First Regular Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines

Iloilo-Novena-1

Today, May 13 marks the first celebration of the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines. It was not in Baclaran, however. 74 years ago today, on May 13, 1946, just a year after World War II, the first novena was conducted at St. Clement’s Church in Ilo-ilo.

Former Redemptorist Provincial and author of the book, the Baclaran Story, Fr. Luis Hechanova recounts that in the year 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, American troops, some from the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, found themselves stationed in Iloilo. Among them were Irish-American Catholics from Boston who were delighted to find that St. Clement’s Church in La Paz, Iloilo City, was run by Irish Redemptorists. They were disappointed, however, that the Perpetual Novena then flourishing in the popular Mission Church of the Redemptorists in Boston was not part of church services. Their disappointment, however, was one of the motivations that led the Redemptorist at Ilo-ilo to start a regular novena.[1]

On May 13, 1946, the first Perpetual Help Novena in the Philippines was held in St. Clement’s Church, Iloilo, conducted by Fr. Patrick Nulty. On October 21 that same year, there were 500 people at the Novena. In August 18, 1947, the attendance was 1000 and there was a six year old boy attending by the name of Luis Hechanova.[2]

Ilo-ilo
St. Clement’s Church in Ilo-ilo

The Redemptorist in Lipa soon followed suit and began the novena in 1946. The Redemptorists in Cebu also started the first novena on Sept. 15, 1946. In these churches, the novena were translated from English to the local languages. They were all well attended by the local people.

News of these well-attended novena in these three churches must have reached the Redemptorists in Baclaran. Despite the popularity of the novena in the provinces, many of the members of the community were hesitant to start the novena in Baclaran. They were concerned that by starting a novena in Baclaran, their main ministry of giving missions to remote parishes in the Tagalog provinces will be severely jeopardized. Only when all the community agreed that the mission would go on despite the novena that the Redemptorists finally decided to start the novena in Baclaran.

When the Redemptorists finally started the novena in Baclaran in June 1948, they were wonderfully surprised at the amazing response and rapid influx of devotees to the novena. The phenomenon went way beyond their imagination. The rest is history!

 


 

[1] Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story, (Redemptorist Manila, 1996), 2

[2] Hechanova recalls this day in his book: “I happen to be a personal witness as a six year old. One of my childhood memories is of our mother teaching us the novena hymns on the family pi­ano, the only thing saved when our ancestral house was burned down at the close of the war. I still remember the traffic jams due to the novena on the Jaro-Iloilo road on Wednesdays. In our family, we had to keep reminding each other to avoid that road on Wednesdays, unless of course we were going to make the novena.” Baclaran Story, 2.

 

Simbang Gabi: The Christmas Academy

shrine_christmas

Tomorrow, December 16, the Philippine church begins the well-loved and enduring Filipino Christmas tradition called Simbang Gabi (Filipino for “night masses”). Simbáng Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Roman Catholics and  Aglipayans in the Philippines in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. The Simbáng Gabi Masses in the Philippines are held daily in all parishes, shrines and major chapels throughout the country from December 16–24 and occur at different times ranging from as early as 3 to 5 AM. Yes, that early!

In recent years, especially in urban areas where people find it difficult to attend the early morning masses because of their work, parishes celebrate evening masses of the Simbáng Gabi. This begins at the 15th of December and ends on the 23rd, (erroneously described as “anticipated Simbang gabi” since Vigil or anticipated Masses are only applicable for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation). However, the propers and readings used for these Masses are those which are prescribed for the day.

White is the liturgical color for Masses celebrated within the context of these novena masses. Violet is used for any other Masses said during the day, as these are still considered part of the Advent season. Filipinos celebrate this Mass with great solemnity and the Gloria is sung.

The Simbang Gabi is the most important Filipino Christmas tradition. Simbang gabi is deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Filipinos.

The Simbang Gabi originated in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. It began in 1669. Priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. [1]

After hearing Mass, Filipino families usually partake of the traditional Philippine Christmas delicacies,  either during breakfast at home or immediately outside the church, where they are sold. Vendors offer a wealth of native delicacies, including bibingka (rice flour and egg based cake, cooked using coals on top and under), puto bumbong (a purple sticky rice delicacy which is steamed in bamboo tubes, with brown sugar and coconut shavings as condiments), salabat (hot ginger tea) and tsokolate (thick Spanish cocoa).

Many Filipinos believe that if a devotee completed all nine days of the Simbáng Gabi, a request made as part of the novena may be granted. The danger of this, is again, it may lead us to focus on ourselves, which the celebration of Christmas in the secular world has all too often led us–with all the focus on material gifts, parties, and merry-making. The real focus of Simbang Gabi is supposedly, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ into our world. Thus, Simbang Gabi is, first and foremost, focused on how our lives can become gifts to Jesus Christ and for others, especially the poor and the needy. That is why in more recent years, the church has called Simbang Gabi more appropriately as Misa Aguinaldo (gift mass).

Indeed attending the Simbang Gabi is a sacrifice. We go out of our daily routine by waking up early in the morning especially in this cold season trying to complete the 9 days masses. It is a sacrifice made not just because of an obligation, nor because we have a petition nor because of a panata (promise) in exchange of a favour from God. It is a sacrifice made out of love, first and foremost, a gift to our Lord Jesus Christ who will be celebrating his birthday.

Simbang Gabi also marks the second part of Advent which focuses on the preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Up to the 16th December, the season of Advent is a period of preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord.  On December 17th, Advent changes gear, the focus is on preparing us to celebrate Christmas.

Thus, in these last eight days before Christmas, the relationship between the readings changes.  Each of these days, the first reading is taken from the Hebrew scriptures, and chosen to match the gospel.  The gospels are taken from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The gospel brings us closer to the celebration of Christmas.  The sense of anticipation and fulfillment builds as we read the story of the preparation for Jesus’ first coming into this world for us.

In this light, Simbang Gabi is going back to the Christmas story, the original Christmas story.  By going back to the Christmas story, we will be introduced to characters that we might be hearing only at this time of the year like Manoah, Samson, Hannah, Samuel, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Many of these characters are poor, weak, desperate even broken. In their despair and weakness, we will see how their lives and stories find meaning in the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  The stories of these characters are not separate stories, each story is part of a larger story—the Jesus story; the story of the coming down of God and becoming one of us.  All these stories are slowly unfolding towards a climax—the birth of Jesus. Each character will see the totality of their lives in God’s greater plan of God coming down to become one among us.  They are just supporting characters to the main character which is Jesus.

That is why I call Simbang Gabi a school or an academy that will teach us the real meaning and message of Christmas.  In the next nine days, join me as we reflect on the daily lessons and insight that each Simbang Gabi teaches and helps us to become gift to our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another. In this way, we can truly make Simbang Gabi, a most meaningful way of discovering and experiencing the meaning of Christmas.

 

 


 

[1] Roces, Alfredo (1 October 2009). Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Marshall Cavendish Reference.

9th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Star on Mary’s Veil

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the ninth and last day of our Novena we will contemplate on the star on Mary’s veil.

The eight-pointed star on the forehead of Mary indicates that Mary is the star which always points us to Jesus.  Just like the hand of Mary pointing to Jesus, the star on Mary’s veil reminds us of the star which guided the three wise men to reach the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem.

Mary is often called Stella Maris which is Latin for “star of the sea,” Just like the stars that guided seafarers and fisherfolk to reach their destination, Mary is the “Star of the Sea” who bears the light of Christ in the midst of the rough and dark world.  Mary as a star guides us to the safe path towards heaven. Indeed, Mary is a star, but not by her own right, but by her constant pointing us to Jesus her son.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the star on Mary’s veil in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the dawn and the star which showed us Jesus. In the darkness and turmoil of our lives, be our constant star and guide so we may always follow the way of Jesus your son. Amen.


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

7th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Golden Background

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the seventh day of the Novena we will contemplate on the golden background of the icon.

The color gold is the dominant color which occupies the whole icon. Gold is a color which is not normally found in nature. The color gold implies a place which this world cannot give; a place that is bright, peaceful, abundant and joyful. It is already here but we only see a glimpse of it because it is hidden. We will experience the fulfilment and full disclosure of this place at the end of our lives.

The golden background that occupies the whole icon, therefore, is a symbol of heaven, where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. Gold in the icon evokes the life of joy and peace in eternity with God which we are all destined to be at the end of time.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the exemplar of the glory and joy that will happen to us at the end of times. Even as the completion of this glory will happen in the end, the icon invites us to open our hearts and mind to the glory of God already unfolding in our daily events—even in the gloomiest days of our lives.

The light of heaven which passes through the clothing of Mary and Jesus indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful.  Looking through the icon, therefore, we are invited to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. The icon invites us to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. The icon invites the devotees to contemplate the world in the light of God’s vision and fullness of redemption. “I have come to bring life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

As we contemplate the icon, we experience a creative tension between our present situation and the future life in eternity with God which the icon represents. The icon, therefore, is the encounter between heaven and earth, our present age and the fullness of time. Icons are doorway, a means of access into the age to come. It is a meeting point and a place of encounter with the communion of saints.

Mary calls us to participate in this mystery that is depicted in the icon. Therefore, more than an object, the icon is an event.  It is an event of proclamation and encounter. As an event it calls our active response.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the golden background in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the exemplar of the glory and joy which will happen to us at the end of times. May we open our hearts and mind always to the glory of God unfolding in the daily events—even in the most mundane and gloomy days of our lives. Amen.


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

6th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Sandals of Jesus

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the sixth day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Sandals of Jesus

The sandal that is almost falling from the foot of Jesus symbolizes Jesus’ humanity. Whereupon seeing the instruments of his passion and death that the Angels are holding, Jesus run so fast to his mother and cling to her for protection and love that one of his sandals has almost fallen off.

On the other hand, the falling sandal may also show the divinity of Jesus; Jesus is not tied to the attachments of the world. In this light, the sandal that Jesus wears on his other foot represents his true humanity.  Indeed, Jesus is both and at the same time, fully human and fully divine.  Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the Sandals of Jesus in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, you bore the Savior inside your womb, nurtured the child Jesus and followed Christ all the way up to the foot of the cross. Pray for us that we too may become God-bearers. Pray for us so we may imitate your missionary zeal in bringing Jesus to others. Amen.


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

4th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Hands of Mary

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the fourth day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Hands of Mary.

The right hand of Mary does not hold the hands of Jesus but points to Jesus which says: “Follow him: He is our Redeemer!”

The left hand of Mary holds Jesus in a loving and caring way. The left hand of Mary symbolizes the throne of Jesus where Jesus sits. Mary, therefore, is the seat of Wisdom who is Jesus.

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An important Marian archetypes that is significantly present in the icon of OMPH is the Marian archetype of HodegetriaHodegetria is a Greek word which literally means “She who shows the Way.” It depicts Mary as the guide. In this type, the Ever Virgin Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation. It is interesting to note that Mary in the Eastern tradition does not give so much emphasis on Mary in her own right. In Byzantine icons, Mary is never depicted by herself, autonomously, separately but always depicted with her divine son—Jesus.

Mary’s right hand is, above all, the Hodegetria hand, that is to say, the hand of she who shows the path to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, as in the wedding feast at Cana, she appears to say to believers: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Let us contemplate and gaze at the hands of Mary in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, your greatest aspiration for us is to follow the way of Jesus when you said, “Do whatever he tells you”. You are the first disciple of Jesus and you showed us the true meaning of discipleship. Pray for us that like you we may become true disciples of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

 


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Here is the schedule of the Novena and Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the Shrine:

baclaran-fiesta-2019

3rd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Face of Mary

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the third day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Face of Mary

The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food our world gives. It is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God.

Her nose is long and slender which evokes honor. It is no longer dependent on the aroma of the world but only to Christ and to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

The ears of Mary are not given much attention and it is almost hidden under her veil. This implies that it is no longer fascinated with the sounds of the world but only to the word and command of God.

Her high forehead indicates the power of the Spirit and wisdom which bows down before the infinite love of God.

The main letters on each side of Mary are the Greek words MP-ΘΥ (Meter Theou) which means “Mother of God.”

Let us contemplate and gaze at the face of Mary, her ears, mouth and nose, in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life we can discover the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s love. Lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

 


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Here is the schedule of the Novena and Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the Shrine:

baclaran-fiesta-2019

2nd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Child Jesus

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will be praying the Novena for nine days. The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. More importantly, in praying the novena we allow Mary to bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It would be a great means, therefore, that we do not just pray the novena, but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. Unlike the novena, contemplation is done more in silence gazing at the icon. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence. Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. Ultimately contemplation leads us to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the second day of the Novena we will contemplate on the child Jesus in the icon.

If we look closely at the face of the child Jesus, he does not portray a child’s face but one like a “small adult”; this illustrates both the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

The eyes of Jesus are not looking at Mary but above, even outside of the icon. The eyes of Jesus are looking at God the Father with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come.

The hands of Jesus lovingly cling to the right hand of Mary. This symbolizes the humanity of Jesus; because of his fear, he placed his life here on earth in the hands of Mary.

The Greek letters IC-XC (Iesus Xristos)at the right of the head of Jesus are the letters for “Jesus Christ.”

Let us now contemplate and gaze on the Child Jesus in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life we can follow the way of Jesus—the way of  may we find true glory can lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

 


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Chinese Novena at the Shrine

OMPH-Chinese

Tomorrow, Chinese from all over the world will celebrate New Year in the traditional Chinese calendar.  Here at the shrine, there are many Chinese-Filipinos who attend the novena. Did you know that there was a Chinese novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the shrine before? In this article, Fr. John Maguire traces the history of the Chinese novena at the shrine.

When I first came to the Philippines in 1963 there was a Chinese Novena every Wednesday at 9.a.m. This was attended by a few (around twenty) Chinese who used to gather in the Tribune of the Shrine (now the Sacristy). The Novena was conducted by a foreign priest, not Chinese, who would read the prayers up to the time of the sermon and then give a summary translation of the sermon being preached in the main Shrine, by the priest conducting the regular Novena. After the sermon they would part ways again, one continuing in English and the other in Chinese.

The priest who conducted the Novena in Chinese was a Jesuit from the group commonly called the “Chinese Mission”. They had been sent to China as Missionaries but when the boat was nearing China, the Communists had taken control and no more Missionaries were allowed into the country. They had come here to await developments but as we now know, no change ever came in their lifetime.

Many Chinese missionaries worked in the Philippines for years and some died here. Examples were Fr Parisi, S.J. who was well known for his counseling center called “Our Lady of Peace” and who died here a number of years ago, Fr Calle, who taught Catechists and is now in Hong Kong or Macao, and a Fr Mario who heard confession in Baclaran every Wednesday for more than twenty years until his death. He is buried in the Jesuit Novitiate (Retreat House) in Novaliches.

When the new Revised Novena began in 1973, the year of the Silver Jubilee of the Novena, Fr Santiago de Leon S.J, who at that time led the Chinese Novena at 9.a.m. each Wednesday, said that they still had copies of the first Chinese Novena Booklet that was printed in 1966. Before that they had mimeographed copies dating back to 1960. At that time about twenty Chinese were still gathering in the tribune of the Shrine each Wednesday. They had the Revised Novena translated and printed in Chinese in Taipei.

The Chinese Novena continued for a number of years after this but eventually it was impossible to get a priest on a regular basis, and the need for such a service seemed to have disappeared, so the Tribune became a Sacristy.

A large number of Chinese still attend the different sessions of the novena.

John Maguire, CSsR

Novena: The Prayer of the People

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Lex orandi, lex credendi
The law of praying is the law of believing.
(- An ancient saying of the Church.)[1]

The praying and singing together of the novena by the thousands of devotees at the shrine conveys a special appeal drawing devotees and non-devotees alike. A thanksgiving letter written in January 3, 1951, barely two years after the introduction of the novena, narrates how a non-devotee was drawn to the shrine for the first time because of the novena,

[O]ne day, while I was travelling in a bus which was coming from Cavite City, it was caught in the traffic in the vicinity of Baclaran Church. The crowd of people pushed me along the pathway to the Church until I found myself inside the Church’s patio. I entered the Church and while inside, I heard those beautiful hymns that forced me to forget my loneliness. Then I found out that the people were making a novena in honor of you.

Novena is key to the explosion of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. Novena transformed the small wooden chapel in 1948 into a popular shrine and pilgrimage center. Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula asserts this in his dissertation:

The introduction of the Perpetual Novena devotion in 1948 was the single most significant development in the transformation of the shrine from a local chapel to a pilgrimage site of national proportions.[2]

Thousands of devotees came in droves after the novena was introduced in 1948.  Soon the small chapel couldn’t accommodate the crowd anymore.  This paved the way to building a bigger shrine twice, first in 1949 and second in 1954.

The novena prayed in the shrine is not just an ordinary novena; it is called a perpetual novena. A novena is a series of prayers recited over nine days or nine weeks consecutively, usually in preparation for a major feast or to ask for a special favor. The ordinary novena stops after the nine occasions until resumed the next time around, often the following year when connected with feasts, or whenever a devotee decides to resume it privately. A perpetual novena, on the other hand, is a series of nine occasions of prayer but repeated continuously. When one series is finished, it begins again. In practice, it becomes an unending series of weekly sessions, usually associated with a particular day of the week, not necessarily Wednesday.[3]  Some stop after nine consecutive Wednesdays of novena but most devotees pray the perpetual novena. We can call them perpetual devotees or devotees for life.

pregnant-woman-novena.jpg

A frequent question about the novena is: Why Wednesday? Hechanova explains that there was no definitive historical answer about the choice of Wednesday (Hechanova 1998). The choice of Wednesday seemed to be a practical choice. Wednesday was the only day vacant in a week where each day was devoted to a particular devotion or saint. For example, Tuesday is for San Antonio de Padua, Thursday is for St. Jude, Friday is Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes on Saturdays and so on.

As we have mentioned before, there were already various versions of the novena published even before the novena explosion in 1948. The first one was in 1926 and the second one was in 1936. Why did the 1948 novena become an instant hit whereas 1926 and 1936 did not? What was the difference of the 1948 novena from the 1926 and 1936 novena? To answer these questions, we need to examine each version of the novena.

Pre 1948 Novena

The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was first introduced by the Redemptorists to the country immediately after they settled at Opon, Cebu. The first reported recitation of the novena in the country was in the church of Opon in 1907.  Novena were also recited during the hundreds of missions that the Redemptorist gave to the barrios in the Visayas and Luzon. We do not have a copy of the text and format of the novena used in Opon and in the barrio missions. These texts, however, most certainly have spread throughout the country.

The novena in 1926, is titled Maikling Pagsisiyam sa Mahal na Virgen sa Tawag na Ina ng Laging Saklolo (Short Novena to the Blessed Virgin under the Title of Mother of Perpetual Help), with an imprimi potest granted by Fr. O’Callaghan, C.Ss.R. and imprimatur given by Fr. Jose Bustamante. It was published by UST Press. Interestingly, this novena was published even before the Redemptorist settled in Baclaran in 1932. We do not know, how many of this novena were printed, but it certainly help in the propagation of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Luzon.

pre-1948-1926-olph-novena-1.jpg

The novena contained several interesting features. An introductory part contains the narration of the origins of the icon and a brief explanation of the icon. For the nine days novena, each day begins with a meditation focusing on a specific part of the icon and its meaning, then the common prayer for each day and a pagsasanay (exercise) which recommends some forms of call to action. The common prayer is very theocentric and centered on surrendering to the will of God. Clearly the format and text of the novena is intended for individual devotion.

The novena is written in rich and old Tagalog.  The daily prayer (PANALANGIN SA ARAO ARAO) of the novena exemplifies this,

Kabanalbanalang Virgen, saklolo sa twi­twina ng mga kaluluwang napaaampon sa iyong makainang pagibig: Marapatin mong idalangin ako sa iyong mahal na Anak at Panginoon naming Jesucristo upang kalugdan Niya ang lahat kong panimdim, wika at gawa sa araw na ito at habang ako’y nabu­buhay.

Tangapin mo oh! mahal kong Ina ang munting handog ko sa iyo sa pagcisiyam na ito, at ipagkaloob mo sa akin ang biyayang hinihingi ko kung nauukol sa lalong ikalulualhati Niya sa kapurihan mo at ikagagaling ng kaluluwa ko.  Siya Nawa.

The 1936 version of the novena is written in English titled Novena in Honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The Imprimatur was by Francis I. Cosgrave, CSsR. and nihil obstat by William E. Finnemann, Episcopus Auxiliaris. The publisher is not indicated. The format of the novena contains the history of the icon, explanation of the meaning of the parts of the icon, meditation and prayers for each day of the nine days novena

There is an added general remark in the instructions:

  1. The person making the novena should go to confession and Holy Communion at least once during the nine days.
  2. The prayers of the novena should be recited in a church in which the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is publicly exposed or in your own home before the same picture.
  3. The novena is made by each day reading the set meditation and then reciting the prayers which follow each meditation.

pre-1948-1936-imprimatur-olph-novena-1.jpg

Common Elements between 1926 and 1936 Novena

Both the 1926 and 1936 novena had similar characteristics: Both consist of nine successive days and a meditation each day followed by a common prayer. The format of the novena clearly shows that they were meant for individual devotion not for collective prayer in the church. The theology of both 1926 and 1936 novena shows a high theology of Mary where Mary is shown closer, almost equal, to Jesus. Mary is apart from us bestowed with the highest honor in heaven.

The meditation on the different parts of the icon and its meaning was a strong point of the 1926 and 1936 novena over 1948. This remarkable part disappeared in the 1948, 1951 and 1973 versions of the novena. The most recent 2016 jubilee version of the novena brought back this essential feature.

1948 Novena: Perpetual Novena

The origins of the 1948 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena in Baclaran can be traced to the United States. A novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was began in St. Alphonsus “Rock” Liguori Church, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in July 11, 1922. In 1924, in the same church, Father Henry Sutton began novenas in which people participated through singing, praying with the priest, rather than remaining silent while the priests prayed. This devotional style which was collective in nature spread throughout the congregation.

In 1928, the novena began by Father Henry Sutton grew to eleven services every Tuesday to accommodate 15,000 people. In 1928, the name “Perpetual Novena” for this new form of devotion was suggested: a Perpetual Novena was to be performed for nine consecutive days (hence novena), but the nine-day cycle can be repeated continuously (hence perpetual). This form is the most impressive Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotional form today.[4] The Perpetual Novena flourished in Australia and United States as well as in India, the Philippines and Singapore. It suffered, however, a gradual decline in Australia, Europe and United States beginning in the 1970s.

The perpetual novena in the country, however, did not begin in Baclaran but in Iloilo.[5] Hechanova recounts that in the year 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, American troops, some from the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, found themselves stationed in Iloilo. Among them were Irish-American Catholics from Boston who were delighted to find that St. Clement’s Church in La Paz, Iloilo City, was run by Irish Redemptorists. They were disappointed, however, that the Perpetual Novena then flourishing in the popular Mission Church of the Redemptorists in Boston was not part of church services. Thus, they requested the Redemptorist to start a novena in Ilo-ilo patterned after the novena in Boston.

The novena in Ilo-ilo was followed by Lipa in 1946 and Cebu in 1947. Both were well-attended novena. But they were not as phenomenal as Baclaran.

Iloilo-Novena-1

The first novena in Baclaran was presided by Father Leo English on June, 23, 1948. There were only seventy people present. The following week the number doubled to one hundred and fifty. Before the year ended, more novena sessions had to be added since the original chapel was good for only three hundred people. By the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the novena, and many others were following it from the parking area. The rest is history.

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Sapitula noted that the text of the 1948 Perpetual Novena, contrary to expectations, did not begin as a fixed text but assumed its final form only after months of experimentation. A “core format” of the novena text was established around three months after it was begun, which in turn became the basis of the 1950, 1951 and 1953 editions of the novena booklet (Gornez 2003).

Even as the 1948 novena was public and collective, it’s theological and spiritual orientation bears much resemblance with the individually oriented 1926 and 1936 novena. Both novena emphasized life after death and salvation of the soul. The goal of life in this world is personal sanctification so as to be ready to enter into eternal life after death. Both novena also reflected the high Mariology of pre-Vatican II which promoted a maximalist theological view on Mary that saw Mary as an altogether special creature whose privileges paralleled those of Christ. By putting Mary on a pedestal with all her titles and glories, she becomes distant from the ordinary devotee and the whole church.

Baclaran-1951-(Tagalog)-Novena-1Two years after the inauguration of the Perpetual Novena in Baclaran, the prayers were already recited in parishes in Quezon City, Quiapo and Sampaloc in Manila, Taguig, and Marilao, Obando and Barasoain in Bulacan province (entry dated 1-7 April 1950; cited in Gornez 2003). This shows the rapid adoption of the novena by the different parishes in Manila and nearby provinces.

A Prayer for Peace was added to the Novena Prayers each Wednesday in 1951 at the request of Ramon Magsaysay who was then the Minister for defense.

1973 Revised Novena

Nothing changed in the official text of the Perpetual Novena for twenty-five years until Redemptorists and some devotees felt the need for reform. The need for revision emerged in the light of the reforms inspired by Vatican II and the social upheavals in the country and in the world. Hechanova recalls,

In the early 1970s, the Redemptorists of the Manila and Cebu Vice-Provinces set up a common Commission to study how the novena itself could be renewed along the Vatican II principles on liturgy and devotion.[6]

The call for renewal of popular devotion, particularly the renewal of the Novena structure and prayers, was also echoed by Ang Mahal na Birhen:[7] “Novenas will then be renewed by making them more scriptural, avoiding a verbosity present in some of them and a sentimentality less in consonance with today’s religious attitudes.”[8]

novena3

One of the strongest points of the 1973 novena is the emphasis on the social dimension of the Christian faith. A closer reading of the 1973 Perpetual Novena reveals that social justice and peace dimensions are given more attention, perhaps as a corrective to the perceived overemphasis on personal needs in the 1948 Perpetual Novena text (Gornez 2003; Hechanova 1998). Ramon Echica claims that it is in the aspect of social justice that the 1973 novena stands out from other popular Marian devotions.[9] Echica contrasted the prayers in the novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, for example, with that of the Santo Niňo devotion in Cebu City. Echica considers the Santo Niňo devotion as having an “apolitical nature” extremely lacking in social dimension. He adds that there is hardly any prayer that the Sto. Niňo would disturb and afflict the consciences of people whenever they have been unjust to their fellow men and women as these prayers “do not spell out the broader social and political context of one’s concern” for others.[10] Moreover, prayers in this novena are “most explicitly other-worldly” (2010, 44-45).

On the other hand, Echica cites the prayers of the 1973 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena as calling devotees to serve the community. Sins against justice, like usury, bribery, and perjury are also virtually condemned when devotees pray that they or others may never involve in them.  There are also prayers for workers to take pride in their work and be given just compensation. Echica affirms that these prayers help the devotees to include questions of social justice in their examination of conscience.[11] Echica also underscored the enumerations of petitions of a this-worldly character as one of the distinctive appeal of the 1973 novena:

There is no flight from the world spirituality in this devotion. Furthermore, there is no reference to some apparitions or some extraordinary celestial phenomena, or miracles which may be outside the realm of human causality. It is distinctive at least in terms of quantity of concrete occasion mentioned in the perpetual novena. There are prayers for scenarios that may occur in one’s daily life; worries about finances, misunderstanding with loved ones, choice of recreation, avoidance of prohibited drugs, and temptation to take revenge.[12]

Indeed, concrete needs in concrete situations spur the faithful to their devotions, particularly to the Blessed Virgin.[13] [M]any petitions are not actually for the individual self but for society at large or one’s country in particular.[14]

2016 Jubilee Edition of the Novena

Despite the strong integration of social reality and devotion in 1973 novena, there were other areas that will need reform and improvement in the years to come. As early as the 90s, calls to revise the novena once again began to surface. Among the reasons for the proposed updating was the need to reflect ‘new’ signs of the times in the novena, for example, gender sensitivity, ecological awareness, migrants’ concerns and a more sound theology on Mary. The aims of the revised 2016 novena reflected these issues:

  • To help in the renewal towards an authentic devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
  • To adopt the novena to the signs of the times particularly the new issues and challenges that our world is confronted today.
  • To express a more healthy and meaningful understanding and practice of devotion to our Blessed Mother.
  • To incorporate an inclusive language into the novena.

The Prayer for the Sick was also seen as needing some major revision. The 1973 novena seemed to romanticize sickness by projecting an image of the sick who have nothing else they can do about their sickness except to embrace it. God’s compassion and strong desire for the healing of the sick is not much evident. A more redemptive healing not only for that person, but for the whole family was desired.

Here’s a comparison between the 1973 and 2016 Prayer for the Sick:

1973 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience. * Graciously hear our prayers for the sick. * Grant that those who are weighed down * with pain and other afflictions of illness * may realize that they are among the chosen ones * whom you called blessed. * Help them to understand * that they are united with You in Your sufferings * for the salvation of the world. Amen.

2016 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience; * graciously hear our prayer for the sick especially (pause and remember your sick loved ones). Grant that they who are weighed down * with pain and other affliction of illness * may experience God’s healing power and comfort*. Restore them to health* in body and soul* so that they can continue to serve you* and their brothers and sisters. Amen.

There was also the desire to reflect in the novena a more healthy theology about Mary. There was a strong desire to show that the real source of “saklolo” (help) is not Mary but Jesus. A major expression of this in the new novena is changing the response for every petition to Our Mother of Perpetual Help from Loving Mother, HELP US to Loving Mother, PRAY FOR US.

novena-english

There were also suggestions to make the language of the novena direct the people more to Jesus and to the celebration of the Eucharist. There was also the longing to change the seeming economy outlook to a more healthy outlook of the novena. Other points suggested to include into the revision of the novena were:

  • a greater appreciation of the lay and avoiding clericalization,
  • inclusive language,
  • a more healthy expression of solidarity with the poor,
  • clearer and consistent wording,
  • better wording about religious vocation,
  • omitting some repetitive petitions (particularly on death).

There were three new petitions to reflect the new signs of the times particularly on ecology, sanctity of life and peace in the world:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That we may defend the human dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

An interesting feature of the 2016 novena is the return of the contemplation of the meaning and spirituality of the icon and its parts as an essential part of praying the novena. As the 2016 revised novena states in its introduction,

The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help but to let Mary bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It would be a great means, therefore, that in praying the novena for nine days, we contemplate on the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. The whole purpose of this contemplation is to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary— following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

The Redemptorist community of Baclaran saw the 150th Jubilee of the icon in 2016 as an opportune time to implement the revision. In the spirit of the 150th Jubilee of the Icon, a new version of the novena was published.

Novena: Prayer of the Communion of the Saints

One of the primary reasons for the explosion of the novena in 1948 was the fact that it was written for public and communal prayer. Whereas the 1926 and 1936 novena were meant to be prayed privately by individual devotees, the 1948 novena brought individual devotees together to pray to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and intercede with one another. The intercessory character of the novena is not just asking the intercession of Mary but of fellow devotees as well. Thus, communal devotion rather than individual devotion catapulted the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to national prominence.

The intercessory prayer of the novena instilled a new consciousness upon the devotees. It inculcated the experience that prayer is not just personal but also a prayer for the other and with each other. Indeed, when each devotee goes to the novena, she/he brings her/his own petition but when he/she joins the thousand others who has his/her own individual petitions, each one is transformed that he/she not only pray for his/her own but for and with the others. The Novena helped transform the “I” to “We” consciousness. From a personalist and individualistic attitude, the devotees are not meant to pray only for their own needs but are meant to pray as members of a fellowship, in agreement, remembering that life and the world are not arranged for them as individuals but for the fellowship as a whole.[15] As Karl Rahner states:

A congregation praying, singing, and listening to word of God, is not only an assembly of lonely, solitary people, not only a number of isolated individuals, who impelled by concern for their eternal salvation, gather here for merely practical convenience, in order to try to work out their own private salvation… We are a holy community praising God by praising the glory of the blessed Virgin precisely because in our very salvation we are dependent on this virgin mother of God.[16]

Moreover, the novena experience brings out the essential fact of faith that as church we are a community of both living and dead, interceding for each other. Death does not sever the bonds of the body of Christ. Those who intercede for me are not just my living fellow devotee but even those who have died and are already with God–Mary and all the saints. In this way, the novena truly becomes an experience of the communion of saints. We have no direct route to God only through a relationship mediated and interceded with the communion of the saints, living here on earth and triumphant in heaven. Like Mary, devotees at the shrine are invited to be intercessors not just for one another but for the whole church and the world. As Francia Competente said in July 4, 2016, “I like going to Baclaran Church because I am with the people who are really in need of Mama Mary’s intercession and can feel God’s love thru Mama Mary.”

novena2.pngThe novena experience and consciousness recalls for the devotees their indigenous heritage of veneration of the dead. Before Christianity arrived in the country, indigenous Filipinos venerated their deceased ancestors because they are considered still a part of the family and their spirits can have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living. The novena experience has tapped into this primordial worldview of the Filipinos and devotees appropriated it into their warm devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Mary is the role model of intercessory prayer through her intercessory role for us in heaven. We do not pray to Mary, Mary pray with us. Once again, Rahner reiterates,

[N]o doctrine concerning Mary could have importance and significance for us, if it were not true that each of us is responsible for the salvation of his brethren, and can and must intercede for them with prayer and sacrifice and aid.  That is why Mary is not only the mother of our Lord, but our mother too.[17]

While novena is central to the devotional experience in the shrine, it is not all there is to the devotion. The experience of devotion is not only the praying of the novena but also the embarking of a faith journey. Devotion as a faith journey is quintessentially conveyed through pilgrimage to Baclaran. We will discuss the notion of devotion as a pilgrimage in the next chapter.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)

 


 

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1124.

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 84.

[3] Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Campos, 250.

[5] Hechanova, The Baclaran Story

[6] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #83.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #84.

[9] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ramon D. Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 2.

[13] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 3.

[14] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[15] Novena Prayers, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/prayers.html

[16] Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord: Theological Meditations (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963), 30-31.

[17] Rahner, 31.