The Power of Nine
Cats feel superior knowing they’ve nine lives, but when a Mexican dies on their first, and possibly only, go around it is common to have a novena. A novena is nine days of prayers in the belief of obtaining special intercessory graces to aid the deceased in their transition to the afterlife. The prayers, often said in a rosary, are also recited nine days prior to a feast day dedicated to a specific saint or Virgin.
There are two theories as to why the number nine. One is there are nine days between when Jesus ascended into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit here on Earth at Pentecost. The nine days in between were spent in prayer by Mary, the apostles and other pals of Jesus. The second theory is similar in that Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven is forty days after Easter, while Pentecost is fifty days. Forty plus fifty is ninety, which if you remove the zero from ninety the number gets shortened down to nine. How is that for a complicated math word problem?
Nine days of prayer following a death was an early Greek and Roman custom performed by families for nine days of mourning followed by a feast. The Church altered the custom to reflect the Ascension and Pentecost. Plus the early Church liked the number nine as symbolic of man turning to God in prayer like the nine days Mary and the Apostles did. Number ten being the perfection of God and/or Bo Derek.
Regardless, number nine deeply affected Catholic mortuary celebrations and later carried over into prayer for both death and other celebrations. For example, early morning fireworks announce the feast day of Our Lady of Carmel for nine days prior to her July celebration to remind the faithful to come to the Parroquia and join in the rosary.
A novena, or nine days, is not to be confused with eight days, or an octave. Following eight days after a saint’s feast day, counting the first day as the feast day so the octave always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. Here in SMA the Octave of Saint Michael the Archangel is eight days after his September 29th feast day celebrations. During these eight days the statue of St. Michael leaves the Parroquia and strolls around town to visit other churches in the city. Upon his return to the Parroquia on the eighth day there are grand fireworks, even by SMA standards, and indigenous dance performances.