There are numerous religions practiced around the world day in and day out. And among each religion practiced, there are countless ways to pray.
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Some prayers are personal and private, while some prayers are performed publicly. Prayer is an intensely personal practice and yet it can still bond you closer to members of your community. Today, we’ll talk about a specific prayer ritual: the nine-day novena for the dead.
What Is a Novena?
A novena is an ancient Christian tradition that consists of devotional praying. These prayers may be public or private. They can be repeated for nine hours in a row, nine days in a row, or even for nine weeks in a row.
This practice is popular in several Christian communities. They are largely found in Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines. Novenas are most frequently recited by Roman Catholics. Other faiths that use novenas include Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, and Anglicans. There are many regional variations in the ways novenas are prayed.
Earlier, we said novenas are devotional prayers. This just means that your prayer is solely meant as a devotion to God. You aren’t praying for a miracle. You are simply praying to show your faith and devotion. There are many different kinds of novenas. Preparation novenas are used for joyous occasions, like feast days. In some Latin American countries, the most famous form of novena is practiced in the nine days before Christmas.
Indulgence novenas are acts of penance for something you’ve done wrong. They often coincide with confessional practices. Petition novenas ask God to send you a sign or some help or ask him to intervene in some way. And finally, mourning novenas often take place before a burial.
Novenas get their name from the Latin root word for “nine.” Novenas date back to the earliest days of Christianity. Back then, funeral masses were held for nine days whenever someone died. Devotional prayers were recited across all nine days. There is some indication that this practice was actually dated in an ancient Greek and Roman custom.
In that practice, people would mourn a death for nine days before hosting a feast in honor of the deceased. Over time though, Roman Catholics began associating more overtly Christian symbolism with novenas. This included the nine months Jesus spent in the womb and the nine days that the Twelve Apostles prayed together before the Feast of Pentecost.
There are many existing novenas that you can recite. They can be found in devotional prayer books, or you can speak to a priest for guidance. However, you can also write your own novena if you’re moved to speak from the heart in that way.
There are many kinds of novenas, and many ways to pray the novena. One way in particular is the nine-day novena for the dead.
How Do You Pray the Nine-day Novena for the Dead?
The nine-day novena for the dead is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a series of prayers recited over a period of nine days in honor of someone who has passed away. Here, we’ll break down the steps that go into this novena:
1. Select the prayer(s) you wish to use
When praying any novena, it is important to do with intention. You need to have a clear intention in mind when you are praying.
If you’re praying a preparation novena, for example, you might be intending to express your joy. If you’re praying a mourning novena, you are outwardly expressing sorrow and grief. Pick prayers that will help you to clearly state your intention.
2. Schedule some time for prayer every day
Praying a novena is a commitment. Will anything terrible happen if you can’t finish? No. But when people start praying a novena, it’s because it’s important for their spiritual health. Adhering to a schedule will help make sure you can complete this task. It is also best to try and pray the novena at the same time every day.
Putting it on a schedule will prevent you from scheduling anything else during your prayer time. It will also give you the time and space you need to give your prayer your full attention. Some people like to pray the novena at 9 a.m. because the number nine feels significant in context, but pick the time that will consistently work best for you.
Remember though: even if you miss a day, all is not lost. You can simply complete your novena a day behind schedule, or you can say your novena twice one day to get caught back up.
3. Decide who you’re directing your novena to
When people pray a novena, there are different entities they can pray to. God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are all options.
St. Joseph is the patron saint of departing souls, and as such would be an appropriate saint to pray to in regards to a deceased loved one. St. Gertrude wrote prayers for souls trapped in purgatory: she would also be a great saint to pray to. If there is an upcoming Feast day associated with a saint, you could tie your novena to tie into that.
Once again, there’s a great deal of personal connection and influence in your decision.
4. Speak your prayer out loud or in your mind
There is a form of prayer in the Catholic church called vocal prayer. It is not, as you might guess, a prayer that is said out loud. It is instead the act of reciting a prepared prayer either out loud or within your own mind.
You can recite the prayer from memory, or write it down ahead of time so you don’t forget it. You can even read it from a book. The important thing is knowing the words you’re going to use, and saying them with intention.
5. Recite your daily novena
Sometimes when people pray the novena, they use a different prayer for each day. Other people like to repeat the same prayer each day for nine days.
There is no real right or wrong way to do it. Once again, it comes down to a manner of personal preference.
Mourn for the Dead By Praying a Nine-day Novena
Rituals and traditions are important. They get us through day-to-day life. A simple ritual, like reading the paper with a cup of coffee helps you clear your mind and prepare for your day.
Rituals that are rich in significance can help with bigger concepts and feelings, like death. Praying a nine-day novena is a religious practice steeped in a long tradition, much like a Catholic funeral mass. You can take comfort in knowing that this prayer ritual will help you through your grieving process.
- “What is a Novena?” Faith.nd.edu, University of Notre Dame, 9 January 2012, faith.nd.edu/s/1210/faith/interior.aspx?sid=1210&gid=609&pgid=40458.