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The origins of the Novena of Grace


by Donal Neary SJ


The Novena of Grace originated in Naples, Italy in 1643, when a Jesuit, Fr Marcellus Mastrilli, was cured through the intercession of St Francis Xavier, who promised that those who made the nine days of prayer in preparation for the anniversary of his canonisation would receive many graces and favours. Thus the name: Novena of Grace.

The first time it was held in Ireland was in 1712, in the church at Mary’s Lane, Dublin, now in Halston St Parish. It began in Gardiner St church in 1832, the year the church was built. Over the years it has spread to many parishes in the Dublin diocese. Many people moved from the city centre to the suburbs and began the novena in their new parishes.

This year, Jesuits will give the novena in parishes in Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and Galway. Many other parishes hold the novena with non-Jesuit preachers. The novena ends on March 12th, the anniversary of the canonisation of Xavier and St Ignatius Loyola in 1622.

“Ask and ye shall receive”: the petitions

One distinctive feature of the Novena of Grace is that people with a “special intention” write it down and put it in a basket which is placed in the sanctuary. Some intentions are read out before mass so that the congregation can pray for each other.

Indeed, the petitions are one of the high points of the Novena of Grace. People write what they might never say. They listen to see has anyone the same issues to deal with as they have: “Pray that my son will come back to Mass…that my husband will give up the drink…that my daughter’s marriage will work out…that my son will find a partner…for my son who is gay…”, and so on.

So, long before the Gay Byrne or Joe Duffy shows, people found solace in sharing their sufferings with others – in this case because they did it for love of God and knew that prayer is always answered in some way, especially when people pray together.