Imagine a world where each day and in every time zone, people would pause briefly at Noon and raise their hearts and minds to God recalling the moment when the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was to be the mother of Jesus. One can only dream of such a day! More within the realm of possibility is that Catholics across the world would once again return to reciting the ancient practice of the Angelus, a prayer which so many of us have forgotten or don’t know how to pray. While the history of the Angelus is not easy to trace, it is generally thought to have been established some 700 years ago with the monastic custom of reciting three Hail Marys during the evening bell. Since the sixteenth century, three sentences were added to each of the three Hail Marys to formulate the Angelus prayer along the lines of what we know today.
For centuries, this ancient Marian devotion, in memory of the Incarnation, had been traditionally recited by Catholics across the globe three times a day at 6 am, Noon and 6 pm. In some parts of the world, the Angelus bell still rings across rural areas, small towns and even some large cities – but not nearly as widely as it once did.
Perhaps like me growing up your parents had a copy of Jean-Francois Millet’s celebrated painting known simply as “The Angelus” (1857-1859) hanging up somewhere at home. One of the most reproduced paintings ever, Millet’s simple masterpiece shows a husband and wife interrupting their work in a potato field and bowing their heads for the Angelus prayer in response to the bell tolling from the church steeple. Years ago, I was blessed to live on the outskirts of a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina named Ljubuski where I taught high school English and where many of the humble locals still recited the Angelus. Located just 13 miles from the popular Catholic pilgrimage site of Medjugorje, I lived in the shadow of a Franciscan monastery which devotedly rang the Angelus bell. The bell became my 6 am alarm clock where I would begin my day with the Angelus. At Noon, I would hear nearby neighbors cease working in their fields and gardens – a hush appeared over the rural landscape as we stopped and prayed. In the evening, the 6pm Angelus bell again called people to raise their eyes from what is below to what is above. When I came back to America, I deeply missed the daily Angelus bells amid the hustle and bustle of our American landscape, even though until today I’ve been able to maintain my Noon Angelus prayer. I’ve often thought about what amazing changes might occur in our world and in our country if we as Catholics, would once again unite, if only at Noon, to again recite this simple yet powerful devotion.
So why is it important to pray the Angelus? For one reason, it helps us to acknowledge each day the heart of our Catholic Faith – the celebration of the incarnation of God’s only begotten Son. Like other daily Catholic devotions, the Angelus has the ability to sanctify our day. The prayer, which takes only a few minutes, is a short summary of the greatest event in human history that changed the world forever! It also helps us to recall the Blessed Virgin’s “Fiat” in becoming the Mother of God when “the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” In doing so, it helps us to not only thank Mary for her perfect obedience to God’s will but also to imitate her “yes” in our own lives regarding God’s will and plans for us. It is also an important reminder of God’s immense love for us in sending his only begotten son so that by his passion and cross, we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection.
Amid a world that tries hard to have us believe we can be satisfied with material goods and success – the Angelus prayer gets to the heart of things in helping us realize and give thanks for God’s redemptive and life-altering gift of the Incarnation. If you’ve not prayed the Angelus in a while or if you would like to learn it – why not give it a try! You will see what a difference it makes in your life and how it will become a truly satisfying and edifying part of your day.
The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
our death. Amen.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
Hail Mary . . .
And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary . . .
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.
cover image credit: shutterstock.com
lower image: shutterstock.com