What is a Novena?
In the Catholic Church, a novena is a devotion consisting of a prayer repeated on nine successive days, asking to obtain special graces. The prayers may come from short prayer books, recitation of the Rosary, or short prayers through the day. There are four recognized categories of novenae: those of mourning, preparation, prayer, and those which are indulgenced; however, a given novena can belong to more than one of these categories. Often, a special candle is lit at the beginning of the novena, which burns during the nine days of prayer.
The practice of saying novenas is derived from Scripture, but it was also influenced by Greek and Roman family or private practices of nine days of mourning, followed by a feast, after the death of a loved one.
According to Scripture, after Jesus' Ascension into heaven, he told his disciples to pray together in the upper room and devote themselves to constant prayer (Acts 1:14). Doctrine proposes that the Apostles, Blessed Virgin Mary, and other followers of Jesus prayed together for nine consecutive days, concluding in the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Though the novena is primarily a devotion used by members of the Catholic Church, it is also practiced by some Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran Christians.
Who is St. Peregrine?
Peregrine Laziosi was born of a wealthy family at Forli, Italy, in 1260. As a youth he was active in politics as a member of the anti-papal party. During one uprising, which the Pope sent St. Philip Benizi to mediate, Philip was struck in the face by Peregrine. When Philip offered the other cheek, Peregrine was so overcome that he repented and converted to Catholicism.
Following the instructions of the Virgin Mary received in a vision, Peregrine went to Siena and joined the Servites. It is believed that he never allowed himself to sit down for thirty years, while as far as possible, observing silence and solitude. Sometime later, Peregrine was sent to Forli to found a new house of the Servite Order. An ideal priest, he had a reputation for fervent preaching and being a good confessor. When he was afflicted with cancer of the foot and amputation had been decided upon, he spent the night before the operation, in prayer. The following morning he was completely cured. This miracle caused his reputation to become widespread.
He died in 1345 at the age of eighty-five, and he was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. St. Peregrine, like St. Paul, was in open defiance of the Church as a youth. Once given the grace of conversion he became one of the great saints of his time. His great fervor and qualities as a confessor brought many back to the true Faith. Afflicted with cancer, Peregrine turned to God and was richly rewarded for his Faith, enabling him over many years to lead others to the truth. He is the patron of cancer patients.
Who is Saint Monica?
The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a bitter person and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a difficult mother-in-law who lived in her home. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity.
Her son Augustine was a constant concern for Monica. He was brilliant and likable, however in his own words he “lived in a hissing cauldron of lust.” He refused to accept baptism and lived a passionate life with his mistress and before his conversion to faith he embraced a pagan lifestyle and detached himself from the Christian morals in which he was raised. For years, Monica prayed, fasted, and cried silently for Augustine.
God was listening. He heard and finally answered these prayers of this faithful mother. Augustine, abandoning his sinful ways, accepted baptism from St. Ambrose of Milan, on Easter Sunday, 387 AD. Augustine's mother, St. Monica, died shortly after at the age of 55, secure in the knowledge that her son had heard God's call and her work on earth was finished.
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Saint Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her family.
Many of us have loved ones who have experienced a loss of faith and we struggle with how to respond. God gave us Saint Monica as a spirit of selfless love manifested in her constant prayer for the conversion of her pagan husband, her mother-in-law, and, after thirty years of her persistent prayer, her son, St Augustine, became one of the greatest saints of the church. Whether a parent, friend, or relative we will draw strength and hope from each other as we pray this novena to Saint Monica.