Novena to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Doctor of the Church, theologian and promoter of the monastic life was undoubtedly the most eminent ecclesiastic of 12th century. Pope Pius XII called him the "last of the fathers" and referred to him as Doctor Mellifluus (the "sweet doctor", in reference to the sweetness of his doctrine and tender spirituality) in a 1953 encyclical of the same name. In pursuing perfection through the monastic life, St. Bernard's character exuded such a sweetness that his entire family was drawn away with him, such that the majority of his immediate and extended family took vows. It was said that women used to lock up their sons when Bernard came to town for fear they would become monks after discoursing with the holy man. His theological and spiritual writings still nourish millions of souls today, and his holiness and strength of character molded the age in which he lived and made him a pillar in the Church and society of the 12th century.

The Feast of the Mellifluus Doctor is celebrated on August 20th, and in anticipation of this feast, we present to you the Novena to St. Bernard, courtesy of the Poor Knights of Christ. Please note that the five prayers of the novena with the accompanying Gloria Patri's are to be prayed on each day of the novena.


Even if it may be too late to end the Novena exactly on the 20th, we still recommend praying this most excellent novena for several reasons:

St. Bernard demonstrates to us a model of true engagement with the world without adopting the mores of the world. Pope Pius XII wrote that "in the changing and often stormy times in which he lived, he seemed to dominate by his holiness, wisdom, and most prudent counsel." [1] St. Bernard was a mystic, but not a recluse. He engaged the world and its problems with energy and zeal but never allowed himself to become part of the world. He engaged the world, but on God's terms, and hence "he seemed to dominate" it by the power of holiness. This is the true engagement with the world that the Church needs, not the false "openness" to the world that many of the progressive promoters of modernism envision, one in which the Church engages the world on the world's terms and becomes part of the world. St. Bernard demonstrated the relation of Church and world in proper order, and this is a vision we desperately need to recapture. This is a great intention to attach to this novena.

Similarly, Pius XII recommends St. Bernard as a model of charity. St. Bernard was filled with the love of God at all times, even enraptured by it, but he saw no dichotomy between loving God and condemning error and sin. Even while Bernard was was always singing the praise of God's love, he was never slow to condemn heresy or rebuke notorious sinners, with marvelous results. "Hence," says Pius XII, "that divine love with which the Doctor of Clairvaux was so ardently aflame must be re-enkindled in the hearts of all men, if we desire the restoration of Christian morality, if the Catholic religion is to carry out its mission successfully, and if, through the calming of dissension and the restoration of order, injustice and equity, serene peace is to shine forth on mankind so weary and bewildered." [2]

Finally, because of his eminent holiness, St. Bernard was known as a powerful intercessor even within his own lifetime. His sanctity, and particularly his tender devotion to Our Lady, make him a model monk and an admirable acquaintance to have among the friends of God. The merits of his prayers are immense; for this reason, Dante made him one of the pivotal characters in the heavenly circles in Paradiso. St. Bernard's intercession works most powerfully in the aid of God's people.

In order to derive the most benefit from this novena, we also recommend following the advice of another great saint, Alphonsus Ligouri, who recommends the following in conjunction with this or any novena:

  • Internal Mortifications: “abstaining from the indulgence of curiosity, either through the eye or the ear; remaining retired and silent; obeying, not answering with impatience; bearing contradictions, and other things of the sort”
  • “The most useful exercise is to propose, at the beginning, the amending of some fault into which we are most liable to fall. And to this end it is well,.., to ask pardon for some past sin, renew the intention of avoiding it in future” and of course to implore the help of our heavenly intercessor in this particular fault. 

At the End of the Novena

  • To receive Holy Communion.
  • To ask pardon of our negligences and the grace to be more faithful in the coming year.
  • For the grace to die a good death. 

 Some other suggestions from Saint Alphonsus (if marked with an * Saint Alphonsus recommends consulting a spiritual director first on these):

  • To make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and there to say your novena prayer.
  • To make 3 visits daily to a holy image or statue.
  • To make a certain number of acts of love daily (Saint Alphonsus recommends 150 to Jesus and Mary)
  • To read every day some work for a quarter of an hour, some book that treats on the particular Saint or devotion.
  • *To do some special external mortification for the length of the novena (fasting, hairshirt, discipline etc)
  • *Abstinence from certain agreeable food (like desserts or fruit) or chewing some bitter herb.
  • *On the vigil of the end of the novena, to fast on bread and water

The novena and above information from St. Alphonus Ligouri is provided courtesy of the Poor Knights of Christ (Christi Pauperum Militum Ordo), who have St. Bernard as their patron by virtue of his authorship of the original Rule for the Knights of the Temple, of which the Poor Knights are the official spiritual successors. For more information on the Poor Knights, visit their website here.

Click here for Pius XII's encyclical Doctor Mellifluus


[1] Pius XII, Doctor Mellifluus, 1
[2] ibid. 15