ASK FATHER: Father rushes through the weekly Novena. What to do?

From a reader…


At my parish, we have a new pastoral administrator….  Don’t know the whole story, but suffice it to say that Fr. W does not really seem to want to be in parish ministry.  Our parish has prayed the Perpetual Help novena every week for several generations, and many people come from other parishes just to pray it with us.  Fr. W, however, has no time for it and races through it after Mass with so little an attempt at reverence and so obvious a desire to get the heck out as quickly as possible, that it has driven most of the people away.  Is there a version of the novena which lay people can pray without the “participation” of a priest?  I should also say, that his normal mode of blessing is to say “May Almighty God bless US . . .,” not a real blessing, so the loss of the final blessing would be no loss to us.  Thank you for taking the time.  God bless you, Father!

I know that Novena well, since at my home parish, also for generations, it has been prayed publicly on Tuesday nights followed by Benediction and confessions.  It also included one of the most Caro-syrup sweet Marian hymns I know: Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest. It has to be Irish.

I answered this privately, as I do a great many questions.  However, I thought about this a little more in light of the how, these days, lay people need to step up more and more.  As Fulton Sheen said:

“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops.”

The immediate answer is, just go ahead a pray the Novena as printed but, without a priest to bless you, say “May Almighty God bless us”, as you wrote above.  God hears.

As I wrote to the Titius who sent in the question, I had a flash in my imagination of the whole congregation staying put as Father “gets the heck out” and then re-praying the entire Novena, aloud, with greater attention.

I wonder if that would get his attention.

Another reason why I wanted to bring this to a wider audience is because of my conviction that our prayers really make a difference, but they have to be prayers.

Prayers don’t have to be sloooooow to be attentive and reverent.  They don’t have to be rushed to be reasonable.   They ought to be paced so that they are language and natural, which will shift a little according to the group and culture.

An exorcist friend told me about the effect that the Rosary has on demons.  In general, the Rosary has a greater effect on demons than any other devotion.  On the “screamometer” from the demons, the Rosary is powerful.

He recounted a particular experience during an exorcism.  Exorcisms can go on for hours and many different prayers and devotions, along with the actual ritual, are deployed.  At one point they were saying the Rosary.  The demon stared to laugh at them.  When queried, the demon responded that their distracted Hail Mary’s were like, “laying wilted dried flowers at her feet”.   When asked what a attentive Rosary filled with love was like, the demon said, “What is a fragrant bouquet for her is our downfall.”

Father needs a reality check.  Prayers have purposes and effects.  While sacraments work ex opere operato, devotions have effect ex opere operantis.

Father has to be made to understand that rushing through the Novena with people like that, in a way that is obviously rushed, is like laying wilted flowers at Mary’s feet.

Think of the rising tide of distain for that which is good, true and beautiful in society and in the Church itself.  I had a mental picture of a tsunami or storm surge, for long held back by the dikes of prayers, devotions, acts of charity, Mass intentions, mortifications and acts of reparation for the sins also of others like offenses against Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother.  At a certain point the dikes will stop restraining.  As the destroying wave roars forward we will be left in the time remaining to us to ponder if perhaps we might have done better to have prayed those Novenas with real attention, to have taken our obligations to fast and abstain and perform works of mercy more intently, to have make our participation at Mass all that it could have been, to have …


… when we could.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, GO TO CONFESSION, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Our Catholic Identity, Our Solitary Boast, Save The Liturgy - Save The World, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. visigrad22 says:

    Thank you for this inspiring video…would that this happen in every city !!!

  2. APX says:

    The thing that gets me is how long these novena prayers go on for and how they have no cadence to them, so they’re difficult to follow along with. My parish has one that’s two full pages long (we’re talking 8.5”X11” landscape printed sheets in single spaces with size 11 font with 1 cm margins) that seems to go on forever, and it’s always lead from the pulpit before Mass after all the other announcements are made by a lay person before who struggles with English. I’m not anti-novena prayers, but after a long day of work when you ‘re already exhausted and just want to attend Mass and then go to sleep so you can get back up at 4:00 am the next morning, these devotions can be a real turn off. They’ll use the shortest options during Mass, but then use these long drawn out novena prayers. It makes no sense to me.

  3. maternalView says:

    Perhaps someone could gently suggest to Father that the faithful perfer a little more attentive rhythm to their novena as has been done for ages -in the form of an fyi rather than complaint? Then if he isn’t inclined to adjust offer to lead it instead so he can enjoy the rest of his day.

    Though I must say I would love to see Fr. Z’s suggestion of repeating it!

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    The original source doesn’t provide enough detail to assess.
    It may indeed be that Father has no interest in the Novena, and/or no interest with (what they think) a parish priest should be.
    He’s also described as an administrator. One possibility that suggests is that he’s covering the parish in addition to one or more pre-existing assignments – another parish (or two), a chaplaincy, tribunal, a chancery job… He might be busting his butt trying to keep this parish’s schedule in place, and simply not have time to do it all the way people would like.

  5. JakeMC says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of versions of this Novena with “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest” used as the hymn. The one I used to attend in the 1960s and 70s used the classic prayer, “O Mary Conceived Without Sin,” set to music. The whole thing, including Benediction, only took about ten minutes. Then one Wednesday evening, my mother and I went to the church for the Novena, only to find the church locked up. Puzzled, my mother was about to turn and head back home, but I insisted on going to the rectory and asking Father what had happened. The priest who answered the door was not the pastor we knew, and he told us that since Vatican II, the Church was “de-emphasizing” Mary (his words). How can you “de-emphasize” the Mother of God?!!

  6. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.