March 2018 Faith Community Reflection

The Angelus

Rev. Richard Marsden


The Angelus, 1857-1859, Jean-François Millet

At 12 noon and at 6pm every day in Rome (thankfully not at 6am), a distinctive sound resonates throughout the city. It is, of course, a prolonged pealing of church bells which indicates the moments we traditionally pray the Angelus. The sound announces that, by his Incarnation, Christ is in our midst, journeying with us through our daily tasks. Such a prominent reminder is welcome, particularly amid a busy day when it’s easy to lose track of time and forget to keep our focus on the Lord. Despite there being no such prompt in most places across the UK, the praying of the Angelus is vital to help sanctify the day and draw us closer to Christ and his heavenly mother.

The Angelus originated from a practice initiated as early as the 11th century when monasteries would recite three Hail Marys during the evening or Compline bell, as well as the bell for Prime in the mornings. In 1269, St Bonaventure urged the faithful to also adopt this custom of prayer. In 1456, Pope Calixtus III asked for a long midday ringing of bells for people to pray for protection against the Turkish invasions of the time. Even now, it is linked “to the prayer for peace and safety” [Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974]. The current form of the Angelus prayer originates from a Venitian Catechism from 1560. As Pope Francis has said, the prayer “punctuates the rhythm of our daily activities” and reminds us of the Incarnation, “a luminous event which transformed history” [Angelus, World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, 26 July 2013].

The month of March seems an opportune time to renew our love of the Angelus, particularly as we are asked in Lent to devote more time to prayer. As we know, the first two parts of the prayer focus our gaze on the Scriptures of the March 25 Solemnity of the Annunciation. Despite the obvious reason for the date, it being nine months before Christmas, it seems no coincidence that the Solemnity invariably falls either in Lent or, like this year, is transferred to the first liturgically possible day after the Easter Octave. As the Angelus alludes to in its final words, the mysteries of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ are inseparable. Without Mary’s “yes” to conceiving and giving birth to Jesus, our redemption cannot happen. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “…the event of Bethlehem must be considered in the light of the Paschal Mystery; they are both part of Christ’s one work of redemption. Jesus’ Incarnation and Birth are already an invitation to us to direct our gaze to his death and his Resurrection.” [General Audience, Wednesday December 21, 2011]

Perhaps this Lent we could encourage parishioners, family and friends to join us in pausing for a few moments each day in asking Our Lady to bring us deeper into the mysteries of the Son of God that we are preparing to celebrate with joy so that all of us may “be brought to the glory of his Resurrection through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”