The Christmas Novena, beginning on 15 December is nine consecutive days of prayer and is a wonderful way of preparing ourselves for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and getting into the Christmas spirit. Historically, the Christmas Novena was not part of the traditional Maronite Liturgy. It is a tradition that was inherited from the Latin Rite Catholic Church of the West in the 1500’s when the Jesuit (Latin) Monks came to Lebanon and influenced the Maronite Church in many ways. Our Maronite Fathers took this tradition and added their own flavour to it so that it became part of our Church’s preparation for Christmas and thus our own tradition.
The incensing of the Blessed Sacrament, the prayers, the Syriac hymns and the processions all help us to worship and glorify the Word of God who is coming to save us and live among us – Emmanuel. After the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation kneels in worship and the chant “Shoubho-l-how qolo” or “Glory to the Word that became flesh” starts off the Novena. Traditionally this “Ziah” is chanted in Syriac and it is a glorious experience which is guaranteed to elevate the participant into a state of grace and harmony like the sweet smelling aroma of the incense which lifts up our prayers.
The daily prayer then follows the Ziah. The nine prayers (one for each day representing the nine months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus) are rich in their imagery and poetry. They give us the opportunity to adore and love our Lord at His nativity. They help us to reflect on his humility, love and divinity and at the same time our weaknesses and failures. They help us to live our never ending love story with our Mother Mary, romantically adoring her with words such as “O Wine of the Virgins and Lily of Purity” asking for her intercession and the intercession of her beloved spouse Joseph. We then pray an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be before concluding with a beautiful prayer “We have offered you, O Wonderful Child and Unique Son, the perfume of our incense, the desire of our hearts, the surrender of our souls, the inclination of our bodies and the supplications of our lips…”. Then as the priest begins to incense the Blessed Sacrament again, we magically launch into the hymn “Arsal Allah” or “God sent his only Son, light for all the nations” which summarises the prophesy of Isaiah about the incarnation of the Word of God – a magnificent glorification of the Lord, in true Maronite style.
Benediction follows and the Newborn Saviour through the Blessed Sacrament is uplifted in all of His Glory, blessing the congregation to “Quodous, Quodous” or “Holy, Holy”. After the final blessing, the final hymn which could be one of many Maronite hymns closes the Novena for the day.
If only every day of our life was a Christmas Novena!
We all have an opportunity to participate in the Christmas Novena.