The typically Jesuit Novena of Grace, begun in 1643 by an Italian devotee of St Francis Xavier, still draws crowds in many Dublin parishes from 4 to 10 March. The Novena of Grace originated in Naples, Italy in 1643. A Jesuit 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 the canonisation of the saint would receive many graces and favours. Thus the name, Novena of Grace. It was first held in Dublin in 1712, in the church at Mary’s Lane, now in Halston St parish. Since then it has been held continuously in Dublin and began in Gardiner St church in 1831, the year the church was built. Read below for a fuller account of this great tradition. At the end of the article is a list of the parishes in Dublin where the Novena will be held this year.
ST FRANCIS XAVIER AND THE NOVENA OF GRACE
Francis was born in Navarre, northern Spain in 1506. His university studies brought him to Paris where he met Inigo, later Ignatius, a mature student from the same part of Spain. Inigo was hell-bent on getting creative and ambitious people to make the Spiritual Exercises he had put together. These were a series of prayer exercises over thirty days to find out the will of God in one’s life and to follow Jesus Christ. Eventually Francis agreed to do this, and thus began the journey of life which would eventually bring him as a missionary to India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and to his death within sight of China in 1542 at the young age of 46. His memory is dear to Jesuits all over the world, and in many places this devotion has taken root in his honour.
The Novena is simply nine days of prayer, bringing intentions to the Lord and opening ourselves to his grace. Its special focus is on the following of Jesus in the life of St Francis Xavier, listening to the word of God in the Eucharist and following responses to it in the homily. We come in trust to God that God is interested in our life and in our needs. Many intentions are for loved ones – that sons and daughters may come back to practice of faith, that someone may give up drink, drugs or crime. That someone might find a marriage partner or happiness in marriage. People pray for jobs for themselves and for the family. For cures from depression and illness, that family conflicts may be resolved and that loved ones may rediscover faith in God. The petitions cover most human needs and hopes.
The novena brings the ordinary yet deep cares of life to God, based on the faith that God does care for our lives and that our concerns are his concerns. It is centred on the liturgy of the Mass, is rooted in the bible in its readings and homilies on the Scriptures; it is focussed on Jesus Christ ,whom Francis Xavier loved and served, and is a popular and communal renewal of people’s faith in people.
Is it old-fashioned? Yes and no. Its tradition is long, some of the hymns are the old favourites, while others are more up to date. The language of the prayer can vary whether the more traditional prayer is used or the modern version. It presents no magical formula. In good gospel tradition it hears the words of Jesus, ‘ask and you shall receive’, and we ask knowing that God always gives something through prayer. People say they have received a particular intention, and this is part of why people come. Nobody goes away disappointed from God, even if the specific intention is put on hold.
List of preachers for the Dublin area, 2009
Gardiner Street: John Guiney
Churchtown: Ciary Quirke
Harold’s Cross: Morning – K. O’Rourke; Evening – Fergus O’Keefe
Howth: Michael McGuckian,
Rathgar: Frank Doyle;
Clonskeagh: Gerry Bourke
Donnycarney: Frank Keenan
Meadowbrook: Various Jesuits, including Brian Grogan and Peter McVerry
St Brendan’s, Coolock: Different preachers
St Mark’s, Tallaght