alternate language
October 15, 2020

The novena: A devotion that unites the hearts of families and Catholics

The novena: A devotion that unites the hearts of families and Catholics

One of the traditions that is most enjoyed and disseminated in Hispanic families is the novena. As its name suggests, these are nine opportunities, typically divided into nights prior to an important event, in which families or parishioners come together to dedicate special prayers in preparation. As we move forward in our liturgical calendar, we will try to answer some questions that will help us learn about what the novena means to our Advent journey.

Why are they called novenas?

The name is derived from the number nine, so a novena can be divided into any way that represents nine opportunities to set aside time for meditation, prayer and time to reflect. Perhaps the reference that can most evoke the Christian character of the novena and that can help us put this devotion into a catechetical perspective is the nine days that occur between the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At the end of the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, we read that, after his death and resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, teaching and sharing with them:

“For forty days he allowed himself to be seen by them and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

The solemnity of Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter, leaves us with nine days between both solemnities — Ascension and Pentecost, days in which the apostles prepared, fulfilling the beautiful promise that Jesus shared with them before ascending to heaven.

“Wait for the promise that my Father made to you, of which I spoke to you, is fulfilled. It is true that John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4).

We could say that the Novena is a time of waiting, of preparation, of growth in faith and hope in the promise of God’s grace. It is a time that bears fruit in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as happened with the apostles at Pentecost.

What types of novenas are there?

What we could call types of novenas correspond rather to our motivations, expectations and desires to achieve growth. Our intentions and motivations or even lack of motivations propel us to this time of reflection and preparation for nine opportunities or moments, disposing the spirit and preparing the heart. There are novenas that occur throughout the year, like the novenas of those who participate in the devotion on the first Friday of each month. There are other novenas that can occur in nine days, which is perhaps the most conventional method. The important thing is that these nine opportunities serve to prepare us, opening us to the mystery and assistance of God’s love.

Why is the Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe so popular?

The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most widespread devotions throughout the United States and in many parts of the world. Proclaimed by Saint John Paul II as Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the source of a rich devotion that Mexican culture has shared with Catholics around the world, to the point of being considered by many as part of the Hispanic cultural identity. As Mother and companion, Our Lady of Guadalupe teaches us and leads us to her son, counting on our limitations and even our disbelief, as happened with Saint Juan Diego. Many times, we think that the call to announce Jesus corresponds to those deemed ‘more important’ or ‘educated.’ However, Our Mother of Guadalupe counts on our disposition and our will to listen and follow the voice of God. As Mother of the Church, under this invocation we have her as protector and defender of the weak and the voiceless. That is why we feel identified with her, with her humility and motherly tenderness.

How do you pray a Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe?

Maintaining and preserving the traditional structure of a novena, I have found that a resource such as the Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe recreates and reinforces the elements that the novena contains and also meets the needs of bilingual Hispanic families in the United States. Unlike many options that offer this same resource, this novena is designed to unify the family intergenerationally across languages. Additionally, in a parish setting, a resource like this opens the doors of cultural integration. Many parishes and communities have been able to develop a devotion that goes beyond language, building community.

The way this resource was created to help both families and parishes live this time of preparation in honor of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, so that, whether you are a musician, parent, child or parishioner, you will be drawn to both the songs and the scores that accompany each day of the novena, along with the litanies and intentions that deepen the reflection.

What are Las Posadas?

Another form of novena that is worth noting is Las Posadas, a very widespread devotion cultivated especially in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Here, it is also known as Novena de Aguinaldos. A variation in the meaning of this form of novena is that the nine days of Las Posadas correspond to the nine months of Maria’s pregnancy. Leading the people of God on their journey through Advent, Las Posadas commemorates and reenacts José and María’s trip to Bethlehem as they ask townspeople for a place to stay. The joy of the sung dialogues that occur between those who are inside the homes and those who are outside, actualizes a tradition of many generations and connects the community in the meaning of the days before Christmas.

This devotion in the United States has become very popular, which is why this resource, which includes bilingual reflections and prayers specially designed to unify families and generations, celebrates and reinforces the sense of hospitality in the community of parishes that embrace many cultures. The structure of this resource helps to extend a bridge of intercultural and intergenerational gratitude, keeping our faith alive and sharing it with our youth, enriching it with musical resources that keep the devotion alive, helping to deepen our reflections in our journey towards Christmas.

Whatever the structure of your family or community is, resources such as Las Posadas or the Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe will help you open the doors of faith with devotions that connect us as a community, renewing the excitement and joy of the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Carlos Castañeda
Carlos Castañeda

Carlos Castañeda has had an extensive career as a pastoral leader in both parochial and diocesan settings. His background as a professional communicator and broadcaster has allowed him the opportunity to provide compelling presentations for ministry leaders and groups, discussing topics like intercultural communications, discipleship and evangelization. Carlos holds a master’s degree in communications from Marist College and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College.