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Prayers

Instructions for Reciting the ‘Christmas Novena,’ a 300-Year-Old Prayer Tradition

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An Italian priest named Father Charles Vachetta is credited with writing a novena in 1721 to inspire his parishioners during Advent. Today, that novena is known as the “Christmas Novena.”

The nine-day prayer begins on Dec. 16 and concludes on Christmas Eve. Drawing from the Psalms and Old Testament prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah, the novena includes a daily Scripture reading, a meditation, an antiphon, the Magnificat, intercessions, and a closing prayer.

Vachetta, the pastor of the Church of the Immaculate in Turin, Italy, also composed an included canticle, or hymn, called “Let the Heavens Be Glad.”

The novena overlaps with the “O Antiphons” of Advent, prayers that are recited or chanted in an ancient tradition leading up to Christmas. The novena below has been edited for brevity.

The Christmas Novena

If the novena is led by a priest, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

Hymn (Optional)

(Sung to the melody of “Creator of the Starry Skies”)

Behold a thrilling voice calls out

And chides the darkened shades of earth

Pale dreams are gone, dim shadows fly

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Christ in his might now shines on high!

The Lamb of God is sent below

Himself to pay the debt we owe.

O for this gift let every voice

With songs and prayers to God rejoice.

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The Blessed Author of our race

Took human form to bring us grace

Lest lost should be those whom he made,

And he with love our sin repaid.

And see! with heavenly grace instilled,

A Mother’s loving heart is filled.

Behold a Virgin’s body bears

The mystery of endless years!

The Mother makes her spotless breast

A temple for the child to rest.

This Virgin loved the Holy One

And she conceived the Eternal Son.

To him who comes the world to free,

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To God the Son, all glory be,

To Father, Maker of us all

And Holy Spirit, God, we call.

R. Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain the just one.

V. Let the earth be opened and bud forth the Savior.

Christmas prophecies

R. Our Lord and king is drawing near; O come let us adore him!

V. Our Lord and king is drawing near; O come let us adore him!

Rejoice, Daughter of Sion, and exult Daughter of Jerusalem! Behold the Lord comes, and there will be a great light in that day, and the mountains shall drop down sweetness. The hills shall flow with milk and honey, for in that day the great prophet will come and he will renew Jerusalem (cf. Zeph 3:14-18).

Our Lord and King …

Behold the God-Man of the house of David will come to sit upon the royal throne and you will see him and your heart will rejoice. (cf. Jer 23:5-8)

Our Lord and King …

The Lord our protector will come, the Holy One of Israel, wearing a crown upon his royal brow. And he will reign from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth. (cf. Is 33:22)

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Our Lord and King …

The Lord will appear, and he will not deceive; if he should delay, wait for him to come. He will surely come and will not tarry. (cf. Hab 2:3)

Our Lord and King …

The Lord will come down like rain upon the fleece of Gideon. Justice will reign and an abundance of true peace. All the kings of the lands will adore him and every nation will serve him. (cf. Jdg 6:38; Ps 72:3-4; Is 2:3)

Our Lord and King …

A child will be born to us, and he will be called God the almighty; he will sit upon the royal throne of David his father, and he will hold sway, the sign of his power on his shoulder. (cf. Is 9:6-7)

Our Lord and King …

Bethlehem, city of the Most High God, from you will come forth the king of Israel, and he will proceed forth from his eternity and he will be greatly praised in the midst of the entire universe. And there will be peace in our land when he will have come. (cf. Mic 5:2-5)

Our Lord and King …

To be recited or sung on the last day of the novena:

Tomorrow the wickedness of the whole world will be destroyed, and over us will reign the Savior of the world.

R. Our Lord and king is drawing near; O come let us adore him!

V. Near at last is Christ our king; O come let us adore him!

Let the Heavens Be Glad

(Canticle or song-prayer)

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice,

O all you mountains praise the Lord.

Drop down dew from above you heavens,

And let the clouds rain the just one.

Let the earth be opened,

And bud forth the Savior!

Remember us, O Lord,

And visit us in your salvation.

Show your mercy to us, O Lord,

and grant us your salvation.

Send forth, O Lord, the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,

from the rock in the desert to the Mount of Sion.

Come to free us, O Lord God of hosts;

show your face and we shall be saved.

Come, O Lord, and visit us in peace,

so that we may rejoice before you with a perfect heart.

May we know on earth, O Lord, your way,

your salvation among all nations.

Put forth, O Lord, your strength,

and come to save us.

Come, O Lord, and do not hesitate;

pardon the sins of your people.

O that you would rend the heavens and come down,

the mountains would melt in your presence.

Come and show us your face, O Lord,

you who sit upon the cherubim.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

Let us pray. Christ the Lamb, who existed before time, in time, and exists for all time, will come to us again. He has been made high priest forever. He is the true king of justice and his reign will have no end.

R. Drop down dew from above you heavens and let the clouds rain the just one.

V. Let the earth be opened and bud forth the Savior.

‘O Antiphons’

From Dec. 17 to 23, the liturgy uses seven short prayers that have special richness and importance. Known as the “O antiphons” or the “greater antiphons,” these prayers compress and express the Old Testament Messianic hope for Christ. These antiphons are read each day at vespers and are used as the alleluia verse of the Advent Masses.

Each antiphon is a mosaic of biblical references, collected and written in a style called anthological. The unknown author of these beautiful prayers lived around the sixth or seventh century. The author chose seven titles whose first letters are S-A-R-C-O-R-E. Read in reverse order, these letters form the two Latin words “ero cras,” meaning “Tomorrow I shall be.”

Note: In this edition we are using a poetic translation of the “O antiphons” from the original Latin.

December 16

Scripture reading: Isaiah 56:6–7

Consideration

Advent prepares our minds and hearts for the coming of the Word of God. It is a gentle time, a time to watch that the word of Scripture does not fall on the rocky ground of distraction, nor by the wayside with our many cares, nor among thorns, caught up in flashy advertisements. It is to fall upon the rich soil of our minds and hearts where the Word of God can bury itself deep and bring forth fruit. The Lord is already near! Let us admit that we need his power and help. Come, Lord Jesus! Give us the gift of yourself.

Antiphon

Behold the king will come, the Lord of the earth, and he will remove from us the yoke of our captivity. (cf. Hab 2:3; 1 Cor 4:5)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Jesus, light of the world, we wait in darkness, but also in hope for your coming;

— show yourself to us in mercy and love.

Lord of Israel, you showed yourself to Moses in a burning bush;

— stretch forth your mighty arm and come to save us.

Jesus, born of Mary, we pray with joyful hearts and wait with her in prayer;

— come, Adonai!

Jesus, life of our bodies and souls,

— by your coming let us be immersed in the mystery of your incarnation.

Closing Prayer

(To be said after the intercessions each day of the novena)

Christ goes before us. He is the Lamb without sin who will open to us the gates of heaven. He is the high priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech. He is the king of justice and his reign is eternal.

December 17

Scripture reading: Genesis 49:2, 8–10

Consideration

When we read Scripture and yearn for the coming of the divine, powerful Wisdom who will teach us how to live throughout our life, we think of Mary, the humble Mother of God who always waited upon the Lord as his handmaid.

Let us pray: Father, you spoke, and your Word became man, born of the Virgin Mary. Christ humbled himself to share our human nature. We humble ourselves before the child and ask for faith and love.

Antiphon

O Wisdom eternal, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, you reach from end to end and order all things mightily and sweetly; come now to direct us in the way of holy prudence. (cf. Sir 24; Wis 6-9)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Christ our Redeemer, your law is a light to our path;

— teach us always to walk in the light of your law.

Coming Savior, dawn on us in radiant beauty,

— so that we may receive you with loving devotion at your birth.

God of Jacob, you desire that all might be saved;

— bring all people safely into the kingdom of heaven.

Lord of nations, show us your glory and give us true faith and love;

— protect us from harm and let us live in peace with each other.

Lord of ages, you desired to become one like us;

— may the revelation of your humanity free us from our sinfulness.

Closing Prayer

December 18

Scripture reading: Jeremiah 23:5–8

Consideration

God of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the burning bush. You delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt by parting the sea and blessed your people with a covenant as a bridegroom marries his bride. Redeeming Lord, come to save us from the folly of our sins. Give us the blessing of a new covenant written in our hearts for all times. Rescue us with your mighty power!

Antiphon

O Lord and leader of the house of Israel, who once appeared to Moses and spoke to him from a bush aflame, and on the peak of Sinai gave him the law; come now, bring us your redemption with your mighty outstretched arm. (cf. Ex 3, 15, 24; Deut 5)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Light of the world, dispel our darkness,

— and make us worthy of your coming.

Key of David, unlock the mystery of your incarnation for all people,

— so that all humanity may praise you together in loving joy.

Eternal Son, let your face shine upon the sick,

— so they may serve you worthily in their infirmity.

Son of David, remember all those who are to die today,

— and bring them into your perfect light.

Closing Prayer

December 19 

Scripture reading: Luke 1:5–14

Consideration

The infant king will stand as a sign in full view of all the nations. This king will be a sign not only for the Israelites, but also for the Gentiles. All people shall come to him. Our hearts call out, “Come Lord, save your people, do not delay, for we are ready to receive you; we desire to see you face to face.”

Antiphon

O root of Jesse, standing an ensign of the people, before whom even kings silent will remain, whom the Gentiles, too, shall beseech, come now to deliver us all; delay no longer. (cf. Is 11)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Son of Man, may we celebrate your birth, you who are the Lamb of God;

— you take away our sins and the sins of the world.

Son of Mary, while in your Mother’s womb you were welcomed by Elizabeth and her infant son, John;

— though hidden, may we always recognize you and welcome you into our hearts.

God our Counselor, come; tell us that your kingdom is at hand;

— protect the Church and the pope. Keep the Church as your spotless bride.

Root of Jesse, you humbled yourself to share our human nature;

— come and save us without delay.

Closing Prayer

December 20

Scripture reading: Luke 1:26–38

Consideration

The original reference for the fourth “O antiphon” is Isaiah, chapter 22. “Key of David” refers to the one with authority over the royal house of David. The antiphon begs Christ to come and unlock the doors for his people who sit in religious darkness and in the shadows of death. We must wait with longing for our Lord.

Mary’s fiat — her total acceptance of God’s will — brings us the glimmer of light and hope for the coming of Emmanuel, God among us. Mary carries the key of David who will free us forever. Hail, full of grace!

Antiphon

O key of David, royal scepter of Israel, you who open and no one closes; who close and no one can open, come now, and free humanity from its bonds in prison, where it sits in darkness and the shadow of death. (cf. Is 22; Rev 3:7)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Adonai! Son of the living God! The day of the Lord draws near;

— he comes as the one who is to save us through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Virgin Mary, Mother of the Savior, we wait with you quietly for the birth of your Son,

— who will set us free from ignorance and darkness.

Virgin Mother, you placed yourself at God’s service and conceived his Son first in your heart, then in your womb;

— show us how to open our hearts and receive your Son, for we have a deep bond with you, Christ’s Mother and our Mother, too.

Mary, our Mother, give doctors and nurses strength to bring their patients to health,

— that the ill might know the joy of good care in their infirmities.

Closing Prayer

December 21

Scripture reading: Luke 1:39–45

Consideration

Mary and Elizabeth were deeply rooted in faith and love of God, and both responded wholeheartedly to God’s plans. They are a sublime sign of hope for the whole human race. Families all over the world look to their example as they await the blessing of a new baby in their own homes. May they build a foundation of love for the child to come and correspond with joy to God’s plans. Mary, the Morning Star, heralds the coming of her Son; Elizabeth is the first to understand. Her own son leaps for joy in her womb, and the two women embrace because God is in their midst.

Antiphon

O radiant dawn, splendor of eternal light and bright sun of justice, come now and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. (cf. Zech 3:8; 6:12; Is 9:2; 60:1-3; Wis 7:26; Lk 1:78; Heb 1:3)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Ruler of Jacob’s house, teach us to guard what is good in ourselves,

— that we may cherish all that you have given to us, for you are our salvation.

God of power and might, help us to be patient and steady our hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand;

— drop down dew from above and let the clouds rain down the just one.

Lord, the one foretold by the prophets,

— be mindful of your promises to Abraham and his children.

Messiah, king of glory, you are the fulfillment of the Scriptures,

— grant that all people may recognize you as their Savior and Lord.

Closing Prayer

December 22

Scripture reading: Luke 1:46–55

Consideration

In the Magnificat, Mary draws on the Old Testament prophecies and exults in praise of God. Mary’s Son is destined to fulfill God’s promises to his people. Mary rejoices in the deliverance of God’s people and in his care for the poor and destitute of society. Her song bears another hymn that runs like a golden thread through the readings and antiphons. The expected Messiah will be the Lord of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. We pray in today’s antiphon, “Come, king of all nations.” Christ is the peacemaker, the bond of unity among all peoples.

Antiphon

O king of all nations, the one for whom they have been yearning, the cornerstone who unites all of them in perfect union, come now, and rescue poor humanity, which from dust you have fashioned. (cf. Jer 10:7; Hg 2:8; Is 28:16, Gen 2:7, Eph 2:14)

Magnificat

Intercessions

Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace! In your great love for us you were born of the Virgin Mary;

— may her prayers for us be our joy and consolation at all times.

Mary has given birth to the Savior, splendor of the rising sun;

— bring those who have died into your light through the intercession of Mary your Mother.

The angels proclaim a mystery today while shepherds hurry to a cave. Mary has given birth to a child in a cold, bare stable;

— we are ready to warm you, holy child, with our hearts. Let us honor you by our lives and deeds, singing glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of goodwill.

Christ, Emmanuel, Mary cared for you in joy and Joseph provided for all the needs of his family;

— help families to love one another and bond them together in love.

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb;

— truly blessed is she who bore the Son of God, and blessed too are those who hear the word of God — and keep it.

Closing Prayer

December 23

Scripture reading: Malachi 3:1–4; 4:5–6

Consideration

Malachi prophesies the birth and mission of John the Baptist. Like a new Elijah, John will go before the Messiah and prepare the people for the Lord’s coming. A spirit of joy and wonderment pervades today’s prophecy, for the hand of God is active in Israel. The people wonder what it will all mean for their future. What does it mean for us today? The seventh “O antiphon” climaxes the series. The Messiah is addressed in human form. He is asked to remain with us as Emmanuel. May our hearts be ready to receive the Lord into our small, personal world, as he once came to the little town of Bethlehem. Emmanuel — God is with us! God, stay with us.

Antiphon

O Emmanuel, our ruler and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and the Redeemer of all, come now to deliver us, O our Lord and our master. (cf. Is 7:14; Is 33:22; Gen 49:10; Zech 9:9; Jn 20:28)

Magnificat

Intercessions

King of kings, direct the minds and hearts of those who hold authority;

— let justice and peace prevail and let goodwill reign forever.

Lord Jesus, through your saving grace and power,

— may your Church continue to spread until it embraces every nation.

Jesus, prince of peace, you are meek and humble of heart;

— teach us to be thankful for all the blessings you bestow upon us.

Jesus, source of light and growth, increase vocations in your Church, like a gentle rain falling upon the earth;

— the harvest is great and your word must be announced through all the world until your kingdom comes.

Closing Prayer

December 24

Scripture reading: Luke 1:56; 67–80

Consideration

Come, O Lord, for the whole world breathlessly waits for your birth. This one happy moment contains all ages — past, present, and future — bonding eternal peace between heaven and earth through a newborn child. We bow in adoration and joy. In calm and peace we look into ourselves and present to the infant our thoughts and sentiments.

Lord, today your goodness overflows and a branch springs forth from the root of Jesse. The bud of salvation unfolds itself from the Virgin’s womb in the dead of winter. The seed entrusted to earth breaks forth in our cold, frozen hearts and warms them with the presence of God in human form.

Antiphon

O Emmanuel, our ruler and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and the Redeemer of all, come now to deliver us, O our Lord and our master.

Magnificat

Intercessions

Father of the Word made flesh, bring us joy and peace;

— help us to live united in respect and love for each other.

We await the coming of your Son,

— for you are faithful to your promises of salvation and eternal life.

May we prepare ourselves for the birth of your Son,

— by meditating upon your word.

Through the Word made flesh may we learn to love each other,

— so Christ will find all of us waiting for him in joyful prayer at the second coming.

Adonai, God of love and mercy, help us follow the example of Mary,

— who believed the angel, hastened to help Elizabeth, and welcomed your Son in a cold, bare stable, warming him only with her exceeding love.

Closing Prayer

Let us pray. Come to live among us, Lord, so that we may always receive your forgiveness and mercy. Jesus our king, clothed in a robe of flesh, give us love, wisdom, and understanding at your birth. Reveal to us the mystery of your life, then send us forth to reveal your Word over all the earth.

You who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

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