My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last month I celebrated Mass and attended the luncheon for the Springfield Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (SDCCW) at Immaculate Conception Church in Mattoon. The SDCCW is an affiliate of the National Council of Catholic Women and actively promotes the Catholic faith through service and leadership. The council is comprised of women from parishes all across our diocese. Before lunch, I was asked to say the grace before our meal, which I happily did. Since it was about 12 noon, I led the group in reciting the Angelus prayer. Afterwards, a woman who grew up in Germany thanked me for leading the Angelus prayer, saying that she and her family in Germany would always stop to say that prayer at 12 noon and 6 p.m. every day, but that custom did not seem to be observed in the United States.
I told her that it is my personal practice to say the Angelus prayer the first thing when I get up in the morning, at 12 noon, and at 6 p.m. every day. If I am with people at noon or 6 p.m., I invite them to say the Angelus with me. Perhaps many others still pray the Angelus privately, but it is very powerful when people stop whatever they are doing to say this prayer together.
An oil painting completed between 1857 and 1859 by French painter Jean-François Millet, that he called The Angelus, depicts two farmers bowing in a field over a basket of potatoes while saying the Angelus prayer. The portrait includes a church that can be seen in the distance, indicating that it is the ringing of the bell from the church on the horizon that reminded the couple that it was time to say this prayer. Many churches today still ring their bells at 6 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. as a reminder and a call to pause and say the Angelus prayer. In 1964, Pope Paul VI began to pray the Angelus publicly on a weekly basis at St. Peter’s Square accompanied by a short address to the pilgrims there. Every pope since that time has continued to do so on Sundays at 12 noon.
So, what is the Angelus prayer and how does one pray it? The Angelus prayer is based on the biblical account of the Annunciation in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, verses 26-56. The Annunciation is the name given to that momentous event when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her home in Nazareth and announced that she was to become the mother of the Incarnation of God. The title Angelus is Latin for “Angel” and comes from the first word of the prayer, which starts out, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.” The angel Gabriel’s declaration starts out with the greeting, “Hail, Mary, full of grace” and then he tells her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Mary responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). At that very moment, Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Thus, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which we celebrate in the Catholic Church throughout the world every year on March 25, also marks the Incarnation of God becoming man.
The Angelus prayer is said in the following way:
Leader: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
Response: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Response: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Leader: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Response: Be it done to me according to thy word.
Leader: Hail Mary ...
Leader: And the Word was made flesh.
Response: And dwelt among us.
Leader: Hail Mary …
Leader: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
Response: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Leader: Let us pray:
All: 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. Amen.
The month of October is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. As we are encouraged to pray the rosary every day, it would also be a great blessing to pray the Angelus every day in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.
May God give us this grace. Amen.Cutline: The Angelus, a painting by Jean-François Millet.