Blessed Feast of St. Andrew: the Christmas Novena

St. Andrew please pray for us! Holy Hill Basilica Mosaic above the Altar ©, 2011. EA photographer

St. Andrew please pray for us! Holy Hill Basilica- Mosaic above the Altar ©, 2011. EA photographer

Joyous Feast of St. Andrew! As this feast is celebrated in both the Western and Eastern arms of the Church, it is one of my favorites. Intuitively, there seems to be something significant in beginning Advent with the feast of a martyr and an apostle. It is as if we are subtly reminded that this season is meant to be one of penance and evangelization.

Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us much about St. Andrew. He and St. Peter were the sons of Jonas, and they lived in Bethsaida, which was a town in Galilee on the shores of the Genesareth. As we examine St. Andrew’s life, there are lessons that may translate into a more personally fruitful Advent.

St. Andrew did not journey out to the desert to see St. John the Baptist out of curiosity, nor was he merely following the crowd. No, St. Andrew was ready to leave behind all that mattered and become a true disciple of St. John the Baptist. In penance and prayer this Advent, we too can follow the voice of one crying out, “Prepare the way of Lord!”

Later, when St. John the Baptist identifies Jesus by stating: “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. Andrew is again prepared to forsake his spiritual security in order to embrace a deeper relationship with the Messiah. For St. Andrew to follow Jesus Christ from Capernaum to Jerusalem, he must leave John the Baptist to his mission in the desert. This Advent, we too can grow beyond the comfort and complacency of our spiritual security, by reaching for a closer union with Jesus. Like St. Andrew, Jesus asks us to risk that which matters most in our lives. Similarly, Jesus asks us to place it all- our fears, dreams and lives- in His hands with confidence.

Once St. Andrew finds Jesus, he introduces Him to his brother Peter. This Advent, we can bring Jesus to those around us. Like St. Peter, they too may feel the call to forsake everything and follow Him. Evangelization doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from the roof-tops (not recommended in the slippery, frozen tundra of Wisconsin). Rather, just by quietly living Christmas as Christians, we bear witness, and bid others to do the same. We are called to invite- He will do the rest.

St. Andrew accepted Jesus’ command to: “Go forth to all Nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… (MT 28:19).” He traveled beyond his comfort zone preaching the Good News along the Baltic, into what are now Russia, Romania and the Ukraine. St. Andrew was later martyred in Patras, Greece, where he was tied to a cross. Tradition holds that St. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross out humility- not feeling worthy to die as Our Lord. This Advent, if we embrace our crosses with similar humility it can’t help but bear fruit.

Hail and Blessed Be.... Holy Hill Basilica Window ©, 2011. EA photographer

Hail and Blessed Be…. Holy Hill Basilica Window ©, 2011. EA photographer

One of my favorite things about this feast is the novena which begins on that day (November 30).  This novena is a poignant reminder of what really matters during this Sacred Season. The repetition of this lovely verse provides a rhythm that gently flows from day to day- reinforcing the true meaning of Christmas. The rhythm is strong enough to offer an oasis for those of us seeking respite from the chaotic noise of the secular season.

It is piously believed that whoever recites the following prayer fifteen times a day from the Feast of St. Andrew to Christmas Eve will obtain their request.

The prayer is:

Hail and Blessed be the Hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the Most Pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer, and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother.

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

One may choose to recite all fifteen prayers at once, or it can be or broken up and prayed throughout the day- perhaps with the meal prayer or the Angelus.

I have been praying this novena annually for fourteen years, and have never been disappointed. One Advent, I was reciting this prayer for the child I was carrying. It was a dangerous pregnancy for the baby and I- there was a real chance that both of our lives were in jeopardy. My beautiful, healthy baby girl was born (one month early) exactly ten days after the novena ended. A year later, I prayed this novena for my Dad and his conversion. He was officially received into the Catholic Church fourteen days after the novena ended, and died of cancer just sixteen days later. Each year I have prayed it, I have truly felt an abundance of grace. This novena is powerful!!! I invite you to join my family as we pray the Christmas Novena this year.


Ad Jesum per Mariam,



St. Catherine of Alexandria, Noble Bride of Christ

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Great-Martyr and Virgin, Please Pray for Us ©, 2013

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Great-Martyr and Virgin, Please Pray for Us ©, 2013

The Feast of the glorious Great-Martyr St. Catherine of Alexandria [ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνα ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς] is celebrated in both the East and the West, though to differing degrees. For centuries, St. Catherine of Alexandria was universally revered as a great early martyr, and ranked with St. Barbara, St. Margaret of Antioch, St. Agnes and St. Lucy. In the East, veneration of St. Catherine has remained consistent, though in the West, the strength of the celebration of St. Catherine of Alexandria’s Feast has fluctuated depending upon location and time. Her Feast was celebrated with the utmost solemnity, and up through the 17th century it was ranked as a Holy Day of Obligation in France. In the Roman Rite, St. Catherine has long been regarded as one of the 14 Holy Helpers – powerful intercessors before the Throne of God, and she has continued to be remembered in the Roman Martyrology; in 2002 St. Catherine’s Feast was declared an Optional Memorial on the Roman Calendar.

Who was the illustrious St. Catherine of Alexandria, the beautiful and intelligent martyr whose powerful intercession was even mentioned by St. Joan of Arc? The earliest surviving written account of her life dates to the year 866, approximately 560 years from the date of her death, though a consistent oral tradition existed prior to the written account.

Catherine enjoyed an affluent life in the center of Hellenistic culture as the daughter of the pagan ruler of Alexandria, King Constas and his wife, Queen Sabinella. As a highly privileged daughter, St. Catherine received an enviable education, tutored by the finest philosophers and scholars of antiquity. Catherine was as beautiful and affable as she was intelligent. Though many eligible suitors sought her hand in marriage, she was compelled by a desire to preserve her virginity, and vowed to her parents to only marry a man who “surpassed her in wisdom, wealth, illustriousness, and beauty.”

Catherine grew up amid a Hellenistic and pagan culture. ©, 2013

Catherine grew up amid a Hellenistic and pagan culture. ©, 2013

St. Catherine’s own mother, Queen Sabinella, was a secret convert to Christianity. Recognizing the many gifts with which her daughter was endowed, Queen Sabinella sent Catherine to study with her own spiritual father, who , according to tradition, lived as a hermit in a cave outside the metropolis of Alexandria. The pious spiritual father listened to the young Catherine as she earnestly poured her heart out. He confided that he knew of a young man whose attributes far exceeded all of Catherine’s. The wise elder told Catherine that this young man possessed a “beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, a wisdom that governed all creation, riches that were spread throughout all the world—however this did not diminish but rather added to the inexpressible loftiness of his lineage.” At the description of Jesus given by the elder, Catherine’s heart longed for a Heavenly Bridegroom. Before sending the young virgin away, the spiritual father showed the child an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God, cradling the Christ Child in her maternal arms. He instructed Catherine to pray to the Mother of God – the Mother of the Heavenly Bridegroom – and beseech Her to intercede.

Most Holy Theotokos, Pray for Us! ©, 2013.

Most Holy Theotokos, Pray for Us! ©, 2013.

Catherine prayed as she was instructed, and that night received a heavenly vision of the Christ-Child. However, the Christ Child turned away from her and told her that because she had not been washed in the waters of Baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit, that she was shabbily dressed and unfit. St. Catherine returned the next day to her spiritual father, who received her warmly. He instructed her in the faith, and urged her to pray unceasingly, and to remain pure. Catherine then received the Mystery or Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Later the Blessed Mother again appeared to St. Catherine, holding the Christ Child. This time the He smiled at her tenderly and bestowed upon her a ring, as a pledge of love from her Heavenly Bridegroom.

He Who IS “beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, a wisdom that governed all creation, riches that were spread throughout all the world—" ©, 2013.

He Who IS “beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, a wisdom that governed all creation, riches that were spread throughout all the world—” ©, 2013.

A short time later, the Emperor Maximinus traveled to Alexandria for the occasion of a pagan festival. Fires blazed as sacrifices were made to the pagan gods. The scent of the flesh of Christian martyrs mingled with that of sacrificial animals, smoke and incense. St. Catherine appealed to the Emperor Maximinus himself in an attempt to save the lives of fellow Christians. As she boldly stood before the pagan emperor, confessing the true faith, Maximinus was stunned by both her intellect and beauty. Maximinus ordered dozens of his most learned philosophers and rhetoricians to debate the courageous young virgin – she prevailed. In fact because of the irrefutable wisdom of St. Catherine’s arguments many of them were converted and in turn martyred as well. After failing to convince the maiden with augmentation, the Emperor sought to entice her with promises of wealth and power. Her refusals enraged Maximinus who ordered that Catherine be cruelly tortured. Maximinus’ wife, the Empress Augusta heard about the illustrious maiden, and arranged meeting with her in prison. St. Catherine’s face glowed with the grace of God, and her testimony was so persuasive that the Empress and her entire guard and entourage were also converted to Christianity.

The following day, St. Catherine was brought again to the court and under threat of having her bones crushed via the spiked breaking wheel, she was ordered to recant her faith and to offer incense to the pagan gods. She refused and as she was lead to the instrument of torture an angel miraculously smashed it to pieces. The Empress Augusta, her guard and entourage came forward and confessed their faith and support for Catherine, and were beheaded. The Emperor once again attempted to seduce Catherine to renounce her faith and accept his offer of marriage. Once again Catherine confessed her limitless love for her Divine Bridegroom, and was beheaded.

"St. Catherine confessed her limitless love for her Divine Bridegroom, and was beheaded." ©, 2013.

“St. Catherine confessed her limitless love for her Divine Bridegroom, and was beheaded.” ©, 2013.

According to tradition, the relics of the holy martyr were miraculously transferred to Mt. Sinai by an angel. Her relics were discovered on that site around the year 800 and transferred to an ancient monastery built by the Emperor Justinian I (526-567) on the site that is revered as the location of the Burning Bush through which God spoke to Moses. The original chapel built on that site dates to St. Helen, the mother of Constantine. This site is revered as sacred to this very day.

St. Catherine of Alexandria remains a paragon of excellence. Through her witness for Christ we find a quintessential model of courage, purity, wisdom, and piety. While these qualities existed in rudimentary form in her young soul, it was only after seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the wise counsel of a spiritual father, and ultimately the gift of the grace of Baptism that these virtues reached perfection. As we celebrate St. Catherine of Alexandria’s memory and invoke her intercession, let us strive to emulate her virtues.