The nine days (or hours) of prayer referred to as a “novena” can be traced, spiritually speaking, to the days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, when the apostles and Our Lady were awaiting the Holy Spirit. This is considered the first novena. and is recounted in Scripture itself.
But a 17th-century Spanish mystic, Venerable Maria of Agreda, suggests that there is an even earlier “novena.” In this holy woman’s writings, called The Mystical City of God, she recounts revelations that the Blessed Mother is said to have given her about her life.
In the volume related to the incarnation, Maria of Agreda writes about a nine-day period of preparation that Our Lady had before the Annunciation. The mystic tells us that God saw fit to specially prepare Mary to become the tabernacle of God on earth by a series of special revelations and heavenly experiences.
If such an event were to have occurred, we could thus propose that Mary participated in the first novena related to Christ.
What is a novena?
What happened during those nine days? Maria of Agreda says Our Lady was awakened by the angels who bade her to rise. Afterward she had an audience with Almighty God and received many revelations, graces, and knowledge.
During the first day of preparation, Mary prayed earnestly that God would send salvation to humankind. Her vision of God this day granted her a deeper knowledge of God and of His ways.
The Almighty also chose to reveal to her the significance of the first day of creation, including the rebellion of the angels. God asked Mary to continue in her prayers of petition so that the world might soon be repaired.
The following days of the novena, according to the mystic’s writings, bring more insight into each day of creation, all in preparation for her to bring forth the savior who would die out love and mercy for sinners.
For example, on the fourth day, Mary’s awareness of the wicked disposition of the world moves her to great sorrow and to pray for all souls. The next day, with continued revelations about creation, Mary prays to God, advocating for humankind.
The seventh through ninth days of preparation take on a different character, with Our Lady given insights into heaven, and being vested in mystical jewels, each symbolizing virtues and graces.
The ninth day is the crowning day of preparation; she is granted a vision of purgatory and hell. On this day, a crown was placed by the Trinity on the Blessed Virgin’s head.
These apparitions were officially approved by the Holy See as “worthy of belief”
Thus, the writings of Venerable Maria of Agreda describe mystically how God prepared the Blessed Virgin for the very first feast of the Annunciation.
Though these writings are just “private revelation,” and the faithful can choose whether or not to give them credence, the story can help us consider our preparation for the March 25 feast of the Annunciation.
Whether or not Mary received any special graces in the nine days preceding Gabriel’s visit, we know that she was always a woman of prayer and grace, dedicated to the Lord. We can, in these nine days, follow her example to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ to earth, sheltered and hidden in his mother’s womb.
A novena for the Annunciation begins March 16, if you want to conclude on the vigil of the feast, or the 17th in order to conclude on the feast itself.
Praying a novena in anticipation of the Annunciation allows us to imitate Mary, whom God carefully prepared, both in the days immediately leading up to her great Fiat, and from the first moment of her life with her Immaculate Conception.
Let us unite our prayers to hers in these nine days, knowing God granted Mary a multitude of graces and blessings.
Surely as we pray with Mary, God will bestow a plethora of graces also upon us.
One option for a novena prayer is available here.
Jesus said there is no better novena than this one, and it has only 11 words