The Novena of the Week

Join Your Fellow Readers in Praying These Novenas

Every week I choose a particular prayer and offer it to the readers of About Catholicism as our Novena of the Week. A novena is simply a nine-day cycle of prayers; a single prayer may be recited every day for nine days, or there may be different prayers (and other material, such as verses from Scripture) for each day. The Novena of the Week is great way to experience the beauty and variety of Catholic prayer.

Many novenas are traditionally prayed in preparation for a particular feast or saint's day. In those cases, the novena is begun ten day's before the feast, so that it concludes on the eve of the feast. In other cases, I'll choose a novena for a particular intention or a secular holiday, such as Independence Day or Thanksgiving in the United States.

Each Novena of the Week is listed below, in reverse chronological order, with the latest at the top. Clicking on the title of each novena will take you directly to the particular prayer or prayers; the text below the title provides additional information and commentary on the novena. In some cases where there are different prayers for each day of the novena, I have set up a daily email reminder to aid you in praying the novena. You'll find a link for subscribing to that daily email in the text for those novenas.

To find the latest novena at any time, simply bookmark this page. Better yet, subscribe to the About Catholicism newsletter, and you will receive a notice of each novena as I announce it.

Statue of St. Jude Thaddeus. (Photo © flickr user timlewisnm; CC Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)
A statue of St. Jude Thaddeus from a church near Hondo, New Mexico. (Photo © flickr user timlewisnm; licensed under Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved)

As our Lenten journey draws to a close, we often find that the fervor with which we began the season has waned. We may even get a little depressed, thinking that we did not accomplish all we set out to do on Ash Wednesday.

We should not give up hope, however. The spiritual benefits of Lent are found in the struggle, not in the victory. To keep ourselves focused on the spiritual battle, I've chosen for our novena from April 4 to April 13 a Novena to Saint Jude and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Saint Jude is, of course, the patron saint of difficult cases.

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The Nativity
The Nativity, from The Life of Our Lord, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London c.1880. Culture Club/Getty Images

Christmas is only nine days away, and it is time for us to make sure that we are spiritually prepared for the arrival of Christ. With that in mind, I have chosen for our novena this week a beautiful traditional prayer, The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

With its mix of Scripture verses, prayers, and the Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater ("Loving Mother of Our Savior"), this prayer is the perfect way for us, individually or as a family, to make our final preparations for Christmas. Begun on December 16, this novena will end on Christmas Eve. The novena could be combined with the lighting of the Advent wreath or with Advent Scripture readings.

The time is near. Let us join with the Blessed Virgin in expectation of the arrival of her Son.

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St. Teresa of Avila, Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA. (Photo by flickr user DominusVobiscum)
Statue of Saint Teresa of Avila in Serra Church, Mission San Juan Capistrano, California. (Photo by flickr user DominusVobiscum; licensed under Creative Commons-Attribution 2.0 Generic)

October 15 is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila, a virgin and Doctor of the Church who, along with Saint John of the Cross, reformed the Carmelite order. Like Saint John of the Cross, she was known for her many works of theology, including mysticism.

In preparation for her feast day, I have chosen a Novena to Saint Teresa of Avila as our novena for October 6 through October 14, the eve of her feast day. In it, we ask Christ for the grace to imitate the virtues of Saint Teresa.

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The rosary used to be a part of the daily prayer life of most Catholics, but like so many other prayers (the Morning Offering, Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity) for many of us the rosary has fallen victim to the busyness of our lives.

That's a shame, because there are great graces to be gained by praying the rosary. It only takes 15-20 minutes (about the time than it takes to watch an episode of your favorite sitcom on Netflix), and it's an ideal activity for times when you're doing other things that don't require your undivided attention. For instance, I often pray the rosary when I take a walk at lunchtime, or on my way to or from work.

October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, commemorating the victory of Christian naval forces over the Muslim Turkish fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. As we prepare for this feast, I've chosen the rosary as our novena for September 29 through October 7.

Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary

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Gregory the Great
Saint Gregory the Great by Unknown Roman artist, oil on canvas, 1620-29. DEA/Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Getty Images

Many Catholics argue that the Catholic Church is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. But those who know the history of the Church find it harder to make such a sweeping claim. Over two millennia, times of peace and unity have been few and far between.

Pope Gregory I, known to the ages as Gregory the Great, lived during a time of political and ecclesiastical turmoil. Yet he worked tirelessly to ensure the rights of the Church, and through his missionary work, his writings on theology and morality, and his liturgical reforms (Gregorian chant is named after him, and the Traditional Latin Mass took shape during his reign), Gregory shaped the medieval Church for centuries to come.

And so, as we prepare for Saint Gregory's feast day on September 3, I've chosen A Prayer to Saint Gregory, Pope and Confessor as our novena for August 26 through September 3.

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Icon of Saint John the Baptist on the front of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate, Belgrade, Serbia.
Icon of Saint John the Baptist on the front of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

On August 29, we will commemorate the Beheading of John the Baptist. The forerunner of Christ, Saint John was sanctified in his mother's womb at the time of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Elizabeth. Yet even though he was freed from Original Sin before his birth (see Who Was Born Without Original Sin? for more details), he spent his life in penance and mortification, providing an example for others and preparing their hearts for the coming of Christ.

He paid a heavy price for his faithfulness—martyrdom at the order of Herod. And yet that heavy price purchased a great reward in Heaven.

And so, as we prepare for this feast of Saint John's faithfulness, I have chosen a Prayer in Honor of St. John the Baptist as our novena for August 21 through August 29. Through his intercession, may we all have the courage to follow his example.

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Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene. Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Photodisc/Getty Images

July 22 is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the disciple of Christ traditionally identified with the repentant woman who washed and anointed Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair. Having humbled herself and received Christ's forgiveness, Mary Magdalene was the first of Christ's disciples to see the Lord after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

And so, for our novena from July 14 through July 22, I have chosen A Prayer to Saint Mary Magdalene. In it, we ask the great saint for her intercession, so that we too may someday enter into the heavenly kingdom.

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Barto, PA. (© flickr user jcapaldi; CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)
A statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, holding the brown scapular and the Christ Child, at the National Padre Pio Center in Barto, PA. (Photo © flickr user jcapaldi; licensed under Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved)

July 16 is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which commemorates the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251. During the vision, the Blessed Virgin revealed to him the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, popularly known as the "Brown Scapular."

The feast celebrates the devotion that the Blessed Virgin Mary has to those who are devoted to her, and who signal that devotion by wearing the Brown Scapular. According to tradition, those who wear the scapular faithfully and remain devoted to the Blessed Virgin until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance and be delivered from Purgatory early. It is still the custom in many parishes to enroll the faithful in the Brown Scapular on the day of the feast (or on the Sunday closest to it).

And so, as we prepare for the feast, I have chosen A Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel as our novena from July 7 through July 15. This prayer is a particularly popular (and powerful) novena, and many Catholics pray it every day throughout the year. After the novena is over, you might consider making it part of your own daily prayers.

​More on Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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Sacred Heart Statue, Saint-Sulpice, Paris
Sacred Heart Statue, Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Philippe Lissac/Photononstop/Getty Images

This year, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on Friday, June 3. So in honor of this feast, and indeed of the entire month of June, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, I have chosen the Novena to the Sacred Heart as our novena for May 25 through June 2.

More on the Sacred Heart

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Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

On Saint Patrick's Day, throughout the United States and Britain, many Catholics (and quite a few non-Catholics) will celebrate the life of the great apostle to Ireland by eating a meat (corned beef) that he probably never ate and drinking a beer (Guinness) that was first brewed a millennium and a half after the beloved bishop passed on to his heavenly reward.

Ah, but no matter—on Saint Patrick's Day, we may all be more Irish than the great saint (who wasn't actually Irish at all), but he still has much to teach us about being Christian. So I have chosen the Breastplate of Saint Patrick as our novena for March 8-16. You probably know one of its verses (the one that begins "Christ with me"), but the entire prayer is much longer and incorporates all the elements of Catholic morning prayer: It is an Act of Faith (expressing the Catholic teaching on the Trinity and on Christ); an Act of Hope (in God's protection throughout the day and throughout life, as well as in eternal eternal salvation); and an Act of Charity (in the love expressed for God).

With its invocation of the Trinity and Christ to protect us against spiritual forces that desire our destruction, the Breastplate of Saint Patrick makes an ideal novena for Lent.

More on Saint Patrick's Day

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Saint Paul (Photo © flickr user mamjodh; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Stained Glass, Saint Paul, church of Saint-Pierre-des-Minimes, Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne, France (Photo © flickr user mamjodh; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic). (Photo © flickr user mamjodh; licensed under Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved)

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." In 2 Timothy 4:7, Saint Paul offers the words that all Christians hope to be able to say at the end of their lives. The Christian Faith is not something we do on Sunday; it is something that we need to live every moment of every day.

The world offers many distractions, however, especially at those times, such as Lent, when we are trying our best to conform our lives to Christ. And so, for our novena for February 25 through March 4, I have chosen A Prayer To Saint Paul for Perseverance. Like the Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, this is a good prayer not only for a Lenten novena, but for every day of Lent.

Pray it not only for yourself, but for someone you care about. As Christians, we all travel our path through this world together, and just as we know we need extra support during Lent, so, too, do our friends and family.

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Statue of Saint Anthony of Padua in the Church of San Crisogono in Trastevere, Rome.
Statue of Saint Anthony of Padua holding the Christ Child in the Church of San Crisogono in Trastevere, Rome. (Photo by Scott P. Richert)

"Did you pray to Saint Anthony?" Most of us Catholics who are of a certain age heard those words over and over again, if not from our parents, at least from our grandparents. My grandmother, it seemed, was always looking for any reason to recommend a prayer to Saint Anthony to find something that was lost.

Saint Anthony of Padua, a doctor of the Church, received his reputation as a divine lost-and-found because of the wonders that he worked both in his life and after it. Our novena for February 16 through February 24 recalls those miracles; in A Novena to Saint Anthony for Any Need, we don't ask the good saint to help us find a lost item, but to obtain for us the graces that we need to live a Christian life. As we enter the first full week of Lent, this novena is especially appropriate if we find, as we so often do, that our determination is flagging.

More on Saint Anthony the Wonderworker

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Pope Benedict XVI at Lourdes

February 11 is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which celebrates the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Over the course of five months, until July 16, 1858, the Mother of God appeared to Saint Bernadette 18 times, declaring, on one visit, that "I am the Immaculate Conception!" On another, she told Saint Bernadette to drink from a fountain, which instantly appeared in the grotto where the apparitions took place. For over a century and a half, pilgrims to Lourdes have been miraculously healed by contact with the fountain's waters.

In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I have chosen a Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes as our novena for February 2 to February 10.

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9 Days for Life Logo
9 Days for Life Logo. (© USCCB)

To mark the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring 9 Days for Life, January 16-24, 2015. Billed as "nine days of prayer, penance and pilgrimage," 9 Days for Life is the USCCB's effort to bring to an end the conditions that have resulted in the deaths of over 57 million unborn children since January 22, 1973.

The centerpiece of the 9 Days for Life campaign is the 9 Days for Life Novena, which features intercessions, prayers, reflections, and acts of reparation for each day.

You can find all nine days of the novena at the 9 Days for Life Novena, as well as information on the USCCB's 9 Days for Life iOS app, and how to receive the novena prayers by text message and email. And if you subscribe to my free About Catholicism newsletter, you will receive each day's prayers and resources in your inbox every morning.

Join the bishops, your fellow readers of the About Catholicism site, and millions of Catholics nationwide as we pray for an end to the destruction of the unborn and for healing for all of those affected by abortion.

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Procrastination
Procrastination. John Lund/Getty Images

Our novena for January 5 through January 13 is perfect as we enter a New Year. Saint Expeditus is the patron saint of, among others, procrastinators! In the Introduction to the Novena to Saint Expeditus, you can find out why. Our prayer intention for this novena is that God will grant us the graces we need to make this year a better one spiritually than the last.

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Saint Andrew Mosaic, Basilica of Sant Vitale
Clipeus with St Andrew's image, mosaic, intrados of the arch at the entrance to the presbytery, Basilica of San Vitale (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1996), Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna. Italy, 6th century. De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

Christmas is coming, and one of the most popular Advent customs is the praying of the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena. While a novena is technically a nine-day prayer, the term is often used for any prayer that is repeated over a series of days—in this case, every day from November 30, the Feast of Saint Andrew, to December 24, Christmas Eve.

The Saint Andrew Christmas Novena is an unusual in another way, too: It consists of a single prayer that is prayed, not once each day, but 15 times. You don't have to do all 15 repetitions at one sitting, however; you could, for instance, say the prayer five times after each meal.

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Statue of Archbishop John Carroll in front of Healy Hall at Georgetown University.
Statue of Archbishop John Carroll in front of Healy Hall inside the front gates of Georgetown University, sculpted by Jerome Connor. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons © Patrickneil; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons © Patrickneil; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

On November 10, 1791, the first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, wrote a beautiful prayer to be recited in parishes throughout his diocese. A cousin of Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Archbishop Carroll understood the necessary role that religion plays in guaranteeing political order, and that role is expressed in the very structure of his Prayer for Government.

The prayer begins with an acknowledgment of the central role of the Church before asking God to guide our political leaders and our fellow citizens. It ends with a prayer for the repose of the souls of all those who have gone before us—an appropriate reminder in November, the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, that our obligation to our fellow man does not end with his death.

As we in the United States prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I have chosen Archbishop Carroll's Prayer for Government as our novena for November 17 through November 25.

More on Thanksgiving

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The Presentation of the Virgin Mary
The Presentation of the Virgin Mary, Codex of Predis (1476), Royal Library, Turin, Italy. Prisma/UIG/Getty Images

Too often lost in the hustle and bustle surrounding Thanksgiving, the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on November 21. The feast parallels that of the Presentation of the Lord, when Christ was presented by His mother and Saint Joseph in the Temple at Jerusalem. In this case, the Blessed Virgin's parents, Saints Joachim and Anna, dedicated her to God, at the age of three, in thanksgiving for ending their years of childlessness. According to tradition, Mary then stayed of her own accord at the Temple until the age of 12, when she was betrothed to the foster father of Christ.

As we prepare to celebrate this feast, I have chosen A Novena for the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as our novena for November 12 through November 20.

More on the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Saint Charles Borromeo with Saints Anthony of Padua and Francis of Paola
Saint Charles Borromeo with Saints Anthony of Padua (l) and Francis of Paola (r). Mondadori Portfolio/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images

St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84) was one of the towering figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This cardinal-archbishop's zeal for the Catholic Faith and Catholic education was matched by his humility and his personal care for plague victims in Milan in 1576-77.

I have chosen a Novena to St. Charles Borromeo for our novena from October 27 through November 4 (Saint Charles's feast day). If you have no personal request for this week's novena, consider offering it for the cause of Christian unity.

St. Charles Borromeo, filled with zeal for Christ and His Church, pray for us!

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Pope Francis Consecration
Pope Francis elevates the Host during the Consecration at a papal Mass.

September 22 marks the start of Pope Francis's apostolic visit to the United States. In his six days here (from September 22 through September 27), he will visit Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia. The Holy Father will meet with President Obama, canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, address Congress and the United Nations, and hold a massive outdoor Mass in Philadelphia that over two million people are expected to attend.

It would be a grueling itinerary for a much younger man, and for that reason—let alone concerns over security and tensions with U.S. political leaders of both parties—Pope Francis needs our prayers. And so I've chosen this Prayer for the Pope, written by Pope Leo XIII, as our novena for September 22 through September 30.

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The Sign of the Cross
A postcard of a mother teaching her child to make the Sign of the Cross. Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Across the United States, children are starting to return to school, and mothers are enduring the final stresses and strains of the summer. On August 27, we will celebrate the feast of one mother who knew years of worry and anxiety for her son. Saint Monica put all of that worry into prayer, and her prayers were answered: Her son, Augustine, became a saint and a doctor of the Church.

So, from August 18 through August 26 (the eve of Saint Monica's feast day), let us keep all mothers in our prayers, so that they may have the strength and grace to bring their children to Christ and to protect them through prayer from the perils that await them in the world outside their homes.

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The Immaculate Heart of Mary
The Immaculate Heart of Mary. Doug Nelson/E+/Getty Images

In the month of August, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Catholics reflect on the Blessed Virgin's complete submission to the will of God. Mary is the model of Christian life; if we were to live our lives as she did, we would be assured of our place in heaven.

That's why Catholics have such a great devotion to Mary. We do not worship her; nor, for that matter, do we revere her for her own sake. Like all saints, the Mother of God points the way to Christ. She just does it more completely than any other saint, and we venerate her for that.

And so, as we prepare to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I have chosen this Prayer of Intercession to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as our novena from August 11 through August 19. This long but very beautiful prayer draws us to Christ through Mary.

More on the Immaculate Heart of Mary

More on the Assumption

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An icon of Saint John the Baptist. (Photo by flickr user KLMircea)
A mosaic icon of Saint John the Baptist in Vladimireşti Monastery, Hanu Conachi, Galati, Rumania. (Photo by flickr user KLMircea; licensed under Creative Commons-Some rights reserved)

June 24 is the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. The cousin of Christ, Saint John was the final prophet who called on the Jews to "prepare the way of the Lord."

Christians rarely celebrate saints' births; the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist (and our Lord, of course) are the exceptions. And so, to prepare for this great feast, I have selected A Prayer in Honor of Saint John the Baptist as our novena for June 16 through June 24.

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Saints in Stained Glass
Saints in Stained Glass.

The Litany of the Saints may seem like an odd choice for our novena of the week, but there are three good reasons why I have chosen it. First, this novena will run from April 24 to May 2, the eve of the Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles. Like all of the apostles, Philip and James are mentioned in the Litany of the Saints.

Second, April 25 is the major Rogation Day, an ancient celebration from the liturgical calendar when it was revised in 1969 at the introduction of the Novus Ordo. Parishes can still celebrate the Rogation Days if they wish, and the major Rogation Day is often marked in Europe with a parish procession. That procession begins with—you guessed it—the Litany of the Saints. (April 25 also happens to be the Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist, who is, of course, mentioned in the Litany of the Saints.)

Third, while the Litany of the Saints can be recited alone, it, like all litanies, was intended to be recited with others. So if you've been praying the novena of the week privately and have wanted to get your family or friends to join you in the practice, here is your opportunity. Tell them that you need their help in praying the novena this week, and, while you're at it, explain to them why I chose this particular novena.

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Eucharistic chapel, National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, MN. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament or eucharistic chapel in the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

The Catholic Church devotes the month of April to the Blessed Sacrament, Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist that we receive at Mass and that is reserved in the tabernacles of every Catholic Church worldwide. The bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, and they remain so even after Mass has ended, which is why the Precious Blood must be consumed rather than discarded, and the remaining Hosts must be reserved for future consumption.

Sadly, though, too many Catholics today do not understand the Real Presence. It should be obvious from the practice of reserving the Host: If the bread remained bread, and only served as a symbol of the Body of Christ, or if the Host reverted to bread after Mass ends, there would be no point in placing the Host in the tabernacle. And yet, for some reason, some Catholics do not make that connection (and, even worse, their priests do not make it for them).

That Real Presence of Christ should be both a source of wonder and a consolation for us. The fact that our senses cannot perceive the Body of Christ beneath the accidents of the bread is a vivid reminder that there is more to life than that which we can see, hear, touch, feel, and taste. And the willingness of Christ to remain with us—not simply in soul, but in body—is a reminder that His Incarnation sanctified the world, assuming humanity into the Godhead, as the Athanasian Creed attests. God and man were joined in unity in Jesus Christ; they remain joined in the Blessed Sacrament, the reception of which unites us to God.

And so, for our novena from April 17 through April 25, I have chosen a beautiful prayer, For the Peace of Christ, by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Beginning with an acknowledgment of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the prayer asks the Sacred Heart of Jesus to purify our hearts and to fill them with His presence, so that we will be always at peace.

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Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius

During Holy Week, there is really only one choice for the Novena of the Week: the Divine Mercy novena. The Divine Mercy novena began as a private devotion which Our Lord revealed to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Our Lord asked Saint Faustina to recite the novena starting on Good Friday and ending on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, the Octave of Easter (the Sunday after Easter Sunday). The words of the prayers were dictated by Christ Himself to Saint Faustina, and Saint Faustina recorded in her diary Our Lord's instructions for each day's prayer.

Pope John Paul II had a great devotion to Saint Faustina, whom he canonized in 2000, and to the Divine Mercy, and over the past decade, the practice of the Divine Mercy novena has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2011, on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI presided at the beatification of Pope John Paul II; on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, Pope Francis presided over the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. That makes participation in the Divine Mercy Novena all the more significant.

More on the Divine Mercy

More on the Beatification and Canonization of Pope John Paul II

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March is the Month of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ. And what better way to celebrate than with a Novena to Saint Joseph?

March 19 is the Feast of Joseph, so the novena traditionally begins on March 10, in order to complete it on March 18, the eve of the feast.

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Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window
A stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit overlooking the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica. Franco Origlia/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Those who are familiar with this week's novena might find it a bit out of place. The Novena to the Holy Ghost is, we might say, the "mother of all novenas." For centuries, Catholics have prayed it between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday in memory of the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles spent in prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

But the novena can be prayed at any time of the year, and I like the idea of praying it in preparation for Lent. That's why I've chosen it for our novena for February 10 through February 18 (Ash Wednesday). By asking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we not only show our commitment to the spiritual struggle of the coming 40 days, but we also call to mind those areas of our spiritual life in which we need to place the most effort. And what better time to take stock of our spiritual lives?

To make it easier to remember to pray the novena each day, I have set up a daily reminder e-mail. Simply click on the link below to sign up, and you will receive an e-mail each day with the links to that day's prayers.

More on the Holy Ghost

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The Holy Family, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Decatur, GA. (© flickr user andycoan; CC BY 2.0)
Icon of the Holy Family in the Adoration Chapel, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Decatur, GA. (Photo © flickr user andycoan; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

February has traditionally been designated by the Catholic Church as the Month of the Holy Family, a time for Catholics to practice a special devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the perfect model for our own family life.

These days, when even the best of families find it hard to spend enough time together, it helps to remind ourselves that even the Son of God needed a mother and a father on earth. The two greatest gifts that we can give our children are life and eternal life, in the form of faith.

That's why I've chosen the Novena to the Holy Family as our novena for February 4 through February 12. This traditional novena reminds us that our family is the primary classroom in which we learn the truths of the Catholic Faith. If we imitate the Holy Family, our family life will always be in conformity with the teachings of the Church, and it will serve as a shining example to others of how to live the Christian Faith.

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Virgin-of-the-Immaculate-Conception-1500.jpg

This Prayer of Pope Pius XII was composed by the Holy Father in 1954, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by his predecessor, Pope Pius IX. Theologically rich, this prayer calls to mind the great gifts that God granted to the Mother of His Son, from the moment of her conception to her Assumption and Coronation as Queen of Heaven.

This prayer is especially appropriate during Advent, not only because the The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falls during this time, but because the fifth verse of the prayer recalls the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the Scripture Reading for the First Sunday in Advent: "Convert the wicked, dry the tears of the afflicted and oppressed, comfort the poor and humble, quench hatreds . . . "

Pope Pius XII thus reminds us that Mary always points us toward her Son. Her life was the perfect model of Christian charity; if we wish to draw closer to Christ, how can we do better than to live our lives as the Mother of God lived hers?

And so I have chosen the Prayer of Pope Pius XII in Honor of the Immaculate Conception as our novena for December 9 through December 17.

More on the Immaculate Conception

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Mother Cabrini
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), known as Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to be canonized. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was canonized in 1946. (Photo c. 1900.). Archive Photos/Getty Images

November 13 is the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American saint, who is much beloved on three continents (Europe, North America, and South America) for her dedication to the health and education of the poor (particularly Italian immigrants). Founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and friend of Pope Leo XIII, Mother Cabrini (as she was known) overcame her own physical weakness through the strength of her faith.

And so, as we prepare for the celebration of her feast, I have chosen A Novena to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as our novena for November 4 through November 12.

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Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls From Purgatory
Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory. Scenes from the Life of Saint Lawrence, predella, ca. 1412. Found in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

With November, the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, rapidly approaching, it's time to begin to prepare for All Souls Day. And so, for October 24 through November 1, I have chosen A Novena for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, an 18th-century bishop and doctor of the Church.

More Prayers by St. Alphonsus Liguori

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St. Anthony Mary Claret Chapel
St. Anthony Mary Claret chapel in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

October 24 is the feast day of St. Anthony Mary Claret, a devout and zealous 19th-century bishop. Through his apostolic works, including the founding of the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Claretians), St. Anthony Mary Claret brought about many conversions in a time of increasing irreligion. Since the saint himself received many miraculous cures during his lifetime (including the immediate healing of a gaping wound in his side after he prayed to the Blessed Virgin), it is not surprising that, after his death, novenas directed to St. Anthony Mary Claret have been associated with physical healing.

And so, as we prepare to celebrate his feast, I have chosen a Novena to St. Anthony Mary Claret as our novena for October 15 through October 23. You can pray it for yourself or for another, and for the healing of soul or body (or both).

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November is known as the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but as fall comes on strong in October, our thoughts naturally turn to those whom time has borne away.

October 17 is the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist who was martyred in the Colosseum in Rome in the year 107 or 108. While most Catholics are aware that veneration of the saints began in the Apostolic Age, too many of us think that our Protestant friends are right when they say that prayer for the dead is a later development.

Yet Saint Ignatius, on the road from Syria to his own martyrdom in Rome, is said to have composed a prayer for the dead that clearly implies belief in what would come to be known as Purgatory. As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Saint Ignatius, I have chosen that Prayer for the Dead as our novena for October 8 through October 16.

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The Catholic Church has traditionally dedicated the month of September to Our Lady of Sorrows. What better way to mark this month than with the beautiful and moving Sorrowful Mother Novena?

The Sorrowful Mother Novena is both a meditation on the role that Mary played in our salvation and a plea for her intercession so that we may imitate her example in following Christ her Son. Each verse of the novena recalls one event of sorrow in Mary's life and asks for her intercession so that we may develop a particular virtue. Each verse, too, asks for a particular gift of the Holy Spirit; the seven verses cover all seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

We commemorate Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Through these back-to-back celebrations, we can see how intimately Mary's sufferings are tied to those of her Son. While normally, this novena is prayed in preparation for the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, this year we will pray it starting on September 15 and ending on September 23.

More Prayers to Our Lady of Sorrows

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Detail of Virgin Mary Statue. Paris.
Detail of Virgin Mary statue, Paris, Ile de France, France. Godong/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

September 12 is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. Added to the Roman calendar in 1684 by Pope Innocent XI, the feast commemorates the intercession of the Mother of God in the Battle of Vienna (September 11-12, 1683), during which the Polish King John III Sobieski placed his troops under Mary's patronage. The Battle of Vienna marked the end of the Ottoman Turk advance into Europe, and the beginning of the Christian recovery of Southeastern Europe.

While the feast was removed from the Roman calendar with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo in 1969, Pope John Paul II, in honor of both the Blessed Virgin and his countryman, restored the feast to the calendar in 2002. It is interesting to note that the Holy Father restored the feast after the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which took place on the 318th anniversary of the Battle of Vienna. (The date, some scholars argue, may have been chosen by Osama bin Laden for that very reason.)

And so, as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, I have chosen a beautiful Litany of the Holy Name of Mary as our novena for September 3 through September 11.

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The Dormition, Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, Homer Glen, IL. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
An icon of the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God, written by Fr. Thomas Loya, at the Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, IL. Scott P. Richert

August 15 is the Assumption of Mary, the greatest of all Marian feasts. While the Immaculate Conception was a particular honor accorded by God to Mary in His foreknowledge of her response to the Annunciation of the Lord, the Assumption is a foretaste of the resurrection of the dead and of the gloried bodies that the Lord will grant all those found worthy at the Final Judgment.

The Assumption is also one of the oldest Marian feasts, which surprises even some Catholics, since the declaration of the dogma of the Assumption did not occur until 1950. But Pope Pius XII declared the dogma in response to declining belief among Christians in Mary's Assumption; he was upholding tradition when it came under attack, not contradicting or adding to it.

In addition to his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus, which sets forth both the dogma of the Assumption and the scriptural and traditional evidence for the belief, Pius XII wrote a beautiful Prayer In Honor of the Assumption. As we prepare for the celebration of this Holy Day of Obligation on August 15, I have chosen Pope Pius's prayer as our novena for August 6—the Transfiguration of the Lord—through August 14.

More on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Saint Dominic by Botticelli
'Saint Dominic', 1490s. Botticelli, Sandro (1445-1510). Found in the collection of the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

August 8 is the feast of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans. While most Catholics are at least familiar with the greatest of the Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas, their knowledge of Saint Dominic himself may be confined to the story that the Blessed Virgin Mary delivered the most famous of Catholic devotions, the rosary, to him. Saint Dominic used the events in the life of Christ that make up the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries of the rosary in his preaching in the south of France against the Albigensian heretics, who (among many other errors) denied the divinity of Christ.

The Albigensians attracted followers because of their strict asceticism, and Saint Dominic believed that the only way to combat the heresy, and to bring the Albigensians back to the True Faith, was to live the Christian life to the fullest: "Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth." The Dominicans, like the Franciscans, brought an apostolic fervor to a Church that had become, perhaps, a little too complacent—a problem faced by Christians throughout the ages, and the source, all too often, of heresies that promise a stricter morality.

As we prepare for the feast of Saint Dominic, I have chosen A Prayer to Saint Dominic as our novena for July 30 through August 7. In it, we ask the great saint to intercede for us, that we may be granted the virtues that he embodied: penance, purity, fidelity, and charity toward all those who have fallen into sin and fallen away from the True Faith.

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Mosaic of Mary, Queen of Heaven from a church in Rome, Italy. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
Mosaic of Mary, Queen of Heaven from a church in Rome, Italy. The iconography is very traditionally Byzantine. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

August 1 is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, a bishop and doctor of the Church. Born in 1696, Saint Alphonsus founded the Redemptorist order (the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) and became known as the most brilliant moral theologian of the modern age—which is why, in 1950, he was named patron saint of moral theologians.

Saint Alphonsus' writings were many and varied, ranging well beyond moral theology. They included this beautiful Petition to Mary that I have chosen as our novena for July 23 through July 31. In this prayer, we hear echoes of both the Hail Mary and the Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina).

More Prayers by St. Alphonsus Liguori

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St. Camillus de Lellis. (Public domain)
St. Camillus de Lellis. (Public domain)

In his first year, Pope Francis has spoken much about the poor. While some have treated this as something new, the Church, following Her Founder and Head, has always been concerned with the poor—both the poor in spirit and in body (see The Beatitudes). If Pope Francis's language is more direct, it is, nonetheless, nothing new.

Concern for the poor shines through in the lives of many saints. On July 18, here in the United States (July 14 in the rest of the world), we will celebrate the feast of St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron saint saint of the sick poor. In poor health himself for most of his life, Saint Camillus pursued ordination to the priesthood so that he could found a religious order, the Clerks Regular, Ministers to the Sick, which, as the Camillians, continues to exist today.

And so, for July 9 through July 17, I have chosen a Prayer to St. Camillus de Lellis as our novena of the week. Even if you're not in the United States (and thus would celebrate this feast on July 14), you can join in this novena with your fellow readers of About Catholicism; while it is traditional to pray novenas to end on the eve of a saint's feast, they can be prayed at any time during the year.

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Saint Benedict in Glory
Saint Benedict in Glory. DEA/A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

As the cultural tide in the United States shifts away from Christianity, the traditional freedoms of Christians here have come under attack. From the contraception mandate to future attempts by the state to force churches to recognize "gay marriages," cultural decline has preceded the loss of our political freedoms. In the midst of this turmoil, we may be tempted to think of these attacks on Christianity and the freedom of Christians as unprecedented, but the Church and the faithful have survived much worse over the centuries. As Christ promised Saint Peter, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; She will remain until the end of time, while oppressive governments will pass away.

Still, Christ's promise cannot be cause for complacency and inaction. We are called to spread the Gospel, even at the cost of the shedding of our own blood. If cultural and political decline means that we are entering a new Dark Age—the name given to the early medieval period when Roman order collapsed under the relentless assault from barbarians—then we need to look to Christian examples from that first Dark Age. And so, for July 2 through July 10, I have chosen a Novena to Saint Benedict, whose feast day is July 11, as our novena of the week. The patron saint of Europe and the father of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict knew what it was like to live in a time of cultural decline—and his prayer and actions set the stage for the rise of medieval Christendom.

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July 5 is the Feast of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502-39), an important saint of whom you've likely never heard. Saint Anthony might well have liked it that way: What was most important for him was not personal fame or position—a noble by birth, he chose to study medicine and to enter the priesthood, dedicating his life to the healing of bodies and souls—by spreading the Gospel of Christ. Saint Anthony was particularly devoted to the spirituality of Saint Paul, to the Eucharist, and to Christ Crucified.

In the early decades of the 16th century, especially in Italy, the Catholic Church was under attack. Saint Anthony understood that the best way—the only way—for the Church to withstand those attacks was for her to reform herself, starting with the clergy and the Catholic laity. Saint Anthony founded three orders, all dedicated to the spirituality of Saint Paul and to reform: the Congregation of Clerks Regular of St. Paul (commonly known as the Barnabites), the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul, and the Laity of St. Paul (known in the United States as the Oblates of St. Paul).

The message of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria speaks to our time as well as his: The best defense against attacks on the Church is constant reform and renewal from within. As we pray for the Church, we need also to strengthen our own spiritual life.

And so, for June 26 through July 4, I have chosen the Novena to St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria as our novena of the week. Written by Fr. Robert B. Kosek, CRSP, and Sr. Rorivic P. Israel, ASP, this novena is nine days of prayer focused on spiritual growth. Each day consists of a common opening and closing prayer, as well as prayers and readings for that particular day, drawn from the writings of Saint Paul and Saint Anthony.

To make it easier to remember to pray the novena every day, I have set up a free daily e-mail reminder for the Novena to St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria. Simply sign up for it on June 26, and you will receive an e-mail each day with links to that day's prayers, and to related articles.

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