Novenas Aren’t a Magic Formula

Do you pray novenas? A novena is an ancient devotion that one prays on nine consecutive days, traditionally invoking the intercession of a saint leading up to their feast day. They can also be prayed at any time for a specific intention.

Joe in San Francisco has been praying a novena to his namesake, Saint Joseph, asking for St. Joseph’s intercession that the Lord might grant physical healing to his son. He wonders if he is praying the novena incorrectly, since he has not received an answer to his prayer.

Patrick Madrid, host of The Patrick Madrid Show on Relevant Radio®, says there is no special or correct formula for our prayers. “If you are under the impression that St. Joseph will only respond to your request for his prayer and intercession if you say the right novena, you need to clear that idea out of your head because that’s not true. It’s not like St. Joseph is saying, ‘Sorry, Joe. I mean, you didn’t say the right novena; you didn’t say the word the right way.’ That’s not at all how it works. The saints in heaven, our brothers and sisters, they want to pray for us and they do pray for us,” said Madrid.

We should avoid superstitious thinking that we need to say a precise formula of words in order to receive an answer to our prayers. This attitude leads to mechanical prayers, rather than requests from the heart. Following a written devotion is a beautiful way to pray, but don’t stress about doing it perfectly.

It’s also important to note that novenas are not magic formulas that deliver a prayer to us on the ninth day. “They should not be understood to be that on the last day of the novena, suddenly what you’re asking for, happens. Now, I suppose occasionally that might happen—it happened to my wife and me once when we were trying to sell our home—but that’s very unusual, it’s not typical,” explained Madrid.

“More commonly, you pray the novena and then at a certain point if God answers your prayer with a yes, then you see in retrospect, you know I prayed this novena and I see a result,” said Madrid. “But sometimes God’s answer to the novena prayer is: not this but something better.”

Once we finish with our nine days of prayer—or, we could continue in persistence to pray the novena even after the nine days are up—we must rely on God’s goodness and trust his timing.

Lord, grant me patience, perseverance, and trust in your holy will. Amen.

Listen to the question and answer:

Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays at 9am-noon ET / 6-9am PT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.