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Worthy of the Promise
By Carol Ann Morrow

Q U I C K S C A N

Church bells always resound in my innards. When the noon bells sound, I know it’s time for The Angelus—and time for lunch!

It may be this Pavlovian association that positions this prayer among my favorites. Other explanations? I am a graduate of St. Mary Academy (now closed) and Marian College, both in Indianapolis, Indiana. These schools instilled in me a love for Mary and for Marian-inspired prayers.

But I find added reasons, as I probe my spiritual consciousness, to treasure this antiphonal prayer.

Antiphony is part of it. I’m an extrovert. I like participatory forms, prayers with responses, prayers with associated actions (though the customary genuflection requires more support from nearby furniture than it once did).

I also like drama—and The Angelus supplies succinct dramatic scenes to my imagination. Further, I’ve found that a link to time (six a.m., noon and six p.m.) is a good day-planner-mode reminder for this distractable woman.

The Angelus is rooted in the rhythm of monastic life. As I understand it, when the bells called the monks to formal prayer, those involved in other occupations (recall Jean-François Millet’s famous painting, “The Angelus”) stopped to pray three Hail Marys, a working person’s psalm substitute. By the 16th century, the verses you see here had been added. (During Eastertide, the Regina Coeli, crammed with Alleluias, is prayed instead.)

The Angelus combines a nice balance of pithy verbs and phrases with the familiar comfort of the Hail Marys to cushion the verses one from another. The latter seem like bulletins from beyond, while the Aves are a moment to let those notices settle in.

I never stay settled long, which is another benefit of The Angelus. The bells ring daily, demanding that I hear the angel’s declaration and Mary’s brave Yes, then acknowledge the presence of the Word.

Even lowercase words move me. I earn my keep by respecting, polishing and trimming them. But The Word silences me. Our God uses the stuff of our communication as one of the many names Divine can claim.

The phrase I’ve pondered most is one that makes me stumble: “That we may be made worthy.” I’ll confess it here. I think I’ve already been made worthy. My worthiness was gained by the very mystery The Angelus brings to mind. But this time-honored Catholic prayer cares not a whit for my quibbles. 

So I’ve taken to this way of thinking: I describe myself right before Communion as unworthy (“O Lord, I am not worthy”). Then Jesus says the word (Word) and, voilà, I am worthy. When I pray, “That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ,” I remember, rejoice and reposition my spiritual self in a state of undeserved but much prized worthiness. The Angelus rings inside me.   

Next month: Sign of the Cross

 

v. The angel of the Lord declared to Mary,

r. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary. . .

v. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

r. Be it done to me according to your word.

Hail Mary. . .

v. And the Word was made flesh.

r. And made his dwelling among us.

Hail Mary. . .

v. Pray for us, holy Mother of God.

r. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Pour out your grace into our hearts, Lord. By the message of the angel we have learned of the incarnation of Christ, your Son; lead us, by his passion and his cross, to the glory of the resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


Carol Ann Morrow is assistant managing editor of this publication and has also been editor of Youth Update, a newsletter for high-school-age teens, since its beginning in 1982.


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