Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
What of those times when you are in need of an answer but time doesn’t permit for prayers in petition for a day or more? Mother Teresa of Calcutta knew what to do. She turned to our Mother, and prayed her “Flying Novena.”
Msgr. Leo Maasburg, her friend and spiritual advisor, explained in his book Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait that it was “Mother Teresa’s spiritual rapid-fire weapon. It consisted of ten Memorares — not nine, as you might expect from the word novena. Novenas lasting nine days were quite common among the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity. But given the host of problems that were brought to Mother Teresa’s attention, not to mention the pace at which she traveled, it was often just not possible to allow nine days for an answer from Celestial Management. And so she invented the Quick Novena.” For some reason he calls it by this name rather than the “Flying Novena” which her Missionaries of Charity continue to use and pray.
“Here are the words of the centuries-old Memorare:
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer me. Amen.”
“Mother Teresa used this prayer constantly: for petitions for the cure of a sick child, before important discussions or when passports went missing, to request heavenly aid when the fuel supply was running short on a night-time mission and the destination was still far away in the darkness. The Quick Novena had one thing in common with nine-day and even nine-month novenas: confident pleading for heavenly assistance, as the apostles did for nine days in the upper room ‘with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the women’ (Acts 1:14) while waiting for the promised help from the Holy Spirit.”
Msgr. Maasburg explains why Mother Teresa always prayed 10 Memorares. “She took the collaboration of Heaven so much for granted that she always added a tenth Memorare immediately, in thanksgiving for the favor received.”
Typical Quick Answer
A few years ago during a conversation with Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, the postulator of the cause for Blessed Teresa’s canonization, gave an example of what happened when Mother Teresa prayed this Flying Novena as the need arose or a difficulty presented itself.
He quoted Mother herself describing one of many instances: “In Rome during the Holy Year (1984), the Holy Father was going to celebrate Mass in the open, and crowds of people were gathered. It was pouring rain, so I told the sisters, ‘Let us say a flying novena of nine Memorares to Our Lady in thanksgiving for beautiful weather.’ As we said two Memorares, it started to pour more rain. We said the third … sixth … seventh … and at the eighth one, all the umbrellas were closing, and when we finished the ninth one, we found all the umbrellas were closed.”
Novena Opens Vatican Locks
Msgr. Maasburg recounts in his book the time he drove Mother Teresa and one of her sisters to the Vatican for Pope John Paul II’s private morning Mass. Arriving very early while all was still locked up, Msgr. Maasburg described how together they prayed the entire Rosary and Flying Novena while waiting in the car.
“No sooner had we finished the Quick Novena than the Swiss guardsman knocked on the steamed-up windshield and said, ‘Mother Teresa, it’s time.’ Mother Teresa and the Sister got out.”
Msgr. Maasburg said he’d wait in the car for her. But not for long.
“For she turned around and called, ‘Quick, Father, you come with us!’ Was it the Quick Novena that finally brought about this ‘Quick, Father…’? …Mother Teresa was already on her way to the elevator; she swept aside the timid protest of the Swiss guardsman with a charming ‘Father is with us!’ and a grateful twinkle of her eyes.
“…The rules were unequivocal: Only those who were on the list of announced guests could enter. And only the names of Mother Teresa and one other Sister were on that list…Even in the company of a saint I would not get past the elevator attendant — much less the civil police in front of the entrance to the Holy Father’s apartment.
“Mother assured the hesitant elevator attendant…‘We can start now. Father is with us’…I had already tried again and again to explain to Mother Teresa in the elevator that it is not only unusual but absolutely impossible to make your way into the Pope’s quarters unannounced. But even my resistance was useless…”
Two tall policemen in civilian clothes stood at the door to the papal apartments.
“The older of the two policemen greeted the foundress of a religious order courteously: ‘Mother Teresa, good morning! Please come this way. The Padre is not announced. He cannot come in.’ He stepped aside for Mother Teresa, whereas I had stopped walking. She gestured to me, however, that I should keep going, and explained to the policeman, ‘Father is with us.’”
‘…Mother, your Padre has no permission; therefore he cannot come with you.’
“…She stood there calmly and asked the policeman in a patient tone of voice, ‘And who can give the priest permission?’”
“The good man was obviously not prepared for this question. With a helpless shrug of his shoulder he said, ‘Well, maybe the Pope himself. Or Monsignor Dziwisz….’”
“’Good, then wait here!’ was the prompt reply. And Mother Teresa was already …heading for the papal chambers. “I will go and ask the Holy Father!’”
“A short pause, then Italian-Vatican common sense prevailed and Mother Teresa had won, ‘Then the Padre had better just go with you!’”
“Turning to me, he said, ‘Go. Go now!’”
Not only did Msgr. Maasburg get to the Mass, but Mother Teresa told Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s private secretary, now Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, that the priest with her would celebrate the Mass with the Holy Father. And Msgr. Maasburg did. (Read all the details here.)
Impossible Becomes Possible
Mother Teresa “definitely inspired the same devotion in her sisters, but also in others,” Father Kolodiejchuk affirmed.
Father Louis Merosne, newly appointed pastor at St. Anne's Cathedral in Anse-à-Veau, Haiti, had his own amazing experience with the Flying Novena. Once he had planned to join the Missionaries of Charity priests, had been accepted, and spent two years with them in Mexico before he said God made it clear he was to serve in Haiti instead. Active with youth and young adult conferences such as at Franciscan University in Steubenville, in 2008 he was going to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. On his return he was to have one-day stop in Boston, then catch a flight to the Netherlands where he was to speak at a conference.
“I went to the consulate in Boston to apply for their visa,” he said. “They told me I would have to leave my passport in order to put the visa on it. I couldn’t because I had to leave for Sydney.” Boston insisted the central office could not process anything until they had his passport. “I told them I’m going to the Netherlands and I had one day in between my two travels. They said, Sorry.”
Calling from Sydney about the visa, he got a surprise. “They told me, by the way, they don’t do urgent, express applications. They need at least two weeks once they get the passport.” He told them the conference would be over by then. “Sorry.”
Returning to Boston, he took an early train to New York City where the main consulate office was. He continued, “I went to the office to explain the situation again, but they said, ‘You can leave your passport and pick it up in two weeks. We’re very sorry.’”
This was the day he was to travel to the Netherlands, and he had to get back to Boston board his booked flight that evening which would then fly back to New York on the first of two legs to the Netherlands.
“Maybe if I call the airline, they would allow me to get on at New York for the Netherlands flight,” he thought. The airline’s answer? “No, we don’t do that. If you don’t get on your flight in Boston, you’re entire flight will be cancelled. You cannot get on in New York.”
Still in the consulate, he called the airlines a second time hoping to find a sympathetic listener. But he again he was told the airline could not cancel one leg of the flight.
At that point Father Merosne knew it was time to say a Flying Novena. He said, “Only you, Blessed Mother, can help me do this if it is God’s will. I said the novena.
Shortly after he finished, “the representative from the consulate called me over and said, ‘Give me your passport.’ And within minutes I had my visa! And I called the airlines a third time, and this time the lady said, ‘We don’t do this, but we’ll de this once for you. Get in the plane in New York.’”
“Once I said that [Flying] Novena, it was all over for them,” Father Merosne said with a much joy. “That which was impossible for man was quite possible for our Blessed Mother.”
“I am a believer,” he said of the Flying Novena.
Similar for Mother Teresa
Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and host of EWTN’s Sunday Night Prime well remembers when Mother Teresa told him about a Sister superior in East Berlin in the days the Iron Curtain was still drawn.
“She got sick and Mother had to send her back to India.” Father Apostoli recalled her telling him, “We just couldn’t appoint anybody to take her place. It had to be somebody qualitied to handle the Communists. We were praying the Flying Novena to get a visa immediately.” Otherwise the wait was six months.
Father Apostoli continued, “They got to the 8th Memorare, and the government official said, ‘You have to wait six months to get the visa.’
“Mother Teresa prayed, ‘Mary, we just got finished thanking you for obtaining that visa for us, but you did not obtain it, so we’re going to ask you again. They began the nine Memorares again. The second time through, the phone rang again, and a second Communist official told them, ‘You will be able to get the visa immediately.’ She did not have to wait six months.”
Aboard the Flying Novena
Father Kolodiejchuk noted Mother Teresa taught: “Get into that habit of calling on her (Mary). She interceded — at the wedding feast, there was no wine. … She was so sure that he will do what she asks him. … She is mediatrix of all graces. … She is always there with us.”
One of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters explained that the Flying Novena wasn’t hard and fast in some ways. For instance, the nine Memorares might be for our Blessed Mother’s help in getting a house, or nine Memories in thanksgiving for that (rather than one tenth Memorare) because the house was already attained.
The spiritual situation and the time come into account.
She said the sisters use the Flying Novena from the simplest things such as getting out of traffic when they are stuck in it, to both serious life and death things.
The Memorare is so powerful, she said. We are to pray the Memorares with confidence and in thanksgiving knowing Our Lady will grant this.
“The Memorare is a prayer that effectively expressed Mother Teresa’s trust in the power of Mary’s intercession as the mediatrix of all graces,” Father Kolodiejchuk explained. “It flowed from the love and confidence she had in Mary and was a simple way to present her petitions to her. The speedy response she received inspired her with ever greater confidence to have recourse to Mary with the words of the Memorare.”
Mother Teresa wanted everybody to learn and use this prayer. “Mother said teach the poor to pray the Memorare. Write it down for them and teach them,” the sister said. Praying it, Our Lady will be gloried and Jesus will be glorified
There’s always reason for the Flying Novena.