The Perfect Novena to the Holy Spirit
It was on Monday or Tuesday of this past week that I started to see social media posts with links to novenas to the Holy Spirit. Initially I was disappointed in myself that I had missed this opportunity to pray the novena of all novenas – for it is from the nine (novem in Latin means “nine”) successive days of prayer in between the Ascension and Pentecost that gave birth to the various novenas we now have as popular devotions in the Catholic Church.
But then it occurred to me that praying the Liturgy of the Hours is the novena to the Holy Spirit par excellence. For as Sacred Liturgy, it is not only the perfect preparation for the Solemnity of Pentecost, but the very participation in the mystery of those nine days that the apostles “devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brethren (Acts 1:14).”
We begin to see this on the Friday after the Ascension when, after the introduction to the Invitatory (Lord open my lips…), the very first words of the Church’s prayer are “Come, let us adore Christ the Lord who promised to send the Holy Spirit on his people, alleluia.” It is as if the Church is calling us to wait upon the Holy Spirit in the confidence that Christ will make good on his promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18), but will “give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive” (vv. 16-17).
That day, the intercessions for Morning Prayer begin with the invitation “Christ ascended into heaven to send the Holy Spirit on the apostles. Let us join with one voice in praising him, and say, Send us your Spirit.” And from that point forward, the intercessions for both Morning and Evening Prayer place on our lips a constant plea for the Lord to send His Spirit upon the Church.
It is interesting to note that in between the Ascension and Pentecost, the proper readings, responsories, and antiphons for Morning Prayer are always reminding us that we are still in the Easter season, whereas the propers for Evening Prayer are focused strictly on the coming of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Church helps us to continue basking in the light of the resurrection and ascension of Christ all the while anticipating the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost. As the Church would have it, Morning and Evening Prayer hold us in the tension of a hope that is at once already fulfilled and not yet complete.
Nevertheless, I would like to share with you some examples of how the Church prepares us for Pentecost through the Liturgy of the Hours and thus provides us with the perfect Novena of the Holy Spirit.
After the Ascension, our readings for Evening Prayer include passages such as:
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through whom we cry out, “Abba!” (That is, “Father”). The spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God.(from Romans 8, Monday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.(from Romans, Tuesday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God(from 1 Corinthians, Thursday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
Live in accord with the spirit and you will not yield to the cravings of the flesh. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity. .Since we live by the spirit, let us follow the spirit’s lead.(from Galatians, Friday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
We learn from these passages that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of adoption through whom we can call God our Father, that He helps us in our weakness, makes intercession for us, comes to dwell within us, and produces fruits in those who live in accord with His inspirations.
The responsory that follows these readings proclaims that “The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, alleluia, alleluia” and that “He will teach you all things.” In other words, the Holy Spirit is both an infallible helper and teacher.
Then we have the antiphons for the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) that come directly from the Gospels. All of these have to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit. For example:
I will send you the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father. When the Paraclete comes he will bear witness to me, alleluia (Seventh Sunday of Easter)
The Spirit, the Advocate, will remain with you and live in you, alleluia (Monday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth, alleluia. (Tuesday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will teach you all truth and will proclaim to you the things to come, alleluia. (Thursday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
Once again, notice the catechesis... We learn that the Holy Spirit is at once the spirit of truth, the Paraclete, and the Advocate. We also learn that the Spirit at once comes from the Father and is sent by the Son. He bears witness to Christ, He remains with us, He lives in us, makes us witnesses of Jesus, teaches us all truth and proclaims the things to come.
Lastly, and most profoundly, the patristic readings in the Office of Readings during these days are unmatched in their clarity, truth, and beauty. These ought to be used for every Confirmation class!
Consider some of the following excerpts:
“As the Apostle says, they were to be bound together with the bonds of peace in the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. They were to be made one body and one spirit by the one hope to which they were called. We shall do better, however, to quote the sacred words of the gospel itself. I pray,the Lord says, that they all may be one that as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so they also may be one in us. Now the bond that creates this unity is glory. That the Holy Spirit is called glory no one can deny if he thinks carefully about the Lord’s words: The glory you gave to me, I have given to them. In fact, he gave this glory to his disciples when he said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit. Although he had always possessed it, even before the world existed, he himself received this glory when he put on human nature. Then, when his human nature had been glorified by the Spirit, the glory of the Spirit was passed on to all his kin, beginning with his disciples… Whoever has grown from infancy to manhood and attained to spiritual maturity possesses the mastery over his passions and the purity that makes it possible for him to receive the glory of the Spirit. He is that perfect dove upon whom the eyes of the bridegroom rest when he says: One alone is my dove, my perfect one.” (St Gregory of Nyssa, Seventh Sunday of Easter)
“The Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Monday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
“To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end. The Spirit is the source of holiness, spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith… The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself… Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we are admitted to the company of the angels, we enter into eternal happiness and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations – we become God.” (St Basil the Great, Tuesday in the Seventh Week in Easter)
“After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit. It was most fitting that the sending of the Spirit and his descent upon us should take place after the departure of Christ our Savior. As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshiped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.” (St Cyril of Alexandria, Thursday in the Seventh Week of Easter)
Altogether, I hope this helps us see that the Liturgy of the Hours is the perfect novena to the Holy Spirit. It is also an excellent catechesis on the Holy Spirit. But most of all, it is through the Liturgy of the Hours that the Church prepares her children during these days for Pentecost and enables them to join with the apostles gathered with Mary and all the saints in the cenacle of Heaven as they intercede for us and pray for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church – that we might “become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature (Eph 4:13).”
Come Holy Spirit!