get praying to God via Jesus.

Bottom line. If you believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is the son of God, died for your sins, was buried and rose again and lives today and you confess that with your mouth, living to please Him for the mercy and awesome gift, as far as I can tell, you 're a Christian. Arguing over all the rest? Seems kind of prideful, distracting and beyond what Jesus would have us worry about. But then, that's just my humble opinion. --Blessings.


Anon77269: You really do not know the bible. I suggest you go study it first before you label stuff as superstitious, OK? And please, we do not pray to Mary or Saints, we ask them to pray for us, just like you can ask a friend to pray for you. It's that simple. Please try to understand before you accuse Catholics of idolatry.


There is no idol worship in Catholicism. When praying, we ask for an intervention (assistance) from a saint to help us through prayer (their payers and requests in combination with ours) to Jesus Christ. Saints are those whom we believe are in Heaven, thus with Jesus. It is the same as asking someone to pray for you.

Example: "Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."



What kind of bible do the catholics use?


I am pretty sure that our God will not be "offended" if we pray novena Maria, or any other novena to any saint.

Praying is a kind of meditation, it is a healing process.

Just keep on praying, only good things can come out of it. That is what I believe.


Jesus said there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ. He states in the book of John 16: 23-24 "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you."


To anon77269: I would suggest researching this more before criticizing. Catholics do not pray to the saints, they pray with them or have the saints pray for them.

An example is this: "Mother Mary, I ask that you pray for my brother for so and so." Also, if you read the bible more clearly, the number nine comes up constantly in regards to prayer. For example in the book of Acts, in the story of Cornelius and Peter, it says "He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius." And before that is states in Acts 3:1 "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer."


anon77269, correct me if I'm wrong but it sounds like you're criticizing the Catholic Faith as a whole here, rather than this one tradition. We do not worship the Saints or the Holy Virgin, we speak to them through prayer and ask them to lend us their strength and courage so that we may serve the Lord as well as they did. And as for the number nine, you seem to have forgotten a little thing called the Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit!


The Biblical basis is the nine days that the apostles along with Mary and other disciples prayed after the Ascension until Pentecost. (Acts 1:12-14; Acts 2)

Ascension happened on a Thursday (40 days after Easter).

History has shown the good fruits that praying novenas have borne. You should test it before you write it off as superstitious. Blessings!


Sounds ridiculous. A ritual not supported by the Bible, more like superstition, which is connected to spiritism, which God condemns in the Scriptures. Ten Commandments state very clearly: thou shall Not commit idolatry .(praying to Saints or Mary) The number nine has no special significance in all the scriptures either.


In some Mediterranean countries it used to be customary, however, I think the custom is slowly disappearing, that a novena was said after somebody passed away.

Neighbors, friends and relatives would gather for nine evenings and pray the rosary and some other prayers for the departed.

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    • Some people use the rosary when praying novenas.
      By: Anyka
      Some people use the rosary when praying novenas.
    • The Virgin Mary, who said the first novena.
      By: Bogdan Vasilescu
      The Virgin Mary, who said the first novena.
    • A common novena prayer is for the improved wellness of a sick relative.
      By: tomas del amo
      A common novena prayer is for the improved wellness of a sick relative.
    • Some novenas are public, wherein the whole church prays together with the permission and guidance of the priest.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      Some novenas are public, wherein the whole church prays together with the permission and guidance of the priest.
    • Novenas originated among Catholics, but similar prayers are used by other Christian denominations.
      By: vadimmmus
      Novenas originated among Catholics, but similar prayers are used by other Christian denominations.