by Fr. Jeff Loseke
Devotionally speaking, Pentecost marks the fulfillment of the original “novena” prayed by the early Church in anticipation of the promised Gift of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’
Resurrection, He spoke repeatedly to His Apostles about how He would send the Holy Spirit to remain with them after He ascended into heavenly glory. The Acts of the Apostles recounts how Mary, the Apostles, and other disciples returned to the upper room and remained there in prayer and supplication. The total number of days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday is nine. This is the reason the Church’s devotional novenas follow a similar nine-day model.
The purpose of a novena prayer is to teach us patience and perseverance in prayer. Too often we can be tempted to believe that God is not answering our prayers if we do not see “results” as expediently as we would like. Our prayers can easily turn from being supplications, whereby we attempt to conform our wills to God’s will, to demands, whereby we attempt to conform God’s will to our own. The discipline of the novena is more for us than it is for God: God hears and answers all our prayers, whether we pray for just one day or for 99 days. We, however, are always in need of learning how to pray as we ought. In a traditional novena, like the Apostles and Mary, we agree to wait for the working of the Spirit and to submit our desires to the will of God.
Unfortunately, the beautiful traditions of the Church are not free from human manipulation and error. The Evil One wants us to forget that the purpose of the novena prayer is to wait patiently for God to work in His own time, and so he tempts us to approach novenas in superstition, believing that the prayer will be magically answered according to our will at the conclusion of the nine days. Sadly, there are any number of unofficial prayers in print that are the result of such diabolical deception. Perhaps you’ve seen them: “This prayer has never been known to fail,” or “Make nine copies of this prayer and leave them in church for nine consecutive days and your prayers will be answered.” We can never forget that our repetition of prayers for any amount of time cannot force God’s hand. Likewise, the failure to carry out a novena perfectly cannot invalidate the prayers and petitions of a humble and contrite heart. When formulas become more important than our relationship with God and our trust in His mercy, then we find that we have turned from authentic devotion to empty superstition. The upcoming “original novena” between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost teaches us once again that Jesus always keeps His promises and that God’s will is always done. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!
The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska. Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha. In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.