Nine days of prayer with St Francis Xavier
Jesuit parishes and communities across the world – including many in Britain – are preparing to take part in a tradition that dates back four centuries: the Novena of Grace, in which our prayers are united with those of St Francis Xavier (1506 - 1552).
Although a Novena can be prayed at any time, this particular Novena of Grace is traditionally prayed from this coming Saturday (4 March) until 12 March, thereby concluding on the day Francis was declared a saint in 1622. It is also regularly prayed for nine days from 25 November, ending on St Francis Xavier’s feast day on 3 December.
Devotion to St Francis (Francisco) Xavier has always been immensely popular, since he fires the imagination with his heroic travels to peoples and lands across the globe. He is known the 'Apostle of the Missions'. This novena is nine days of prayer, in the company of St Francis Xavier, through the letters he wrote. As a Jesuit, Francisco underwent and then, in turn, led others through the Spiritual Exercises of his great friend St Ignatius Loyola. His writings reflect the spiritual insights and preoccupations of the Spiritual Exercises.
The protection of St Francis
The present form of the Novena was begun in the 17th century by Fr Marcello Mastrilli SJ (1603 – 37). While working in Naples, he sustained serious head injuries and prayers were offered to St Francis Xavier; Fr Mastrilli duly recovered. In his prayer, Fr Mastrilli heard the promise that whoever took time each year to complete the nine days of prayer would ‘experience Francis’s protection and might hope with great assurance that any grace they asked of God would be granted, provided it be for their good and the glory of God.’ Fr Mastrilli is credited with recovering the body of Francis Xavier from Sancian Island off the coast of China and taking it to Goa where it remains today. He was himself martyred at Nagasaki in Japan on 17 October 1637.
Among the Jesuit parishes in Britain which will be holding the Novena of Grace beginning this Saturday (4 March) will be Farm Street in central London, St Anselm's in Southall, and St Wilfrid's in Preston. Holy Name Church in Manchester will be taking part as well over the nine days, as will the Liverpool parish of St Francis Xavier’s itself (SFX). Here it will be led by Fr Tony Nye SJ, who taught at St Francis Xavier’s College in the city when he was a Jesuit scholastic. Last year, the original designs for the post-World War II stained glass windows of SFX were bought from a collector in the Netherlands. The windows over the High Altar, which were smashed during the 1941 Blitz, depict the life of St Francis Xavier.
The eight Jesuits who were ordained as deacons on Saturday at St Ignatius Church, Stamford Hill will all preach at Masses during the Novena of St Francis Xavier at Farm Street Church, beginning on Saturday evening (4 March) and continuing for nine days. The deacons will be at the central London church from Sunday 5 March (12.30pm) then each weekday at 6pm until Sunday 12 March (12.30pm). The Novena Prayer will be offered at all Masses.
The Jesuit Institute has produced a booklet for the Novena of Grace, Praying with St Francis Xavier, which includes aids for reflection throughout the nine days and a daily prayer. It can be downloaded from the Institute’s website.