Sunday, 21 October 2012


A "novena" is a Catholic devotion involving nine consecutive days of prayer or spiritual preparation. I am immensely grateful for all those who prayed a novena recently for my health, at my family's request. That novena was addressed to God on behalf of Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese of Lisieux (shown in this icon of the Martin family). Whatever the results in terms of my own health, I know those who prayed for me will be richly blessed for doing so, for God is the beginning and end of prayer, and all prayer brings us closer to him.

But why nine days? It is often said to derive from the nine months that Jesus prepared in the womb of Mary before coming into the world, or the nine days the Apostles prayed in the Upper Room following the instructions of Jesus, before the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost. The Greeks and Romans also had novenas long before the Christians did. In Norse mythology, Odin hung upon the World Tree for nine days and nights before achieving a knowledge of the Mysteries and of the resurrection. All Things Made New and Beauty for Truth's Sake talk about the importance of number symbolism in all religious traditions.

In one tradition that is deeply entangled with our own, nine is one short of ten, the sacred number of the Pythagoreans which is also equivalent to the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God; so that the nine days of prayer can be said to take us to the end of human striving, leaving us open us to the grace we need to compete our journey to heaven. The nine days also represent the nine hierarchies of angels according to St Denys the Areopagite, so that each day brings us one step closer to the Father of Lights. May it be so for all of us.


  1. I love this image of the Martin family. Did you create this icon?

  2. No I did not. It was on a prayer card I was given in France. I can't give more details at present.