The Angelus, by Father B Rohner, OSB

'The Angelus' by Jean-François Millet, c.1858; ground floor, room Galerie Chauchard, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThere are few churches or chapels, especially in the older countries of Europe, so poor as not to be able to have some kind of a bell to toll forth three times, each day, to the surrounding country the praise of the immaculate Mother of God. Where is the Catholic Christian whose soul does not respond with joy to the pulsations of the Angelus bell as it reminds him of the Incarnation, at morning, noon, and night?

At the first few strokes of the bell the well-known words are devoutly pronounced, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Ghost.” At the second sound of the bell is said in like manner, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word;” and at the third stroke, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” adding one “Hail, Mary” each time. The exact time when this devotion took this special form and came into general use cannot be definitely ascertained. A synod held in the city of Prague, in the year 1605, declares this devotion “to have been a very ancient custom.”

It is not absolutely necessary to the gaining of the indulgence to add to the Angelus the versicle, “Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,” though it is usually added and is very commendable. The response to the last versicle is “That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

At the end, while the bell tolls slowly, the pious Christian recites the following

Prayer

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the mystery of 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 Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Profound Meaning of the Angelus

Christian reader, by practicing this beautiful and useful devotion you are reminded three times each day that the divine Word became man to redeem you and all your fellow-men from the slavery of sin. Three times, too, you are reminded of the Blessed Virgin’s motherly dignity, motherly love, and motherly self-sacrifice. The devotion enables Christians to begin and to close the day with the name of Mary. She bids us enter on the duties of the day with courage and hope, and at evening bids us take our well-earned rest with an easy conscience. She points forward and upward to the heavenly rewards of our labors here below, and thus affords us strength and courage to bear the burdens and the heats of the high noontide.

What can be more beautiful than the voice of the Angelus bell as it floats away in the fresh, fragrant morning air, mingling its tones with the sweet songs of a thousand birds? It seems to meet the rising sun, as every heart should go forth to meet the Rising Sun of Justice on Easter morn. It calls the workman to his daily toil and bids him go forth on another day of life’s journey, repeating the name of Mary. Mary is our guiding Star of morning. Turn your eyes towards her, O my soul, that she may guide thee, protect thee, encourage thee, and guard thee through the long day of earthly life.

It is noontime, the consecrated bell once more invites us to rest from labor and to seek refreshment of body and soul in pious prayer to the Mother of mercy. The midday sun now pours down upon our heads light and warmth in fullest measure. In a similar way does Mary, who is the sun of grace, sail over our souls, dispensing, with a lavish hand, grace and love, forgiveness of sin. and confidence in God.

And when the last faint rays of departing day prepare to leave us, when the quiet evening fades into the dark and mysterious night, when the bright evening star beams from the firmament, the evening Angelus bell seems to bring forth into the firmament of renewed faith, Mary, our brightest and best evening star of peace and grace. We pray to her for her blessed protection, not only at the close of the fleeting day, but also at the close of our life just as fleeting. Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

This devotion of the Angelus repeated three times a day makes our otherwise sinful world like unto the heavenly Jerusalem, where the praises offered to the heavenly Queen, mingled with the adoration offered to her divine Son, issue without interruption from the intellects of the angels and saints, and resound without ceasing through the boundless vaults of heaven.

Another feature of this tri-daily devotion of the Angelus is this: As the earth revolves on its axis, presenting to the sun its whole surface successively, thus forming day and night in different places at different times, it will be easily seen that it is always morning, noon and sunset in some portion of the globe. Thus it comes to pass that day and night an uninterrupted hymn of praise and prayer is offered to God and His blessed Mother through the devotion of the Angelus. The Angelus bell never ceases to remind its hearers of the great benefit of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, awakening in millions of hearts sentiments of the deepest gratitude to Jesus, their Saviour, and to Mary, His Mother.

With a view of diffusing the devotion of the Angelus widely among the faithful, thus to reward and encourage piety, our holy Mother, the Church, has enriched it with indulgences. One, of a hundred days, is granted to all persons who, at the ringing of the Angelus bell, at morning, noon, and night, repeat the prescribed prayers with a humble and contrite heart. Such persons should kneel at each performance, except from Saturday evening till Sunday evening, both inclusive, when they may stand. A plenary indulgence may be obtained by all persons who, during the month, have recited the Angelus at least once a day, and who, at the end of that time, confess their sins and receive holy communion, praying for the intention of our Holy Father, the Pope (Benedict XIII, 14 September 1724). During the Paschal season the faithful, instead of the Angelus, recite, standing, the hymn, “Regina coeli laetare,” “Queen of heaven rejoice,” etc. Those, however, who do not know this hymn, may recite the ordinary form of the Angelus. Those of the faithful who live in places where the sound of the Angelus bell cannot be heard, may gain the indulgences by saying the usual Angelus prayers about the time that the bells ring in their longitude, paying due attention to the difference of the season, and the hours of sunrise and sunset. (Pius VI, 18 March 1781)

Christian reader, you have doubtless met with cowardly persons who had not, in the presence of others, the courage to uncover their heads, and to interrupt for a few minutes their conversation or occupation, to salute the sublime Mother of God with a devout “Hail, Mary.” Once upon a time, at the first sound of the Angelus bell, all conversation would cease, all work would be interrupted, all amusement would be suspended, and all would pray aloud. Will you join the cowards or the pious worshippers? If you have not the courage to salute publicly Mary as your Mother, how can you hope that she will prove herself to be your Mother in life or at the hour of death?

The following poem, entitled “Ave Maria Bells,” by Charles Warren Stoddard, appeared in the Ave Maria:

At dawn the joyful choir of bells,
In consecrated citadels,
Flings on the sweet and drowsy air
A brief, melodious call to prayer.
For Mary, Virgin meek and lowly,
Conceived of the Spirit Holy,
As the Lord’s angel did declare.

At noon, above the fretful street,
Our souls are lifterl to repeat
The prayer, with low and wistful voice,
“According to Thy word and choice.
Though sorrowful and heavy-laden,
So be it done to Thy handmaiden.”
Then all the sacred bells rejoice!

At eve with roses in the west,
The daylight’s withering bequest,
Ring prayerful bells while blossom bright
The stars, the lilies of the night.
Of all the songs the years have sung us.
“The Word made flesh has dwelt among us”
Is still our ever new delight.

The Bell of the “De Profundis”

A devout son of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Cajetan of Thiena, who was born in the year 1480, and who while yet a child, was so ardently devoted to the Blessed Virgin as to be called by his companions “Saint Cajetan,” had long desired to have the benefits of the Angelus bell applied to the suffering souls in purgatory. This holy founder of the Clerks Regulars, or Theatines, about the year 1546 introduced into the city of Naples a pious custom of ringing the church bells every evening, some time after sunset, and of inciting the people to recite the 129th Psalm of David, known from its opening words as the “De Profundis.” His object was to aid the souls in purgatory by having the faithful send up a united prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin, with that intention. This devotion has ever since been known as the “Ave” of the “De Profundis.” The Synod of Salzburg, in the year 1616, introduced this tender devotion into Germany. The Synod of Cologne, in the year 1627, gave orders that the signal-call for this devotion. in behalf of the souls in purgatory, should be made by a ringing of the bell, altogether distinct from the Angelus. The devotion spread gradually from country to country throughout Christendom. Every evening, some time after the Angelus bell ceases to shed its music on the twilight air, another smaller and softer bell is heard to toll out the invitation and exhortation, “Pray for the dead,” “De Profundis clamavi.”

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898