Catholics turn instinctively for help to the Mother of God in times of need. During the difficult years of persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, Christians prayed the Sub Tuum Praesidium. This simple prayer was written, it seems, in the East, likely in Egypt, before the year 250 A.D. It gives voice to the Christian’s confidence in the Blessed Virgin:
We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our prayers in our necessities, but ever deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
The prayer bears testimony to the Church’s faith that Jesus Christ is God and Mary is the Mother of God and the mother of Christ’s disciples (John 19:25-27). Her maternal relationship to Christ and to all the members of His Body is the foundation of Christians’ confidence in her ability to help her children on earth who face any danger.
From the foundation of the United States of America, our Bishops have expressed great trust in Mary’s motherly protection. In 1792, for instance, America’s first Roman Catholic Bishop, the Most Reverend John Carroll of Baltimore, chose the Blessed Mother as the Patroness of the United States and entrusted the newly created nation to her care. On May 13, 1846, the Bishops unanimously chose Mary, under the title of The Immaculate Conception, as the Patroness of our land. When the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated in Washington D.C. in 1959, the Bishops again solemnly entrusted the country to her. Their prayer is well worth our consideration:
Most Holy Trinity: Our Father in Heaven, who chose Mary as the fairest of your daughters; Holy Spirit, who chose Mary as Your spouse; God the Son, who chose Mary as Your Mother; in union with Mary, we adore your majesty and acknowledge Your supreme, eternal dominion and authority.
Most Holy Trinity, we put the United States of America into the hands of Mary Immaculate in order that she may present the country to you. Through her we wish to thank you for the great resources of this land and for the freedom which has been its heritage. Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the Catholic Church in America. Grant us peace. Have mercy on our President and on all the officers of our government. Grant us a fruitful economy born of justice and charity. Have mercy on capital and industry and labor. Protect the family life of the nation. Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations. Through the intercession of our Mother, have mercy on the sick, the poor, the tempted, sinners—on all who are in need.
Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Our Mother, Patroness of our Land, we praise you and honor you and give ourselves to you. Protect us from all harm. Pray for us, that acting always according to your will and the Will of your Divine Son, we may live and die pleasing to God. Amen.
With these same sentiments, Catholics in 2012 turn to the Mother of God for help. Many of the values that shaped our Country from the beginning seem to be at risk. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI and the American Bishops have noted the erosion of religious freedom in the United States, the first value guaranteed by the Constitution. Other fundamental truths are also in danger: The God-given right to life of every unborn child, the value of virginity until marriage for our young people and the virtue of chastity for everyone, the very definition of marriage as the indissoluble bond between a man and a woman who are open to receive new life from God, and the responsibility of all to care for the disabled and the elderly until God calls them to himself. There are many other issues, but these alone point to the importance of prayer and discernment.
Mary helps us, as no other, to stand in awe before the mystery of human conception and birth, for God himself was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and carried in her womb for nine months with love beyond description. Mary gave birth to God-made-man and nursed him at her breasts. We see in Mary at one and the same time the beauty of virginity, spousal love, and motherhood – a motherhood that Christ extended to the entire human race. Throughout her life and most especially as she stood with him on Calvary, Mary cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 61). As such, Mary is the image and model of the Church as virgin, bride, and mother. She teaches all Christians the meaning of discipleship. Her passing from this life to Heaven was a sharing in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension and the promise of our resurrection on the Last Day.
It has rightly been said that there is more love in Mary’s heart than evil in the world. This is the meaning of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting: Rejoice, Full of Grace (Lk 1:28). Mary is the Woman chosen by God to be his mother and ours, but also to be the chief human enemy – the nemesis – of the Evil One (Gen 3:15, Rev. 12). From her place in Heaven, the Blessed Mother is eager to help her children in their struggles. The Bishops at Vatican Council II expressed this consoling truth:
Taken up to heaven the Blessed Virgin did not lay aside her salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home (Lumen Gentium, 62).
This Novena to the Mother of God for the Nation will remind us of some of the central truths of the faith, in particular, the Incarnation, passion, death, resurrection of the Lord and Mary’s unique role in our salvation. It will be, in a way, a catechism lesson that challenges us to a deeper conversion to Christ and a more generous life of charity. With these intentions in mind, we shall turn to Mary and meditate on the graces of her life:
Day 1: The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God
Day 2: Mary’s Desire for Virginity
Day 3: The Annunciation
Day 4: The Visitation
Day 5: The Divine Motherhood of Mary
Day 6: The Wedding Feast of Cana
Day 7: Mary at Calvary
Day 8: Mary and the Mystery of Easter
Day 9: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
In 2012, the Novena will help us prepare for the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7. During these nine days of prayer which will begin on September 29, we shall encounter many friends who will accompany us and pray with us for our country: The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (9/29), St. Jerome (9/30), St. Therese of Lisieux (10/1), All the Guardian Angels (10/2), St. Francis of Assisi (10/4), and St. Bruno and Bl. Marie Rose Durocher (10/6).
The proximity of the Novena to the 2012 Presidential Election will offer an opportunity to pray for all our government officials and seek Divine Assistance in the elections. The Novena will fulfill the mandate of St. Paul as stated in his First Letter to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:1-4).
In future years, the Novena may be used to prepare for any Marian Solemnity or Feast: Mary, Mother of God (1/1), The Annunciation (3/25), The Visitation (5/31), The Assumption (8/15), the Queenship of Mary (8/22), The Sorrow of Mary (9/15), The Presentation of Mary in the Temple (11/21), The Immaculate Conception (12/8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Americas (12/12). Because of the pro-life motif that runs throughout the nine days of prayer, The Novena for the Nation may also be used to prepare for various Pro-Life activities such as the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in late January.
During these nine days of prayer, we encourage you to do five things, if at all possible. This is asking a lot and many of you will not have the time or the ability to do everything listed here. If all you can do is participate in the Novena on EWTN and posted on EWTN’s website, that is in itself good. Do as many of the following acts as you are able:
Attend Mass and receive Holy Communion each day of the Novena.
Through the Eucharist, thank God for the many blessings He has given to our Nation. Express all your gratitude to Him for the blessings He has given you. Thank Him especially for the people He has placed in your life to love.Receive the Sacrament of Penance.
As you prepare for confession, forgive anyone who has ever hurt you. Let go of any grudges you may be holding. We want to be fully reconciled with God and all the people God has placed in our lives through this heartfelt confession of our sins. Invite family members and friends to go to confession, tooRead the Scripture and Pray the Rosary each day. Make a donation or do something practical to help the poor. Encourage as many people as possible to make the Novena.
When Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830 at the Rue du Bac in Paris, she modeled the medal of the Immaculate Conception that is popularly known as The Miraculous Medal. Mary stood on a globe which Catherine understood to be the world. As Mary’s arms reached out to embrace her children, bright rays of light cascaded from her hands into the world. St. Catherine asked her: Please tell me, what is this light? The Blessed Virgin responded, the light is the grace of my son. Catherine was troubled because some rays of light did not flow into the world. She asked what this might mean. Mary said, those are graces people fail to seek from me.
Here is a wonderful secret of prayer: Christ wants us to go humbly to his mother in search of his help. This is precisely what we are doing in The Novena to the Mother of God for the Nation. Everyone who joins in these nine days of prayer has his or her own needs. Each person should remember to pray for the intentions of all. Through the charity of EWTN, a great multitude of people will gather with confidence to pray for the assistance of the Mother of God and, with her, to worship the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We await a powerful outpouring of the graces of Heaven through Mary’s hands.
– Rev. Frederick L. Miller, S.T.D.
Professor of Systematic Theology
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Gary B. Selin, S.T.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology
Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary
Imprimatur: + Robert J. Baker, S.T.D.
Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama
August 7, 2012
The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions or statements expressed.