Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic Prayer: Family Novena to Saint Joseph


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Mary Reed Newland explains that a novena is nine days of any acceptable prayer. Here are two examples of novenas to St. Joseph. The first is unique in that the prayers are the prayers that would have been taught to Joseph and Jesus and Mary as a child, from Deuteronomy 6:4 ff and Deut. 11:13 ff.


A novena may be any acceptable prayers we choose, used faithfully for nine days, with Confession and Holy Communion at least once. We made up our own novena, including in it the prayers which Jesus heard St. Joseph say morning and evening, and which He Himself said when He was old enough. Recited from memory, these prayers (called the Shema) were part of their family prayer. Along with others they were written on parchment called the Mezuzah, and kept in a wooden tube fastened to the doorpost of the house at Nazareth; and also with other texts written on parchment and contained in small square boxes called phylacteries, which a pious Jew fastened to his forehead and arm (as many still do) when he recited the prayers. The Pharisees used to make their phylacteries very ornate and wear them in public to attract attention, and Our Lord rebuked them for it: "Boldly written are the texts they carry..." (Matt. 23:5). Here is the novena with explanations of each prayer for children.

The first prayer taught to Jewish children is from Deuteronomy 6:4 ff.:

Hear, O Israel,
The Lord our God is one Lord.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart,
And with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength,
And these words which I command thee this day,
Shall be in thy heart:
And thou shalt tell them to thy children,
And thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house
And walking on thy journey,
Sleeping and rising.
And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand,
And they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.
And thou shalt write them in the entry,
And on the doors of thy house.

Loving the words of God literally, they did tell them to their children, meditate upon them sitting in their houses, walking on their journeys, binding them on their hands and between their eyes, and writing them in the entry and on the doors of their houses. This was the foundation of all their prayer. Plainly, with what follows, it lies at the heart of a Christian's vocation.

The second part of morning prayer was followed by verses from Deuteronomy 11, beginning with verse 13:

If then you obey my commandments,
Which I command you this day,
That you love the Lord your God,
And serve him with all your heart, and with all your soul:
He will give to your land
The early rain and the latter rain,
That you may gather in your corn, and your wine,
and your oil,
And your hay out of the fields to feed your cattle,
And that you may eat and be filled.
Lest perhaps your heart be deceived,
And you depart from the Lord,
And serve strange gods, and adore them:
And the Lord being angry shut up heaven,
That the rain come not down,
Nor the earth yield her fruit,
And you perish quickly from the excellent land,
Which the Lord will give you.
Lay up these my words
In your hearts and minds,
And hang them for a sign on your hands,
And place them between your eyes,
Teach your children that they meditate on them,
When thou sittest in thy house,
And when thou walkest on the way,
And when thou liest down and risest up.
Thou shalt write them upon the posts
and the doors of thy house.
That thy days may be multiplied,
And the days of thy children in the land
Which the Lord swore to thy fathers,
That he would give them as long
As the heaven hangeth over the earth.

These prayers will probably have to be explained to the children but they are not difficult to understand. Once they begin to "see" with the poetic imagery of Scriptural language (of which the Psalms are the classics), we shall have added another dimension to their spiritual perception.

The first part points out to us that to love God is the most important thing of all, and we must meditate on it often. This is possible many times a day: we have only to work to form the habit We may turn to Him in our mind for merely a moment, frequently, and say "I love You." Little children will do this eagerly, aloud, if their parents — particularly their mothers, who have them at their heels all day long — will help them.

The second part promises, on condition that, loving Him, we also obey Him and serve Him with all our hearts and souls, that He will "give to our land early rain and latter rain," which is like divine grace to make us faithful; that we may gather in "corn and wine and oil and hay out of the fields," like the fruits of a virtuous life; that "we may eat and be filled," which is the promise of eternal happiness to our souls, so hungry for Heaven.

But beware, lest our hearts are deceived, and we depart from the Lord and serve strange gods and adore them, and the Lord be angry and shut up Heaven. It is not hard to see what this means. There are so many strange gods to serve and adore. All the vanities and conceits since the beginning of sin are still about, camouflaged in glamors, enticing us from the pages of magazines, the screens of television sets and movie theaters, the copy in the ads, the shiny, glittery, shapely, slick media the devil uses now to peddle his wares. We must watch and pray "lest we fall into temptation"; lest we "perish quickly from the excellent land which the Lord will give us."

What to do with my life: in every line of these prayers there is guidance. They are not prayers of petition, leaving us still in the dark, but prayers that speak to us and tell us that He will reveal and make fruitful our vocations in His good time.

Our family has added a prayer we have had tucked away in an Irish prayer book for a long time, written in handwriting Granny Newland cannot identify, but it must have belonged to one of the cousins or aunts. We think it is as beautiful as any prayer to St. Joseph that we have ever heard.

O glorious St. Joseph, spouse of the Immaculate Virgin, obtain for me a pure, humble and charitable mind, and perfect resignation in the Divine Will. Be my guide, father and model through life that I may merit to die as thou didst, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Amen.

Prayer Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956