One of the things that attracts both Catholics and non-Catholics in Lent is the season of penance and atonement. For many, this comes in the form of abstaining from a vice, like chocolate, caffeine, or excess television. For others, it may come in the form of doing more of something good, such as volunteering or almsgiving.
For many Americans today, though, Lent is seen mostly as a challenge. Can I survive going without something I crave or desire? Can I show that I can defeat what ails me? This mentality fits the ultra-competitive nature of what we now see in today’s society. However, just like today’s society, many will retreat back to old habits once the challenge is over. This defeats the purpose of the Lenten season, since the motivation to improve our lives was based on our own selfish desires and not the desire and will of Christ.
As such, I would like to challenge you this Lent to look to improve in your spiritual life beyond Lent. Think of it as a Lenten+ promise. One way you can do that is to start a 54 day Novena.
The word “novena” comes from the Latin for “nine.” A novena involves saying a set of prayers, typically a rosary, for 9 days for a particular intercession, perhaps for yourself or maybe for someone else. The 54 day novena is really a series of six novenas said consecutively for the same favor. The first 3 novenas are said for a particular petition, while the final 3 novenas are said in thanksgiving for the petition, even if the petition has not yet been granted. The traditional novena involves rotating the mysteries said on the rosary each day, i.e. Joyful on Day 1, Sorrowful on Day 2, Glorious on Day 3, Joyful on Day 4, etc.
If one were to start the 54 day novena today (February 2), they would end the 54 day novena on March 26, which this year is Easter Vigil. Or, you can start on Ash Wednesday of each year and end on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday following Easter Sunday. Either way, as Catholics, we believe in Mary’s intercessory power as she is Jesus’ Beloved Mother, and are reminded as such in the Memorare:
“Oh most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins my Mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.”
If you would like a guide for how to more fully pray the 54 day Novena, the Knights of Divine Mercy in Madison, Wisconsin have provided a great resource online for the novena, including extra prayers and a history of the novena.