The word “devotion” means loyalty. The very young are loyal to things which promise happiness as they enjoy the friendly objects of childhood. Adults may seek happiness through activities, acquiring things, friendships or in their occupations. We are all goal-setters by nature. Some that we set are immediate, others are longer range; but they rarely stand alone. One often compliments and builds upon another so, when viewed as a whole, they can represent an individual's understanding of the purpose of his own life and form the basis of his attitude toward others in society.
It is rare that our goals remain fixed. While pursuing one, we often discover the wider parameters of others which can seem to offer broader, more encompassing rewards than the one originally desired. Humans exhibit the unique quality to not only seek out those things which brings immediate happiness, but also provide satisfaction for a longer period; even a lifetime.
It seems too complicated; some say. Not really! You see, we each are born with distinct personalities, skills, talents, and the immaterial gift called the ability to reason. The gift of reason raises us to a higher level of existence above all other material creation, and allows us to think, judge and make free choices in non-material matters such as justice, honesty, peace and truth. With this gift, humans are more God-like than the rest of His material creation.
The good news is that God, during the course of the world and human events has revealed Himself and His nature to us. His Son, was born through Mary and lived among us. Without sin He became one like us. Because of the message He preached, "Love God with your whole heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself out of love for God," He was killed by envious men. Through His sacrifice of God's Son (the Lamb of God) for mankind, God repaid humanity's debt to Himself caused by the original sin of our first parents. This freed us, His adopted sons and daughters, from the debt of slavery to sin we inherited because of their rebellion.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and assured His Apostles, upon whom He established His Church and its sacraments, that they, and their successors, the universal bishops, under the leadership of the Pope guided by the Holy Spirit, could not err when teaching on matters of faith and morals.
What is a person to do when he realizes that God has accomplished this for him individually and personally? A common response is to join with Christ's Church in worshipping, praising, thanking and petitioning God through the Mass (the highest form of homage for it is the act of renewal of God's covenant with man). During the Mass, our ordinary gifts of bread and wine are changed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and received by the faithful).
The awesome gift of God's giving of Himself, should inspire feelings of respect, love, thanks, worship and praise of God, His Son, His Mother and the saints in heaven. Because of these feelings we find guidance, consolation and strength during the particular difficulties we experience in life. There are many public and private acts of worship and petitions called devotions which help us in our difficult times.
The word "devotion" identifies a feeling actualized in an expression of love and loyalty, as a thought, a glance, a smile, a word, a gesture such as the Sign of the Cross, a bow or genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, a prayer or a song. Devotions may be expressed in private or public and may include other persons. It is natural that prayers or acts of devotion become a part of our lives and repeated often, sometimes over an extended period of time. Of course, the expression of love knows no bounds!
The novena is a form of devotion. It is part of the Church's tradition to recognize the practice of saying novena prayers. Some novenas contain prayers to be recited over a period of several days to end on a special church day or saint's feast day. Nine day novenas may be traced from the early Greek and Roman customs of mourning the loss of a loved one for nine days following their death. Christians, familiar with this custom, recall the nine months Jesus spent in the womb of His mother Mary before His birth, or the nine days the apostles spent in prayer after Christ's resurrection before the Holy Spirit descended upon them and Mary at Pentecost. The number nine points toward the number ten symbolizing the completeness of God.
There are also seven day novenas, the number seven symbolically referring to a period of time during which things reach completion. Some of these novenas may culminate on a church or saint's feast day. Other novenas may be motivated by feelings of love and dependence upon God. A number of novenas have been approved by the Church, the most important of which is the novena before the Feast of Pentecost. Some novenas are commonly said during certain months when particularly important feasts are celebrated.
Keep in mind that while devotions contain certain degrees of merit in themselves, the Church's official liturgical worship of God through the Mass is of infinitely more merit and value for those who participate devoutly.