Below We have reproduced two instructions on Novenas. The first is from Saint Alphonsus and the second is from an almost century old spiritual manual. Many think of a Novena as a series of nine days of prayers from a booklet or prayer book. This takes all of three to five minutes a day and nothing further is thought about the Novena.Let us consider the first Novena, which was prescribed by Jesus Himself for Mary and the Apostles, lasting from His Ascension until Pentecost. Let us read the following from Goffine, which will give us an idea how we should observe Novenas:
Instruction on Preparation For Pentecost
1). We should withdraw, after the example of the Blessed Virgin and the apostles, to some solitary place, or at least avoid, intercourse with others, as much as possible; speak but little, and apply ourselves to earnest and persevering prayer; for in solitude God speaks to man.
2). We should purify our conscience by a contrite confession, become reconciled to our neighbor, it we have lived in enmity; for the Holy Ghost, as a spirit of peace and purity, lives only in pure and peaceful souls. (Ps. IXXV. 3.)
3). We should give alms according to our means, for it is said in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts X.) of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, that by prayer and alms-deeds he made himself worthy of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
4). We should fervently desire to receive the Holy Ghost, and should give expression to this longing by frequent aspirations to God, making use of the prayer: “Come, O Holy Ghost, etc.”
Return to Commentary
For nine days from the Ascension to Pentecost Mary and the Apostles retired to the upper room to pray and prepare for the coming of the Holy Ghost. And by prayer we do not mean a simple Rosary or even a short mediation. Their whole life was a life of prayer for those nine days, as far as duty would allow. No worldly distractions. Saint Alphonsus recommends: “But better than all others are the practices in these Novenas of internal mortifications, as abstaining from the indulgence of curiosity, either through the eye or the ear; remaining retired and silent;” If we wish to hear the voice of God, we must retire from the noise of the world, which today bombards us from all sides. Indeed we should lay aside all curiosity and take the roll of Mary Magdalene and seek the one thing important through meditation, spiritual reading and prayer. And when we can no longer meditate, read or pray, let us rest silently. It is time to go beyond the vocal prayers and get into the spirit of prayer and mortification, since prayer derives its power from mortification. Saint Jerome says: “The number nine in Holy Writ is indicative of suffering and grief.” A Novena is nine days of intense prayer, usually for some intention. Rev. Garrigou LaGrange says: “A meritorious work becomes satisfactory (or one of reparation and expiation) when there is something painful about it.” We can sum this up as no pain, no gain. If we wish to gain some favor for ourself or someone else, we must sacrifice something that causes us pain to give up. As The Catholic Encyclopedia says: the novena belongs to hopeful mourning, of yearning, of prayer.” Now what sacrifice is there is merely reciting a few prayers every day for nine days? No, sacrifice requires more from us in order to get God’s attention. He expects us to take things seriously. With all of this in mind, please read what follows from Saint Alphonsus and from Fr. Girardey. Notice that Saint Alphonsus never mentions any set form of prayers. Even the Raccolta does not prescribe any set prayers for most Novenas. Let us take this example: “The faithful who devoutly offer some prayers in honor of the Nativity, Presentation, Annunciation, Visitation, Expectation, Purification or Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at any season of the year, with the intention of continuing these prayers for nine days are granted an indulgence of five years on each day; a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions at the close of novena.”
For the whole instruction download below.