For at least one hundred years, Catholics have gathered together each year at St. Ignatius Church in Southeast Portland to pray the novena of grace.

Novenas are prayers said for nine days in a row, usually for a specific intention or cause. Unlike many novenas, which are usually prayed individually or in a family, the novena of grace at St. Ignatius is prayed in community.

“It’s like a meditation and pilgrimage combined,” said Mike Buck, who organized the parish event this year. Parishioners come together to pray for one another.

“We’re kind of holding one another,” Buck said. People bring their desires, their joys, their gratitude. They pray for loved ones, for family members, for community members, for the country.

“In this community prayer, a harmony develops because people are coming vulnerable but open. And there’s a beauty in that sharing of brokenness,” said Buck. Participants don’t come with broad problems but very specific ones: broken marriages, addictions, cancer, surgeries and so on.

“These are needs and desires where God is present,” he said. The community shoulders the problems together and works toward peace and love by the end of the nine-day prayer session.

“People feel so together in the process of this bonding that there’s something awe-inspiring that happens,” said Buck.

Novenas date back to early Christianity, when mourners would pray for nine days after someone died. The tradition continued and now novenas are widespread, helping people pray for new jobs, new houses and any other requests or problems they might have. The word novena is derived from the Latin for nine, novem.

“We do novenas a lot,” said Mary Norlund, president of the western Oregon’s World Apostolate of Fatima USA. Norlund and her group regularly pray the Divine Mercy novena leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday. They pray the Holy Spirit novena leading up to Pentecost and they pray leading up to various saints’ feast days.

For years, Northeast Portland’s Rosary Center sent out novena prayers leading up to different feast days. Novenas.com sends out novena prayers to subscribers and even offers to take prayer requests.

Joyce Wells, president at the Marian Prayer Center in Southeast Portland, particularly enjoys St. Teresa of Kolkata’s Flying Novena. The novena, which is said all at once, includes saying nine memorares. The saint was said to lead her sisters in the prayer when they needed something urgently.

“Sometimes they’d need a special prayer, they’d just say nine of them in a row and sometimes a 10th,” said Wells. “So many times her prayers were answered.”

A newer novena called the surrender novena, was written by Padre Pio’s spiritual director, Father Dolindo Ruotolo. Archbishop Alexander Sample asked that the faithful pray the novena leading up to the special priests’ convocation in April. The novena asks help in surrendering problems over to God. The archdiocese had printed 10,000 copies of the prayer in English and 4,000 in Spanish.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest in it,” said Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, director of the Divine Worship Office at the archdiocese.

“We fall into these problems thinking we can do it all,” said the monsignor. “Really, we need to hand it over to the Lord, surrendering to his will — whatever it is.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org