To gain further insight into the first novena (the nine days of prayer to which the one hundred twenty disciples devoted themselves in the upper room, concluding with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the tenth day), I turn to the fourth volume of The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations by Anne Catherine Emmerich (Tan Books and Publishers, 2004), the early 19th century stigmatic and visionary. Beatified in 2004, Anne Catherine Emmerich, as John Paul II said, “told of the sorrowful passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and lived it in her body.” As in all such cases submitted for beatification, the whole question of her visions was put aside, and her cause adjudicated solely on the basis of her own “personal sanctity and heroic virtue”. For the accuracy of her visions, however, insofar as they can be objectively investigated and confirmed, see The Chronicle of the Living Christ by Robert Powell (SteinerBooks, 1996).
Now, according to Emmerich’s account (IV 426, 427), the following took place after the ascent of the Christ Jesus into the heavens and after the two figures appeared in light and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11):
After these words the figures vanished. The brightness remained for a while longer and then disappeared like daylight retiring before the darkness of night. The disciples were quite out of themselves, for they now comprehended what had happened to them. The Lord had left them and gone to His Heavenly Father! Many, stunned by grief and amazement, fell to the earth. When the glare had entirely died away, they arose again, and the others gathered around them. They formed groups, the Blessed Virgin stepped forward, and so they stood for some time longer recovering themselves, talking together, and gazing upward. At last the Apostles and disciples went back to the house of the Last Supper, and the Blessed Virgin followed. Some were weeping like children that refuse to be comforted, others were lost in thought. The Blessed Virgin, Peter, and John were very calm and full of consolation. I saw, however, some among the different groups who remained unmoved, unbelieving, and full of doubts. They withdrew from the rest. . . .
. . . The Apostles and the disciples now felt themselves to be alone. They were at first restless and like people forsaken. But by the soothing presence of the Blessed Virgin they were comforted, and putting entire confidence in Jesus’ words that she would be to them a Mediatrix, a mother, and an advocate, they regained peace of soul.
On the following days I saw the Apostles always together and the Blessed Virgin with them in the house of the Last Supper. At the last repast of Jesus, and ever after, I saw Mary when at prayer and the breaking of the bread always opposite Peter, who now took the Lord’s place in the prayer circle and at meals. I received the impression that Mary now held a position of high importance among the Apostles, and that she was placed over the church.
We may note the following facts as Emmerich saw and understood them:
1. Though many were stunned with grief and amazement, the Blessed Virgin, Peter, and John were very calm and full of consolation.
2. The disciples felt themselves to be alone, being at first restless and like people forsaken.
3. Comforted by the Blessed Virgin, and confident through the words of Jesus that she would be to them a Mediatrix, a mother, and an advocate, they regained peace of soul.
4. On the following days the apostles were always together and the Blessed Virgin with them.
5. When at prayer and at the breaking of bread, Mary was always opposite Peter.
6. Peter now took the Lord’s place in the prayer circle and at meals.
7. There is the “impression” that Mary now held a position of high position among the Apostles, and that she was placed over the church.
Might not these facts, as understood and presented by Emmerich, be taken as indications for the successful praying of any novena? Might not they in some way make plain to those who would pray a novena the basic principles underlying this form of prayer, possibly unveil to them the secret of its power, i.e., possibly reveal to them how “to cry with a loud voice”, so that their voice is heard in heaven?
1. As a disciple of Christ Jesus, I might some time or another find myself in great need. I might be stunned with grief or gripped in powerful doubt. I might feel bereft, restless, lonely, forsaken.
2. Having faith however in Christ (Peter: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God), and, through this faith, believing in the power of divine love (John: “God is love, and whoever abides in love, abides in God), I turn to the Holy Virgin as Mediatrix, Mother and Advocate (Christ on the Cross to Mary and John: “Woman, behold thy son; behold thy mother). I regain peace of soul even in the midst of suffering. Within my will hope awakens.
3. For Mary’s heart is pierced, and she understands the thoughts of many (Luke 2:35).
4. All through the days of the effort of the novena, the Holy Virgin is with me and with any others who pray the prayer in good faith, with hopeful effort, and with loving devotion (“the Apostles”).
5. Always within the soul as I and any others make the effort of prayer, and also as I and any others meditate or take Holy Communion (break bread) during the days of the novena, she whose heart is pierced sits opposite him whose faith is like a rock (Christ: “Upon this rock I will build my church” – Matt. 16:18).
6. This faith however is not only like a rock. This faith is also like the Sun moving through the zodiac with its twelve archetypal points of view (“the circle of prayer”), i.e., this faith is catholic. It nourishes all in the circle who, in their suffering and effort, pray, meditate, and take communion through the days of the novena (Christ to Peter: “Feed my sheep” – John 21:17b).
7. The Holy Virgin is set over and above those in the circle of prayer (i.e. “the church”). Her authority is high among the Apostles, i.e., over each of us who pray the novena in the fulfillment of our spiritual mission (“a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, on her head a crown of twelve stars” – Rev.12:1b).
To pray a novena truly amounts to “crying with a loud voice.” Referring to when Jesus, finding his friend dead and laid in the tomb four days, cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43), the anonymous author of the Meditations on the Tarot has the following to say about this voice (Letter XIII Death, p. 349):
A voice is louder, i.e., more audible, in the physical world, the more intense the vibrations are that it produces in the air. It is otherwise in the spiritual world. There a voice is more audible, i.e., “louder”, the more it expresses underlying effort and suffering. Work and suffering are the things which render our voices audible to the spiritual world and in the spiritual world. These are the factors which create “vibrations” sufficiently “loud” in the spiritual world in order to render our voices audible. This is why the rosary-prayer repeats the Ave Maria one hundred and fifty times and the Pater Noster fifteen times. For if it is suffering which renders audible the ejaculatory prayer of a single word – “Jesus!”, for example – it is effort which renders the rosary-prayer audible. I would lack respect for the truth if I did not say that the effort of the rosary-prayer founded on suffering makes it a powerful means – sometimes almost all-powerful – in sacred magic.
Is it any wonder that the rosary is very often the means whereby a novena is made? But whatever the kind of novena, with rosary or without, here we have the reason, I think, why the novena is so often “almost all-powerful”, why it can be an effective means of sacred magic. The underlying principle of the novena is actually quite simple, it being essentially the working together of faith, hope, and love upon the basis of some sort of suffering. Saint Francis of Assisi expresses the idea quite practically: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
But here is the thing: to do what is necessary we need faith (suffering); to do what is possible we need hope (effort); to do what is impossible we need love (miracles). Ora et labora, say the Benedictines. Pray and work. Yet, all the same, there is the suffering. What then about the suffering? “All things must come to the soul from its roots,” reminds Saint Teresa of Avila, “from where it is planted.” And that surely means suffering as much as anything else. “To have courage for whatever comes in life,” she says. “Everything lies in that.”
Pax et bonum,