Monday, August 13, 2007

The Angelus Domini...

The other day, as I was visiting Our Lord, exposed on the altar, the bells rang for the 6pm Angelus, or more properly, the Angelus Domini.
I had arrived there about 5:45 on Wednesday, and there were about fifteen others scattered about the church, Fr. Val among them, sitting there praying his Breviary.
When the bells rang, he stood up, as did nearly everyone else there but myself, and began to pray the Angelus. And everyone who stood with him, responded to his promptings with the correct prayers...they all seemed to know it by heart.
As I sat there, watching, and trying to pray along, not knowing what to say, I was most impressed. The Angelus is not a prayer that most people say these fact, very few even know what it is!
I had heard of it while I was growing up ~ it was a prayer that cloistered nuns prayed. It was a prayer that farmers in the Middle Ages prayed. It was a prayer that went up from all over the known world at the time of other traditions that have since been set aside by those who, after the Second Vatican Council, tried to tell us that they knew more than the Pope himself! It was a prayer said by the Saints, but it was also a prayer that was not good enough for modern man.
So, sadly, it was a prayer that was put away...
Up until about the early part of the 17th century, the Faithful only said three Hail Mary's while the monks and nuns said the full prayer...but about this time there was added more to the recitation for lay people as well, until we came to have the prayer that we do now, until, that is, it was most commonly discontinued by a great majority of the Church.
During the Easter Season, however, the Regina Coeli is recited instead...much more joyous...and this all came about in the middle of the 18th cent.
I know that in the Vatican City, the bells are still rung faithfully to this day...and also in one or two pockets of the world, namely the Republic of Ireland.
And of course, in my beloved parish, Ss. Cyril & Methodius, it is also prayed every day...
Since I am to be a member of the OA, I must remember to memorize this prayer. The next time I go to worship Him at this time on a Wednesday, when Fr. Val stands to lead us in prayer, I will be able to stand with him and all the others, and say them right along!
The beginnings of the Angelus give praise to God for the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. It begins with the phrase, 'The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary; and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.' Giving notice to Our Lord's becoming fully Human ~ and it has been said that one thing that offends Him quite seriously is when people do not give Him due honor for taking a human nature to Himself ~ is a great duty of all Catholics everywhere.
It used to be that the Angelus was said while kneeling, and during the time of the Regina Coeli (Eastertide) one would stand. In recent years, this has been relaxed a bit, and standing/kneeling is not necessary. (When I was in the church the other day, they were standing.) I did learn since then, however, that I could have stood, said five Hail Mary's (silently) since I do not know the prayers...more's the pity. I have printed out a copy and will be carrying it with me for the next time, however.
The way I understand it, through my research into the history of this practice, is that the three times a day was a later addition...that the evening Angelus was the first to spread, followed by the morning and lastly, the midday.
While the Faithful recited three Hail Mary's at about sunset, and the monastics said the Angelus, an indulgence was added to the practice...this was about the early part of the 14th cent. There was a bell, the Complin bell, which was rung every day at about sunset ~ and it was recommended that the people say their Hail Mary's at this time, in honor of Our Lady and Her role in the Incarnation of Jesus. There is also some report of certain prayers being said, along with the 150 Psalms, three times a day during the 10th cent. And later, instead of the 150 Psalms, the practice of 150 Hail Mary's, or more commonly, the Most Holy Rosary!
The reason it was first begun at about dusk was the fact that it is most commonly believed that this was the hour when the Archangel Gabriel first greeted Mary with his famous salutation, 'Hail, Mary, Full of grace!' So, it was completely natural, with the introduction of the Hail Mary, that the people would take on this practice to honor Her during the same time that those in the Cloisters were reciting the Angelus in Her honor, for the very same reason!
As far as the morning Angelus is concerned, it seems to have begun in the early 14th cent., in the city of Parma, Italy. The Bishop had asked that the people say three Our Father's and three Hail Mary's for peace, and a morning bell would ring to remind them...and by the end of the century it was a popular practice throughout Europe.
Now, the midday bells, on the other hand, had to do with the Passion of Our Lord...and they probably began sometime in the (very) late 14th century. They started out in Prague, and were mainly rung out on Fridays, but slowly they were added to the daily ringing, as well. After some time had passed, the Church taught that the Faithful should honor the Resurrection at the dawn bells, the Passion at the noon bells, and the Incarnation at the evening bells. At first the prayers for each ringing were different, and this practice became the norm until the (very) early 17th century, when the Regina Coeli was substituted during the Season of Easter.
There was a time, mostly in Italy, where three Gloria's were added to the evening prayers, to honor Our Lady's virtues and the great privileges bestowed upon Her by God, and also a prayer in the evening for the Holy Souls.
So, all in all, it has taken centuries for the Angelus Domini to take its present form...and a decade or two to all but disappear from popular devotion.
I know that one or two parishes here and there don't make a big difference in the whole scheme of things...but I would be willing to bet that, just as the Prayer to St. Michael (said in my parish after every Holy Mass) has also fallen out of common usage, so much so that our own children don't even know it, sooner or later it will be popular once again!
And it starts with one person at a time...a turn at a time.
This time, the turn is mine.


Christine M said...

I wish I knew prayers like the Angelus. I should make the effort to learn it. Thanks for the nudge.

~~JennD.'J.M.J.'~* said...

You're welcome! ;)
I'm taking that copy with me whenever I go in the Fr. Val won't catch me in ignorance again! LOL...

Marianne said...

I'm trying to reach you in order to let you know which saint chose you! Please email me at and I'll be happy to let you know which saint picked you! God bless! Marianne