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