This Advent hundreds of people have joined together in a commitment to praying the Angelus as special preparation for the coming of Christmas. In many ways, the Angelus is the perfect Advent prayer. Its words focus our minds and hearts on the Incarnation and take us on a journey with Mary from the Annunciation to the Nativity. What better way to celebrate Advent each day than in praying the Angelus?
Yet, the 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.
Why Pray the Angelus during Advent?
This year I started an initiative at AdventAngelus.com as a part of a dream to spread the Angelus worldwide once again. My mission has been to invite people to join me and hundreds others who have made particular commitment to praying the Angelus during Advent.
It is, of course, more than just an Advent prayer. We pray the Angelus throughout the entire year (except for the season of Easter when it is replaced in our daily devotion by the Regina Caeli). Yet, praying it now during this season of preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas gives it a special meaning in our lives.
There are a lot of ways to prepare for Christmas. There are Advent devotional books and now many daily Advent video series. There is the Jesse Tree to help us retell the stories of Jesus’ ancestors. And there is, of course, the Advent wreath that helps us mark each new Sunday leading up to Christmas. For me and many others, though, the Angelus has been a very important devotion during Advent as well.
The Angelus pinpoints some essential moments in Salvation History just as the weekly and daily Advent readings do. The words of the prayer remind us of the Annunciation and Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, which undid Eve’s “no” to God in the Garden of Eden. We remember the Incarnation and end the prayer with a reminder of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
In the Angelus we look to Mary as the supreme example of holiness. We echo her words and take on her holy disposition as “handmaid of the Lord” with an openness to letting God’s will be done in our lives. We recognize just as we do in the season of Christmas that Jesus is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, present here on earth. God is not far off and uninvolved. He is here among us even today.
The words of the Angelus orient us toward the Incarnation. They help us recognize and reflect on the importance of Christ’s presence on earth and in our hearts. Yet, they do more than just remind us of these important truths. In praying the Angelus we realize the Lord’s presence in our hearts at this very moment in the very place that we pray. In a sense we enact through our prayer what we are called to reflect on during our Advent journeys. We stop everything three times each day and proclaim that God is here, present among us even today.
As the journey of Advent continues and we look toward Bethlehem and the Nativity of Christ, may we prepare our hearts in a special way to walk with the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, through this prayer. May we, through praying the Angelus during this Advent season, truly recognize the importance of the coming of Christ into the world and into our lives.
Jared Dees is an author of Praying the Angelus (2017). He is also the founder of The Religion Teacher website and the AdventAngelus.com initiative.