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A New Look at a Powerful Prayer – The Novena

Interview with Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua about 'The Novena Book: The Power of Prayer.'
by Lisa M. Hendey | Source:
In the autumn months, our Church’s liturgical calendar reflects the feasts of many of my “favorite” saints, culminating on November 1 with the Solemnity of All Saints. In the weeks ahead, my own family’s bonds with some of our special patrons such as St. Michael the Archangel, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi will be celebrated with prayer and ceremony.

Authors Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua give readers another invaluable resource for saintly intercession, prayer and personal edification with The Novena Book: The Power of Prayer (Penguin Studio, hardcover, 176 pages). As with the previous Calamari/DiPasqua books I’ve reviewed, The Novena Book combines informative and readable text with stunningly beautifully illustrations in a manner few other manuscripts can match. Their works grace my living room both because they are a treat to the eyes of my visitors and because I turn to them frequently for my own spiritual and educational formation.

In The Novena Book: The Power of Prayer Calamari and DiPasqua take a comprehensive look at the concept of Novenas. The introduction highlights the powerful nature of this prayer format. At the heart of the book is a lengthy series of chapters on Saints, Angels, the Madonna, and the Divinity. Each section on the saints provides a brief biographical or informative statement, an illustration, and a Novena. Rounding out the volume are additional prayer resources and a helpful topical index. The book features Novenas to several well known saints and to a few who make become your new favorites. I’m looking forward to sharing Novenas with my sons as we anticipate the rapid approach of the holiday season. The Novena Book: The Power of Prayer is the type of book you’ll want to give as a gift, but be sure to purchase a copy of this treasure for your own spiritual library.

With the recent re-release of The Novena Book: The Power of Prayer I had an opportunity to catch up with authors Sandra DiPasqua and Barbara Calamari and am pleased to share their comments on Novenas and their book.

Q: For our readers who may not be familiar with the term “Novena”, would you please provide a brief overview of this type of prayer?

A: Novena comes from the Latin word for nine. It is a nine day series of prayers to obtain a requested intention or a spiritual grace. Most novena prayers are repeated nine times in a row, for nine consecutive days.

Q: What is the significance of the number nine?

A: In ancient times ten was considered the number of perfection and nine was known as the number of humanity. Both ancient Greeks and ancient Romans set aside nine days of prayers of mourning for the deceased. The Romans held yearly novenas dedicated to departed relatives. This tradition carried over into early Christianity.

Q: I’ve always thought of Novenas as a very Catholic devotion, but your book makes reference to individuals who are non-Catholic reciting Novenas. In your opinion, what is the appeal of this type of prayer to people of other faith traditions?

A: A repetitive prayer is a form of meditation. When saying a novena you are not praying to a saint but with that saint. Novenas are usually said at a time of great personal crisis. It can be material, as in money troubles, the need for a job, trouble with a family member, grappling with depression - you put yourself in a state of concentration on this problem for a few minutes each day. It is amazing how the solutions to these problems either appear or the problems themselves become minimized in your everyday life.

Q: Your book covers a broad cross section of Novenas, including those to the Saints, to the Virgin Mary, and to the “divinity”. What are some of the better known novenas? Can you share a few novenas which may not be as well known to readers?

A: Saint Anthony of Padua is probably the most famous and popular of all saints. In New York City, where the Italian American population is extremely devoted to him, his altar candles are always fully lit. Saint Jude is the saint of the Impossible, little ads can still be found in local newspapers thanking him for his successful intercession. Therese of Lisiuex has a big following, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Infant of Prague have many devotees. All of the Marian novenas can be found in any church.

Geographic location also accounts for the popularity of certain saints and novenas. Saint Anne has a huge following in France and is not as well known elsewhere. There are certain saints that are obscure to most of us but have very specialized novenas for certain problems. Saint Dymphna is appealed to by those suffering from mental illness. Saint Peregrine is the patron saint of those afflicted with cancer. For those having trouble conceiving a baby, there is Saint Gerard Majella. Saint Monica, who is the mother of Saint Augustine is the saint for parents who are having trouble with their children’s behavior. Since the saints were human, they have suffered from the same troubles and illnesses that we find ourselves confronted with in this life.

Q: Please say a few words about the stunning illustrations of the Saints, Mary and the Holy Trinity which accompany the book’s content.

A: For our illustrations we wanted to use the most common images of the saints that we could find. We were quite fortunate to work with the Peka Verlag Holy Card Company from Germany. These images are from a series of gold leafed cards that they distribute. Many people will be familiar with some of these images from holy cards distributed at wakes. We were also lucky that our editor at Viking Studio who was not Catholic, had never seen such images before and made sure that the reproductions were the highest quality, going so far as to include the color metallic gold at a greater expense to the company.

Q: I have a special devotion to the Infant of Prague, so I was pleased to find that novena in your book. Who are some of your favorite saints and why do you feel devotion to these members of the Communion of Saints?

A: Sandy: Saint Anthony. My grandparents and aunts were devoted to him and they passed down their love and devotion for Saint Anthony to me.

Barbara: Saint Therese of Lisieux. Whenever you pray her novena, you are promised a shower of roses as a sign that she is interceding for you. It is odd how you will start to notice roses everywhere, as advertisement illustrations, on the side of the road, being carried by a total stranger.

Q: For someone who has never prayed a novena, how can one get started?

A: Either look at the pictures of the saints and find one that you can relate to, or look through the list of patronages and problems. Sit for a few minutes each morning and read over the novena, it’s a great way to confront a problem.

Q: What are some of the spiritual benefits that you personally, or others you’ve interacted with, have derived from a devotion to praying novenas?

A: Besides totally dissipating a problem, what the process of doing a novena does is literally fill your life with grace. All of a sudden you are not so stuck in the material world or anxious about a situation. You feel freer and closer to God. You feel like you are not alone.

Q: Can you leave us with the words of one special novena you find inspiring?

A: The novena of Saint Anthony of Padua says,

“...Miracles waited on your word, which were ever ready to speak for those in trouble or anxiety....” 

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