I remember praying the Angelus at school. At the 12 o’clock bell we’d all stop what we were doing, stand up, and pray the Angelus. I didn’t carry on with it after school, but at least I was taught it. Here’s the testimony of a Catholic school teacher who’d never heard of it. Now he’s spreading the word.
[…T]he Angelus is a new devotion to so many young Catholics today, including me. Years ago, almost every Catholic knew of and prayed the Angelus. Bells would ring at dawn, noon, and dusk at the nearby church and people would stop everything and begin praying, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary . . . and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”
My first encounter with the Angelus came on a pilgrimage to Rome ten years ago just a week before the start of Advent. After a long, overnight flight to Rome, we attended Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica then joined a crowd of thousands gathered in the square to listen to the Pope’s Angelus address and pray together. When the Holy Father finished his message and began the prayer, I had no idea what to do. I was teaching theology at a Catholic high school at the time, but I am sad to admit that I had never in my life prayed the Angelus.
It wasn’t until a few years later as a 3rd grade catechist that I began to pray this wonderful devotion myself. Our associate pastor at the time came in at the beginning of Advent in 2012 to teach my students about praying the Angelus. He made the case for it being the perfect prayer for the season of Advent. I decided to try it out and four years later it has become the cornerstone of my devotional life and something I do along with my family every day. My hope is that it will become essential to the days of all Catholics worldwide once again as it was in centuries past.
An Angelus History
The history of the Angelus is a little difficult to trace. We know for sure that the origins of the prayer were fairly simple. It was popular among lay Catholics in the Middle Ages to pray three Hail Marys each day. This triple Hail Mary has been recommended by many different saints throughout history including St. Bonaventure, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Josemaría Escrivá.
In the fourteenth century the three Hail Marys became the common way for lay people to participate in evening prayer. Since people were mostly illiterate and unable to follow along with the Divine Office, they could say the Hail Mary three times to end their days. At some point during the next two centuries the three Hail Marys were supplemented by the words of the Angelus prayer which we have today. Bells rang from the church towers to remind all people to join in praying the Angelus to remember the Annunciation and to celebrate Christ’s presence among us.