Hail and Blessed be the Hour and the Moment
Several years ago, the St. Andrew’s Novena found me in my driveway. I was rushing out to my van, as I do dozens of times a day, and noticed a small bit of red trash on the blacktop. It turned out to be a small slip of red construction paper, roughly the size of a fortune from a fortune cookie.
One side said: Pray the St. Andrew’s Novena!
The other side said: Hail and Blessed be the Hour and the Moment… (with the ellipses)
Curious, when I got home, I did some research. The St. Andrew’s Novena, otherwise known as the Christmas Novena begins on November 30th and goes through Christmas Eve, a departure from your standard nine day novena. And while not meant to ignore or exclude, it has nothing to do with St. Andrew, other than to begin on his feast day.
As far as I can tell, the reason it starts then and not on the first Sunday of Advent is that to align the novena with St. Andrew’s feast day on November 30th allows the novena to always be the same length. Since Advent is differing lengths of time every year depending on when Christmas falls, affixing the start to a specific date makes it consistent. My guess is St. Andrew happened to be in the right place at the right time, just like my little red slip of paper.
The novena focuses on the epic, sacred moment when Christ entered human history and the world was changed forever. The specific origins are unclear, but traditionally, the following prayer is said 15 times a day from Nov 30th to Christmas Eve.
Hail and Blessed be the hour and the moment when the son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary in a stable, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe I beseech thee, Oh my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his most blessed mother.
I prayed the Christmas Novena that year and have every year since. I love the meditation on the great mystery of the incarnation. I love that it forces me to stop and focus on these sacred realities throughout my day. The rhythmic cadence of the words and the simple but vibrant language draw me in to the heart of Advent. It has become an intimate
and meaningful devotion for several reasons.
Hail and Blessed Be
the Hour and the Moment
God is with us in our smallest moments. When we feel most unseen, most invisible, most insignificant, we are seen, known, and loved. Blessed be the MOMENT, the prayer claims. How do you feel about that? We can find the truth of that statement in scripture, but does that ring true for you? Do I allow the Lord to bless the hours and the moments of my life? Are there moments I have not allowed the Lord to bless?
Deuteronomy 30:19 says: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. There is no middle ground here. We are either letting the Lord in to bless the hours and the moments of our days or we are not. And while none of us would like to consider that we are choosing to curse ourselves, it is the only alternative, according to Deuteronomy.
The Lord wants to bless us. In fact, the blessings are already there if only we have eyes to see and a willingness to receive them, even if they don't always look like we think they should.
In a stable, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold
This is my favorite line of the prayer. It is so precise, so observant, so present that God names the details of our lives. God knows and blesses the place, the time, the community, even the weather! No aspect of our circumstances escapes his notice or is outside of his care and his ability to bless. We are seen, the conditions of our lives are noticed and known by the Lord. We can be sure that when we suffer, when we are hurt, when we feel forgotten – his heart is with us. We matter to Him.
Hear my prayer and Grant My Desires
When we think of Advent, we can’t stop at observing and remembering the historical event of Christmas. We can’t focus only on the coming of Christ in the fullness of time. Advent is also an invitation to realize the coming of Christ into our hearts right now, today. It is deeply personal, intimate even. Advent is the beginning of the greatest love story of all time. It is universal but specific. It is not just the redemption of humanity, but YOUR redemption. My redemption.
Jesus wants even more for us, too! He He doesn’t just want to heal us and save us from our sins and send us on our way. He longs to KNOW us when we open our hearts to Him. I have been so revved up by Mark 5:25-33 recently and I think it fits perfectly with the message of Advent.
"And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth."
So much speaks to me about this passage. First, the woman was immediately healed, but Jesus wants to know who touched him. I can just see the disciples looking at Jesus, like, “Ummm, what?” when he asks this. It seems like a ridiculous question, especially since, as 21st century Christians, we know that Jesus KNEW already who touched him and he was in a crowd of people where everyone was touching him. So why ask?
Because Jesus wants the woman to know he knows. He wants her to know she was known. He wants her to know that she is seen. He doesn’t leave her in his wake, albeit healed from her hemorrhage, but still invisible. He wants more for her than physical healing. He wants a healing of the HEART. So, he asks the question and lets the disciples mock him and waits for the woman to respond.
The woman, who previously could not even approach Jesus except to come up behind him, falls at his feet and (this is my favorite part!) tells him the whole truth.
Oh, my heart. The whole truth. For twelve years, this poor woman has been suffering from debilitating, incurable bleeding which has left her penniless, ritually impure, outside of community, and outside of worship. It is no short story to tell Jesus the whole truth. Finally, she has found someone that can heal her body, but even more profoundly, heal the heart-wound of being unseen, unknown, and unloved. Jesus asks who touched him as an invitation for the woman to open her heart to him and tell him her whole truth, pour it out there at his feet.
He wants the same from you. From me. Part of the beauty of the St. Andrew’s novena is the repetition of asking God to grant my desires. This isn’t my Amazon Wish List, but rather the deepest longings in my heart. The dreams I hold tucked away because they feel too big, too audacious, too unrealistic. To grant my desires is to receive my grief, my heartache and heart-break, my hopes and fears. It is to hold the disappointments and regrets of life out to Jesus so he can offer me restoration and redemption. It is telling Jesus the whole truth about our stories, no matter what.
Join me in praying the Christmas novena. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can start late. You can mess up and forget. You can shoot for 15 times a day and end up with anywhere from 1- 18 (because you lost count) and all will be well.
Keep inviting the Lord into your heart to bless your hours and your moments. Rest in the sacred truth that you are known, the details of your life matter to God. And take a risk to tell Jesus the whole truth. Hold nothing back. The good, the bad, the ugly, the resentments, the self-pity, the fear, the trauma, the shame, the rejection. Bring it on. He can handle it. Be bold and pour out your heart’s desires, your wildest dreams, and let him love you right there in the place you find yourself.
Welcome to Advent, dear friends. May we be kind to ourselves and learn to let ourselves be loved more every day.
PS - because it is just that season, don't forget to pre-order my new book, Let Yourself Be Loved: Big Lessons from a Little Life. It is an amazing, epic love story! Links on the blog home page and register for freebies at www.elizabethleon.org