Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The angel of the Lord declard unto Mary...

The above is Leonardo DaVinci's rendering of The Annunciation, perhaps one of the most painted Biblical moments in iconography. Much ink has been spilled in analyzing this single moment in history, and much paint carefully layered in capturing it. Advent and Christmas are good times in the liturgical year to pause and contemplate such works of art. One of my favorites is the triptych of the Annunciation known as the Merode Altarpiece, part of the Cloister's permanent collection. It was painted by the Netherlandish painter Robert Campin, or at least by his associates.
This is also a good time of year to turn our spiritual reading, lectio divina, and prayers, to the theme of the Incarnation. One of my favorite prayers, is the Angelus. This prayer was traditionally said three times a day and accompanied by the tolling of bells at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm. It can be traced back to the Middle Ages, but like the Rosary and other popular prayers, it did not appear suddenly in Church history, but rather has evolved organically over time. With certitude we know it was being said in Franciscan orders in Italy as early as the thirteenth century, but originally as an accompaniment to compline. In the writings of St. Bonaventure there is reference made to the tolling of bells and the prayer of three Hail Marys at compline. Also in Franciscan texts is it noted that the laity in the area were included in this prayer.

Later monastic directives include instructions for the ringing of the bell and the thrice recitation of Hail Marys at lauds. Tracing the evolution to the addition of three Hail Marys to midday prayer is difficult, but it was definitely being practiced in some religious orders as a year-round tradition by the sixteenth century. The accompanying versicles and responses seem to be a later addition, but still dating back as early as the seventeenth century.

While the Angelus may seem a prayer of the past, it is alive and well for many Catholics, and I believe, is on the rise. There are some parts of the world that never totally abandoned the Angelus. The tolling of bells at 6 am, noon, and 6pm, is still done in many parishes. I first encountered the Angelus as a college student at Sarah Lawrence. I would sometimes go to noon mass at the local church, St. Joseph's in Bronxville. There, at noon, the church bells ring and the parishioners faithfully recite the Angelus. I did not know this prayer and had to look up the text online so that I could join in. I quickly memorized it and it became one of my favorites. To my delight, when I lived in Oakland, CA, I met other young adults who knew and enjoyed this prayer. Finally, I have encountered many religious who still recite it, such as the Franciscans of the Renewal, the Sisters of Life, the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, the Sisters of the Resurrection, and the Sisters Minor of Mary Immaculate. These orders preserve this tradition and do a good job of spreading the practice to the laity.

Any internet search will reveal the text of the prayers. The English version can be found at I would like to include in the post the original Latin, and a French translation.


Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae.
- Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto
Ave Maria, gratia plena...

Ecce ancilla Domini.
- Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
Ave Maria, gratia plena...

Et Verbum caro factum est,
- Et habitavit in nobis.
Ave Maria, gratia plena...

V/ Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genitrix,
R/ Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut qui, Angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus, per Passionem ejus et Crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.


L'Ange du Seigneur annonça à Marie...
-Et et elle conçut du Saint-Esprit.
Je vous salue, Marie...

Voici la servante du Seigneur,
-Qu'il me soit fait selon votre parole.
Je vous salue, Marie...

Et le Verbe s'est fair chair,
-Et il a habité parmi nous.
Je vous salue, Marie...

V/ Priez pour nous, sainte Mère de Dieu,
R/ Afin que nous soyons dignes des promesses de Jésus-Christ.

Daignez, Seigneur, répandre votre grâce sure nos âmes, afin qu'ayant connus, par l'annonce de l'Ange, l'incarnation du Christ votre Fils, nous soyions conduits par sa Passion et par sa Croix, à la gloire de sa résurrection. Par le même Jésus-Christ Notre Seigneur. Amen.

Sources for the informatino for this post include the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, courtesy of and Jean Fournée's Histoire de L'Angelus.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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