More Praying With Mary

What’s a Marian litany? How do you pray a novena? Tap into these powerful traditional prayer forms.

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By Bill Dodds

There’s a comfort in rhythm. We experience it from the time we’re gently rocked in our mother’s arms until we find ourselves — so many years later — rocking an infant two or even three generations younger than we are.


Some prayers have a rhythm, too. It’s one reason people love the Rosary. Hail Mary after Hail Mary, they find comfort in the Blessed Mother’s arms.


What some fans of the Rosary — and others — may not realize is that there are two other Catholic devotions that have a similar style: the litany and the novena. Not surprisingly, some of each focus on Our Lady. Here are suggestions on how to incorporate them into your own prayer life.


Suggestions for adding a Marian litany to your prayers:

1. Don’t race through the prayer like a youngster trying to recite the alphabet in one breath. (No babbling!) A litany takes some time.

2. As you pray, think about the titles and images of Mary. If you aren’t sure what some of them mean, do a little research later. That’s a great way to learn more about the Mother of God and how, over so many centuries, Christians have described her and her role in salvation history and her place in their own lives.



Five suggestions for adding a Marian novena to your prayers:

1. The nine days of a novena sometimes lead up to a particular feast day. You can pray a Marian novena that way or can say it leading toward a special day in your own life: a loved one’s birthday or an upcoming surgery, for example.

2. A novena can be very comforting if you’re facing a hard time or feel overwhelmed. That daily prayer can help you get from today to more than a week from now, one day at a time. Don’t get upset if you forget one day or don’t have the time or energy to say it on one of those days. (There’s no magic in the number nine. Prayer isn’t magic.) A — blessed! — mother understands these things.

3. You may discover that your request shifts as you pray a novena, as God’s grace helps you better see a situation or accept his will for you or your loved one. (“Dear God, keep him alive” may move to “Dear God, let him be at peace with You.”)

4. A Marian novena can help you remember that Mary, a human being, had sorrows as well as joys. God didn’t spare his Son or the mother of his Son from those hard times and heartaches.

5. Like a litany, some novenas are designed to be prayed by a group, with a leader and responses. Both, of course, can also be prayed silently by one person.


One final point: These are just two examples. There are a lot of Marian litanies and novenas. One may appeal to you more than the others. Or you may want to say a particular prayer to coincide with a particular Marian feast (like Our Lady of Sorrows or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, for example).


You can find more of them by asking for suggestions at your parish, contacting a Religious Order, visiting a Catholic book store, or going online. (Try the University of Dayton’s “Mary Prayer Page” at or ETWN at


If you’re still having a hard time locating some, why not ask Mary to help you?



Bill Dodds

Bill Dodds and his wife, Monica, are the authors of Encyclopedia of Mary (Our Sunday Visitor) and founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver (; 1-800-392-JOHN)), an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers.