Like any other art, the use and collection of stampitas and novenas demand commitment, constancy and even, skill.
One of my personal hobbies that can be and is surely considered by a lot of modern-day people as the “oddest” would be me collecting stampitas and novenas. Ever since I was in 3rd grade in the Ateneo, I’ve always been interested in the collection of things, and one category I like to collect are sacramentals. These objects used for pious devotion have always caught my attention.
First, it is a way of making art accessible. Before, when I was still not Google-dependent, along with everybody else, mind you, stampitas and novenas were ways for me to know and appreciate Catholic art. There were the famous images of a saint or of the Virgin or of Christ on the cover of the novena. Of course, the stampitas featured images too, with either a prayer or short biography of the holy person printed at the back of the stampita. Likewise, there were the heraldic symbols of the bishops who served as Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur of the novenas. Every now and then, pages would be ornamented with “Catholic prints” as well as images of vines and flora.
Then, it was really a way for me to pray. I used to have a difficulty with composing my own prayers, and so I resorted to the prayers found in stampitas and novenas. Of course, one prayed too to a saint, title of Mary or of Christ for particular needs. My first devotion was to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and thus, my oldest owned novena is that of the novena to the Most Sacred Heart. It belonged to my Mama. Then, there’s also my devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, which began exactly in Grade 5, the Year of the Jubilee. When her relics as the Jubilee saint visited Mount Carmel in New Manila, my mama brought me home a stampita and novena to her, and from then on, I prayed to her. Sadly, I no longer have those articles. Luckily, my friends (who didn’t know I had a deep devotion to her), gave me little book of her life and writings in Spanish, which they brought from Segovia, Spain. I also prayed to Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, who became a saint recently, as well as to Sta. Clara, Sta. Rita and Saint Jude for more “serious cases”.
These novenas and stampitas that I have are plenty, and I mean, MANY. They’re all over my room, and they sometimes get mixed with the common prayer books found in the altars at home. But now that there are more of them, and a lot of them, which I haven’t used or seen in a while are either fading in color or are catching dust. The pages of many of my novenas have turned either brown or yellowish, while my stampitas are covered with a thin layer of dust. I need to do something to them.
I might have an “inventory” of these things, or start keeping them in individual plastic sheets with labels just in case something happens. The stampitas I feature in this blog are just a few. Hahaha!
But in any case, these religious items will forever be close to my heart. They have kept me company through years of trial, and when I do ask for their intercession, the saints and other holy people of my stampitas and novenas never failed me. I remember vividly how intensely I prayed, especially to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to whom I am a devotee, the day of the release of the results of the ACET in January 2007. I prayed ALL my novenas and stampitas with prayers in the Pink Sisters convent before proceeding to the Blue Eagle gym. People were texting me “please pray for me, I didn’t pass” while others texted “I passed! You?” and all those other texts. When I got there, I was able to muster all the strength I could, and voila, I read that I was accepted.
There was also that day when the announcement of who the Grand Prize winner of the “Rizal na, Europa pa” would be came. I spent a good number of hours praying in the Perpetual Adoration chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, constantly referring to my stampitas and prayer cards. Fortunately, I won that contest.
When I won that contest, and eventually, when I did get to Europe, my devotions to particular figures in my stampita made more sense and felt more real. I say this because despite the many times I wanted to hear Mass in Europe, for example in Paris’ Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur, I didn’t have the opportunity. But lo, I was able to hear my one and only Mass in Europe at the first and original church of the Holy Infant of Prague (Santo Nino de Praga), which was owned by the Carmelite friars. It was amazing. My devotion to the Holy Infant, and to Our Lady of Carmel as well as St. Therese, a Carmelite, seemed to make sense. Either I’m just forcing the issue or it really is Providence, I am convinced that God has had a hand in things.
And that’s one reason why this art of collecting novenas and stampitas shouldn’t be lost. In the days before Vatican II, and even until the late 1960s, young boys and girls collected these things most especially of those of their favorite saints. They would keep these and place them in their wallets or in a prominent place in their bedroom. They, of course, used these too for praying and for devotional practice. It is also a good way of developing a sense of commitment. You need to complete the 9 consecutive days; laziness and neglectfulness is not allowed. There were also the scapulars, Roman Missals, rings, pendants, medallions and statues but those may fall under another topic.
I still remember those old stampitas and novenas in my Lolo’s house. They were so brown and fragile, it was as if they’d turn to dust when I hold them. There were also the novenas and stampitas in Spanish and also in native dialects, suggestive of the social ferment around those times. Novenas in English also use Old English, and that added to my attraction to these objects that seemed to hold back time.
This art should never be stopped because they not only teach one about the saints but they also lead one to prayer and inspiration. Since they’ve also been used and touched, even gripped by people you love, it also gives a sense of continuity, tradition and importance. This was surely hecho ayer.