by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Every Sunday, thousands of people gather in Saint Peter’s Square to see and hear the Holy Father. On this occasion, the Pope presents a simple message to the crowd and imparts his pontifical blessing upon them. At the conclusion of this gathering, the Pope recites the Angelus prayer with the people. Pope Francis has great devotion to this wonderful prayer of which he has said, “The Angelus prayer is a beautiful popular expression of the faith. It is a simple prayer, recited at three specific times during the day. It thus punctuates the rhythm of our daily activities: in the morning, at midday, and at sunset. But it is an important prayer. I encourage each of you to recite it along with the Hail Mary. It reminds us of a luminous event which transforms history: the Incarnation, the moment when the Son of God became man in Jesus of Nazareth.” October is the month of the Rosary, the month of the Hail Mary, and it is an appropriate time to reflect upon the Angelus and its richness of its message within our lives.
It is not easy to trace the history of the Angelus. It is generally believed to have been associated with the monastic custom of reciting three Hail Marys at the six o’clock evening bell. The Angelus goes back at least seven centuries and has become an extremely popular prayer which unites all who pray it to a contemplative life no matter where they may be. Many of us can remember the church bells tolling at 6 AM, 12 noon and 6 PM to remind us of the prayer. The bells could be heard in rural areas as well as large cities but the practice of tolling the bells is becoming less and less common. However, the rhythm of the praying of the Angelus with the depth of its meaning is a simple but mystical way of putting us in touch with the central belief of our faith as well as the order which God has put into His creation.
There is a popular painting regarding the Angelus which calls to mind the prayer’s meaning as well as the need for all of us to reflect upon our relationship with God. The painting is that of Jean Francois-Millet (1814 – 1875) and is appropriately entitled The Angelus. Millet was born to peasant parents in France near the city of Cherbourg. He identified with simple people and many of his paintings depict them at work in the fields. The Angelus is one of them. In the painting, a couple who are harvesting potatoes pause for prayer in the field as the sun is setting. Far in the background can be seen the steeple of the church which must have been tolling the six o’clock bell. The field is vast and reveals the labors of people working in it. As the golden horizon meets the field, the beauty of God’s creation is seen and one can sense the rhythm God has placed into the day. The couple humbly and lovingly bow their heads as they pray the Angelus.
The painting extols the virtues of hard work, moral goodness and the cutting away of all the illusions which life can place before us. It reminds us of our place in the world created by God and given to us by Him to care for and cultivate. The painting reminds us of the beauty that is all around us which is a reflection of God’s splendor. As the couple pray the Angelus, they reflect upon the truth of faith that God became one of us and entered His creation in time and space. They reflect upon the fact that it was the openness of Mary to God’s will in her life that enabled the Word to become flesh. They reflect on the beautiful reality of God’s mercy and forgiveness which restored order to His creation havocked by sin.
The Angelus is a wonderful prayer for us to say. To stop in the morning, at midday and in the evening to recite the Angelus, which takes only a few minutes, puts us in touch with the rhythm of the day and of God’s creation before us. During the month of October, as we pause to reflect upon the meaning of the Angelus, we open ourselves to God’s presence ever among us. We are also reminded that it was Mary’s openness to God that enabled Him to become one of us and that we need to follow Mary’s example in our own lives. We do not have to be in a monastery or even in the church to recite this prayer. Nor do we need to abandon our present occupation to pause for it. In fact, the recitation of the Angelus brings more perspective to whatever we are doing. Praying the Angelus in this manner reminds us of the holiness of life to which we are all called and of the relationship with God which is at the center of everything.
Like the couple in Millet’s painting, we too bow our heads realizing that we are a family and family life is one of the beauties of creation. Only when, as a family, we place ourselves before God, as did Mary, will we know what true joy in life is all about.
V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace….
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
Hail Mary, full of grace….
V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace….
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray. 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.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 7, 2022