Novena, which comes from the Latin word “novem” meaning nine, is a nine-day public or private prayer for some special intention or occasion. Its purpose may be to adore God directly (such as the novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) or to venerate Mary, St. Anthony, or other saints. Why nine? It followed the time when Mary and Jesus’ first disciples spent nine days together in prayer between our Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost Sunday.
The novena is a legitimate form of devotion, which a Catholic may wish to observe. It is a sign of faith and trust in God’s love for us as we present our petitions, praise and thanksgiving before God. Some novenas are highly indulgenced by the Church.
A problem arises when the comments contained in the printed cards or papers meant to spread the novena prayers lead to attitudes bordering on the superstitious. For example: “Say this prayer to St. So-and-So for nine mornings for anything you desire. It has never been known to fail.” “This novena prayer is so effective; but one has to be sure that he really wants what he asks for (no changing of mind) before making the novena.” It becomes superstitious when we think that we can somehow automatically control our future through the use of “guaranteed” novena prayers or by carrying out certain acts, independently of God.
When we say the novena prayer of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for example, we ask for the assistance of Mary (our Mother who is always ready to intercede with her Son on our behalf) so that God will grant us our request. We believe in His providence and goodness; we believe that He hears our prayers. Should our petitions not be granted, it is because He foresees that they will not lead to our ultimate good.
(Reference: “Towards Certainty” by Fr. M. Guzman)