I have the picture above as a postcard. A friend sent it to me a few years ago during a visit to Paris.
In the painting we see two French peasants pause in their work during the potato harvest. In the distance we see a church bell tower which presumably is sounding the Angelus bell.
The peasants pause to recite the Angelus as they hear the bell sound.
At 8.30am each Sunday, and after 10.30 am Sunday Mass at St Stephen’s and each day just before the Morning and Evening Office, (Morning & Evening prayer, the Angelus bell is rung. On Sundays, the Mass having ended, we turn to Our Lady’s statue and say the Angelus together, it is a much loved act of prayer in our church, and people, come forward to light candles at Mary’s statue as, or just after we recite. On Fridays, the Angelus is rung and recited just before the noon mass.
The Angelus reminds us of the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with great, (if somewhat startling), news!
As we read in chapter one of Luke’s gospel, (Luke 1:26-38) God wished Mary, truly a model of humility, to be the mother of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! His desire for her brings to mind the line from Matthew’s gospel: “Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt 23:12).
Mary was the perfect choice. She had been born without the stain of original sin, as defined by the Church’s dogma of the Immaculate Conception. (Note that the Immaculate Conception relates to Mary’s conception, not our Lord’s.)
When Mary calls herself the handmaid, the servant, of the Lord, in the Angelus (from Luke 1:38) it is with inspiring humility and sincerity. How many politicians do we see today who talk a good game about service but basically just want to set up their own little fiefdoms and raid the public cookie jar? Or how many other insincere displays of humility do we see on TV or in our daily lives?
Mary’s humility was genuine. As St. Alphonsus de Liquori notes in his classic work The Glories of Mary, “her only desire was that her Creator, the giver of every good thing, should be praised and blessed.”
She thought of herself first and foremost as God’s servant, seeking glory not for herself but rather for Him. In so doing, she became, as St. Augustine put it rather poetically, a “heavenly ladder, by which God came into the world,” descending from heaven to earth, to become flesh in her womb.
Mary was happy to have God work through her. As she expressed it most famously in the canticle the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46-47). St. Paul echoed this wonderful sentiment when he wrote that “he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17).
The Angelus pays tribute to a crucial aspect of Mary’s role in the Incarnation, when it quotes from Luke’s Gospel “be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). This wonderful event could not have happened without her consent, without what is known as her fiat. By saying “yes” to God in allowing herself to become His mother, she showed us the ultimate example of trust in our Creator!
Do you think that having that kind of faith is too daunting a task? Think about the ways in which God calls each of in our daily lives. Do we say “yes” when Christ wants to work through us in showing His love to others? Or when He asks us to be graceful in trying situations? Prayer and meditation on God’s Word in scripture can help us to do His will.
Speaking of God’s word, the Angelus completes its short summary of the Incarnation with the moving reference to our Lord from John’s Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As we read in the letter to the Hebrews, Christ was like us in all things but without sin (Heb 4:15).
St. Bernard noted that our Lord came to show us His love so that He might then experience ours.
The lines that follow about being made worthy of the promises of Christ are also found in the rosary and tie in well with what follows: an appeal for God’s grace to help us in our pilgrimage of faith.
Jesus loved us enough to die for us so that we might live with Him eternally! When we pray the Angelus with humility and love, we are emulating Mary’s faith in His goodness. We are blessed in that we can ask both God and His Blessed Mother for their assistance on our journey towards Eternal Life!
The 8.30am Sunday recitation is often just as people arrive for the 9.00am mass. I have noticed recently that then, and at other Angelus times, people continue to move about and talk to one-another. The Angelus bell is a call to stay in the place we are and to redirect our thoughts to God, and to pray. The ringing of the Angelus bell is, then, a public call to a private act of prayer.
Similarly people of Muslim faith pause five times a day for Salat, a time of prayer. The faithful Muslim is called to stop the business in hand, to pause and to think of God.
When you hear the Angelus bell, or even when you imagine it is being rung, pause like the French peasants in Millet’s painting. Redirect your actions and thoughts to prayer and recite the Angelus. A special moment of private prayer, which by using the traditional words of the Angelus also strengthens your unity in prayer with the people of St Stephen’s and of course the wider church.
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray
We beseech Thee, O Lord, pour Thy grace into our hearts, that as we have know the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son by the message of an angel, so by Cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.