February 27, 2022 Essay: Novena of Grace

Feb 22, 2022

One day a Franciscan and a Jesuit were standing in front of a church. A man from the parish walked up to them and said, “Fathers, I’ve been having some car troubles. Would you please say a novena for my Maserati?” Both priests paused and exchanged confused looks. The Franciscan asked, “What’s a Maserati?” The Jesuit asked, “What’s a novena?”

Fortunately, we here at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola suffer from no such confusion. From March 4th-12th we will be celebrating the Novena of Grace of St. Francis Xavier. First, a few words on the patron of the novena. After meeting Ignatius of Loyola while studying at the University of Paris, Francis Xavier became one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus. He is best known for his missionary voyages to India and Japan. His goal was to spread the Gospel in China, but he died on a small island just off the coast of his desired destination.

Next, a word on what “novena” means. A novena is a series of prayers over nine days in which each participant prays for a particular grace or gift from God. The Novena of St. Francis Xavier goes back to the seventeenth century and has been widely practiced throughout the world.

The impetus for our celebration of the novena at this particular time is similarly historic. Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola (along with Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, and Isidore the Farmer) were canonized on March 12th, 1622. Our Novena will conclude on the 400th anniversary of this great celebration. Additionally, the Society of Jesus throughout the world is celebrating an Ignatian Year, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ conversion on May 20th, 1521, as well as the canonization of two of our founders. The Novena of Grace is one way in which we here at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola are celebrating these momentous events in the life of the Church and the world.

You can find the schedule for the novena on the prayer cards available in the church, as well as on the parish website (schedule link). I’m sure you will recognize the names of many of the people offering reflections on the various days of the novena. All of our speakers have been working very hard to prepare their reflections on the life and legacy of St. Francis Xavier, Ignatian spirituality, and how these themes have impacted their own lives. On Saturday, March 5th, Sunday, March 6th, and Saturday, March 12th, the novena prayers will be included as part of Mass. On Tuesday, March 8th, Fr. Hilbert will preside at a penance service. All other days of the novena will feature a prayer service with a reading, a reflection, music, and benediction.

In speaking with various members of the parish over the last few weeks, I have heard many people remark that they aren’t particularly familiar with what a novena is or how it works. If you find yourself in a similar position, that is totally fine! Whether you’ve been praying novenas for your entire life or you’re just coming across the word “novena” for the first time right now, you are cordially invited to join! In the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel, “Come and see.” For nine days we will gather for prayer as we seek the graces we need and desire, uniting our petitions with those of one another, those throughout the world who pray the Novena of Grace, and our great saints, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier. St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!

– Fr. Daniel Gustafson, S.J.