What Is a Novena? (Definition and Examples of Novenas)

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A novena is a series of prayers that are said for nine straight days, usually as a prayer of petition but sometimes as a prayer of thanksgiving. (See The Types of Prayer for more on prayers of petition and thanksgiving.) The nine days recall the nine days that the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary spent in prayer between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday. (Links to many such novenas can be found below.)

Loose Definition: Any Series of Prayers

While the word novena comes from the Latin novem, meaning "nine," the term has also come to be used generically to refer to any long series of prayers. Thus, the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena is recited for more than nine days, between the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30) and Christmas. Another popular lengthy novena is the 54 Day Rosary Novena, which is really six novenas of rosaries in a row—three in a petition, and three in thanksgiving.

Other Uses of the Word

Because novenas are such a popular form of prayer, many people are surprised to learn that they had no official standing within the Catholic Church until the 19th century, when indulgences were offered for novenas prayed in preparation for various feasts. But the practice of marking special events with a nine-day period of preparation (in advance) or commemoration (after the event) is quite ancient. In Spain and France, a novena of preparation was observed before the feast of Christmas, to mark the nine months that Christ spent in Mary's womb. And following the Greek and Roman custom, from the earliest days, Christians commemorated the death of their fellow Christians on the third, seventh, and ninth days after their death. The ninth day, the novena, was celebrated as a feast.

Pronunciation: nōˈvēnə

Examples: "Every year, we pray the Divine Mercy Novena on the nine days between Good Friday and Divine Mercy Sunday."

Novenas to Our Lady

Novenas to the Sacred Heart

Novenas for Various Feasts

Novenas to Various Saints

Other Novenas

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Richert, Scott P. "What Is a Novena? (Definition and Examples of Novenas)." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, learnreligions.com/what-is-a-novena-542580. Richert, Scott P. (2023, April 5). What Is a Novena? (Definition and Examples of Novenas). Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-novena-542580 Richert, Scott P. "What Is a Novena? (Definition and Examples of Novenas)." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-novena-542580 (accessed June 3, 2023).