The Festival of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail from 'Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary' by Fra AngelicoThe celebration of the festival of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin dates from remote antiquity. Indeed, so ancient is this “Lady Day in Spring” that all positive traces of its formal and solemn institution are lost in the dim twilight of antiquity. It is the pious belief of many learned men that it was established by the apostles themselves. It is also natural to suppose that our holy Mother herself would, as the day came round each year, commemorate with special devotion and reverence that momentous anniversary on which such priceless graces and blessings had been vouchsafed to herself and to all mankind, for on that day the Eternal Word had taken flesh in her chaste womb. The apostles, on their part, observing Mary’s pious practice of thanksgiving to God and considering it to be their duty to imitate the holy Mother of God, gave instructions wherever they went that this anniversary should be kept with due solemnity and devotion. Thus the festival of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin was established throughout the Church from the very beginning, although under different names or titles. It was variously known as “The Conception of Christ,” “The Heralding of Christ,” “The Announcement of the Lord,” “The Beginning of Redemption,” “The Feast of the Glad Tidings.” and by even other no less significant titles. All these names express plainly the same thing, namely, that on this day was solemnized the great and grace-bringing mystery of the Incarnation of Christ in Mary, the ever pure Virgin. But it is not only on the 25th of March that the joyous bells summon us to church and remind us of the important moment when, very nearly two thousand years ago, the angel Gabriel brought the glad tidings of salvation for all men to a simple maiden in a lowly cot at Nazareth. Three times each day are we reminded, by the voices of the bells, in the Angelus or “Angelical Salutation.”

This beautiful devotion, so dear to the hearts of the Catholic world, was not instituted in the beginning, not all at once, but came gradually into the different countries of Christendom. In the year 1327 Pope John XXII issued orders that the faithful should recite three “Hail Marys” each time that the evening bells proclaimed the eve of a festival. A council of bishops and priests assembled in the city of Paris, in the year 1346, enforced this mandate of the Pope very strictly, and soon after the German bishops followed their example. These latter merely added a condition that the people should pray for the preservation of peace. In the course of time the morning devotion was added to the evening salutation. As early as 1360 the French bishops ordered that the bells should be rung for the morning as well as for the evening devotion. About the year 1400 this custom was introduced into the German countries by order of the bishops. As yet the same prayers were not said in the different countries-in some five “Our Fathers” were said in honor of the five wounds of Our Lord; in other places seven “Hail Marys” in honor of the seven joys of the Blessed Virgin; while in some other places only three “Hail Marys ” were recited. It was in the ancient city of Strasbourg that, in 1549, this devotion was first called the Angelus, or the” Devotion of the Angelic Salutation.” Again not long after, the custom arose of ringing the bells at midday. This was begun by the Carthusians of France. At about this period in the history of Christendom, the Turks were threatening the peace of Europe; hence these prayers were addressed to Heaven in order to obtain the protection of Mary against these cruel and mighty enemies; and in some places the Angelus was called “The T urk’s Alarm.” The other portions of the exercises, such as the words, “The angel of the Lord declared,” etc., are mentioned in the year 1605 as a very ancient and well-known form of words in frequent use among the faithful. Therefore the custom has prevailed universally in the Church for more than two centuries and a half, inviting the faithful to recite this beautiful devotion of the Angelus three times a day, namely, at morning, noon and night. Today in Catholic lands, the bells aloft in the towering cathedral steeple, as well as in the belfry of the chapel in the woods, peal forth three times a day the welcome invitation to the devotion of the Angelus.

Pope Benedict XIII granted a plenary indulgence to all those who, on a chosen day of the month, after a worthy reception of the sacraments, will say piously, on their knees, whether in the morning, at noon, or at night, at the sound of the bells, three “Hail Marys,” adding the prayers of the Church. An indulgence of one hundred days is also granted to each person who recites the prayer of the Angelus every time the bell rings. In order to gain these indulgences we must say these prayers on our knees, except on Saturday evening and Sunday and during the Easter time, when we should say them standing. (14 September 1742; Benedict XIV, 20 April 1742)

Prayer of Holy Church

O God, who were pleased that Thy Word should, at the message of the angel, take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant unto Thy supplicants that we, who believe her truly to be the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercession with Thee.

Confirm in our minds, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the sacraments of the true faith, that we, who acknowledge Him who was born of the Virgin to be true God and true man, may, by the saving power of His resurrection, attain to reach everlasting gladness.

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. Amen.

– 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