What is a Novena?
Succinctly, a novena is a nine-day period of private or public prayer to obtain special graces, to implore special favors, or make special petitions. (Novena is derived from the Latin novem, meaning nine.) As the definition suggests, the novena has always had more of a sense of urgency and neediness.
Why is a Novena 9 Days?
There are a few reasons why the number nine might be significant.
The first comes from the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus told His disciples to gather together and pray after His Ascension into Heaven. Tradition tells us that the apostles, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, went to the Upper Room and prayed together for the nine days between Jesus’ Ascension (believed to have been 40 days after His Passion/Passover) and Pentecost.
Another reason could be that nine is significant because of the nine months that Mary carried Jesus in her womb. In fact, people in the Middle Ages traditionally spent nine days in prayer leading up to Christmas to signify the nine months that Jesus spent in the womb of His mother!
I love these two thoughts behind the significance of the number. The parallel between Jesus spending nine months in Mary’s womb before coming forth to fulfill His mission on Earth, and Mary and the Apostles spending nine days in prayer before going forth to spread the Gospel is so striking.