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Nine Days of Prayer


(Ascension to Pentecost)

In the Acts of the Apostles we have the summary account of the Ascension, being told that ‘for forty days he [Jesus] had continued to appear to them’ (1:3).

We are then told that from the Mount of Olives, as it is called, they went back to Jerusalem, a short distance away, no more than a Sabbath walk; and when they reached the city they went to the upper room where they were staying; there were Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude son of James. All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.(1:12-14).

This gathering in prayer by Mary and the Apostles between the Ascension and Pentecost is, if you will, the ‘proto-novena’ of the Church. It offers us that pattern of prayer conducted for a period of nine days usually preceding an important feast or festival.

So it is, then, a long-standing tradition of the Church that a novena is made each year between the Feasts of Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, and there are many examples of Novenas to the Holy Spirit.

We will be familiar with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, those infused graces poured directly into our hearts by God:

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. [C.C.C. §1830]

and are drawn from a passage in the Old Testament:

On him the Spirit of the Lord rests,

a spirit of wisdom and insight,

a spirit of counsel and power,

a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)

As well as the gifts, we speak, too, both of the fruits and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Scripture speaks of nine fruits:

What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.

(Galatians 5:22)

Tradition and differing translations of scripture add three more to this list – generosity, modesty and chastity – giving twelve fruits of the Spirit. The gifts and fruits are in a sense personal; the nine charisms are more directly for the benefit of the community:

The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose. One may have the gift of preaching with wisdom given him by the Spirit; another may have the gift of preaching instruction given him by the same Spirit; and another the gift of faith given by the same Spirit; another again the gift of healing, through this one Spirit; one, the power of miracles; another, prophecy; another the gift of recognising spirits; another the gift of tongues and another the ability to interpret them. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, who distributes different gifts to different people just as he chooses.

(1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Given that a novena from its very name, novem, lasts for nine days it is common to find a Novena to the Holy Spirit based on the nine fruits or nine charisms.

* * * * *

You might choose to offer your entire novena for a particular intention. You decide: but, if you need a suggestion, remember that this time of year is particularly associated with the completion of sacramental preparation programmes. Under normal circumstances many parish communities would be preparing to celebrate First Eucharist / First Holy Communion with their children and Confirmation with their teenagers. Such sacramental preparation has been interrupted this year so we might remember those who had been preparing for the sacraments and those who were preparing them, their parents and their catechists.

We could start each day with the familiar prayer to the Holy Spirit:

A./ Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful …

R/. … and kindle in them the fire of your love.

A/. Send forth your Spirit, and they will be created …

R/. … and you will renew the face of the earth.

and then spend some moments asking for the grace in our lives of whatever particular gift is designated for the day. It would be very easy to find a verse appropriate to the day’s subject in the Psalms but as Pentecost is essentially a New Testament event, the short verses or passages offered below are drawn mainly from the Epistles:

ASCENSION (Thursday 21st May)

DAY 1 (Friday 22nd May) – LOVE (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

DAY 2 (Saturday 23rd May) – JOY (1 Peter 1:8-9)

DAY 3 (Sunday 24th May) – PEACE (John 14:27)

DAY 4 (Monday 25th May) – PATIENCE (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

DAY 5 (Tuesday 26th May) – KINDNESS (Ephesians 4:32)

DAY 6 (Wednesday 27th May) – GOODNESS (Galatians 6:10)

DAY 7 (Thursday 28th May) – TRUSTFULNESS (2 Timothy 2:15)

DAY 8 (Friday 29th May) – GENTLENESS (Galatians 6:1)

DAY 9 (Saturday 30th May) – SELF-CONTROL (2 Peter 1:5-7)

PENTECOST (Sunday 31st May)

Picking up from the introductory antiphon, the following may be offered each day at the conclusion of your own prayers:

O God who enlightens the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant to us the same Spirit, that we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

or another popular prayer to include is part of the prayer composed by Pope St John XXIII in preparation for the Second Vatican Council:

[Heavenly Father,] renew in our own days your miracles like a second Pentecost. Grant that the Church, re-united in prayer, may extend the kingdom of Jesus – a kingdom of truth and justice, of love and peace. Amen.

and perhaps on the final day of your Novena use as a conclusion the following, more traditional but somewhat lengthy prayer, in anticipation of the Feast of Pentecost:

O Holy Spirit, O my God, I adore you, and acknowledge, here in your divine presence, that I am nothing and can do nothing without you. Come, great Paraclete, father of the poor, comforter the best, fulfil the promise of our blessed Saviour, who would not leave us orphans, and come into the mind and the heart of your poor, unworthy creature, as you did descend on the sacred day of Pentecost on the holy Mother of Jesus and on his first disciples. Grant that I may participate in those gifts, which you did communicate to them so wonderfully, and with so much mercy and generosity. Take from my heart whatever is not pleasing to you, and make of it a worthy dwelling-place for yourself. Illumine my mind, that I may see and understand the things that are for my eternal good. Inflame my heart with pure love of you, that I may be cleansed from the dross of all inordinate attachments, and that my whole life may be hidden with Jesus in God. Strengthen my will, that I may be made conformable to your divine will, and be guided by your holy inspirations. Aid me by your grace to practice the divine lessons of humility, poverty, obedience, and contempt of the world, which Jesus taught us in his moral life. Oh, rend the heavens, and come down, consoling Spirit! That inspired and encouraged by you, I may faithfully comply with the duties of my state, carry my daily cross most patiently, and endeavour to accomplish the divine will with the utmost perfection. Spirit of live! Spirit of purity! Spirit of peace! Sanctify my soul more and more, and give me that heavenly peace which the world cannot give. Bless our Holy Father the Pope, bless the Church, bless our bishops, our priests, all religious orders, and all the faithful, that they may be filled with the spirit of Christ and labour earnestly for the spread of his kingdom. O Holy Spirit, Giver of every good and perfect gift, grant me, I beseech you, the intentions of this novena. May your will be done in me and through me. May you be praised and glorified forevermore!

Fr Alistair